Sunday, December 26, 2010

Somtow Encounters the Grinch

In almost half a century of giving performances in venues of every kind in most of the world's continents, I've never had quite as weird an experience as I did on Christmas Eve this year.

It all started a week or so earlier when Bruce Gaston, my fellow Silpathorn Kittikun Artist, called me and asked me if I'd send the Shounen-Thai quartet down to Phuket on Christmas Eve.  I didn't really want to do it because they were already signed up for Dr. Veena's TV special on Christmas Day in Bangkok, but Bruce was persuasive.  The event would be a glittering star-studded evening at the Amanpuri Resort.  The money would be respectable.  And this would by no means be an event demeaning to the Opera (we have a policy of not doing commercial functions, especially ones in which the audience are simultaneously eating or wandering around, because we work with real artists, not bar bands.  By the time the discussions were finished I had agreed to provide a 90 minute "Classical Christmas" programme with 2 opera singers, Trisdee on piano, myself, and the quartet as well.  In particular, we were asked to do Christmas music in a classical vein, so I spent a great deal of time obtaining arrangements for string quartet of popular Christmas songs.  My two singers were the best ones I could find in Thailand on short notice: Zion Daoratanahong, who recently was chosen to sing the special televised dedication song for the King's birthday, and Stefan Sanchez, who is staying on for a while in Thailand after his well-received performance in CARMEN.

It was a stroke of luck to have Trisdee in the group ... just back from conducting the RAI National Orchestra of Italy, and about to go off to conduct the Verdi Orchestra of Milan in the near future ... by far the best known Thai conductor internationally (Sorry, Mr. Bundit.)

So this gig, which we took on basically to help out Bruce Gaston, was a bit of nuisance, but we took it seriously, trying to fill the "Classical Christmas" agenda with a nicely constructed and varied programme.  Everything was thoroughly rehearsed before we left and we were assured that the Amanpuri, a well known hangout for millionaires, would have the whole thing smoothly and beautifully organized.

We arrived in Phuket around 3 pm and were driven to the Amanpuri.  On arrival, we were met by some kind of assistant F&B person and it became painfully obvious that all was not as we had been told.  "We will now send you off you check in to your hotel.  Be back by 6 for a sound check, and your show begins around 8:30 or 9.  You must play until 11:30."

I wasn't too suprised they were putting us up elsewhere, but rather irritated to discover that the place was an hour away.  From 4-6, with travel in both directions, that would have allowed precisely zero rest time, after which we were expected to be on call for almost six hours.  There was not even going to be a room provided for us to rest, and the concert was an open air one, next to the ocean.  I offered to check into the resort (at $852 a night) at my own expense; I was doing the gig as a favor, not to make money. so I didn't really care.  The F&B scoffed, behaving as though I were a presumptuous insect for daring to imagine that "the entertainment" might be accommodated with their great and powerful clients. That was when I started to get a bad feeling about this.

In the car, travelling to the hotel they had booked for us, we discussed our options.  It was clear right away that the Amanpuri had no clue who any of us were.  If it hadn't been for Bruce Gaston, I would have simply gone home.  I don't need this.

Stefan Sanchez then pointed out that, if he were not doing this gig as a favor to me, he would have already had a tantrum and refused to perform.   After all, it's been about two centuries since the time that renowned artists had to wear livery and expected to be treated like servants.  The Bangkok Opera, which is a pauper compared to the Amanpuri, never treats its artists in such a shabby manner.  When Zion was invited to perform at the King's birthday event in Sanamluang, she had a an earlier engagement the same night singing in one of my concerts ... and the ministry actually had her delivered to their concert in style, by motorcycle escort.  I have never given any performance in any hotel or resort where they did not provide a complimentary room (the Oriental gave me a huge suite and free run of room service including all the dinner guests I wanted.)

But it was not so much that the accommodation was insulting.  It was the idea that hard working artists who take their craft seriously and who had just flown in that afternoon would be fine to perform for twice the amount of time specified without having any rest after flying in and being bused from place to place for what would by then have amounted to three hours.

As we suspected, the hotel we were sent to was an incredible dump.  But by then we needed the rest and could ignore the fleas.  Calling the F&B person elicited no response, so I talked to Bruce and explained the situation.  I told him the artists were mutinying.  We had a beautiful 90 minute programme prepared, not a 150 minute one.  Whatever happened, we would be insisting on taking our rest now,  and still arrive in plenty of time to perform.  We also asked Bruce to tell the Amanpuri we wouldn't play unless they gave us the cheque upfront.  This is because Stefan, by far the most experienced among us with "hotel dealings", was having strange vibes about the whole thing.

Bruce called the F&B people and got them to agree to the upfront cheque and the time constraints.  So, on balance, we decided we would just not worry about the demeaning treatment and do the best we could, put on the finest "Classical Christmas" we were capable of, and then go home and try to forget about it.

We had been told that the "brilliant sound people" would have everything ready and a sound check wasn't even necessary, but on our arrival at the venue, we discovered that there were no music stands, no light by which the musicians could see the music, and the "piano" was an electronic device set at a height where Trisdee would have to stand to play it.  It was clear that these people had not the slightest clue about how to set up for classical music.  But okay, we sorted all that out, and after a lot of hemming and hawing we were also able to extract Bruce Gaston's cheque from them, although they started by saying that they weren't aware that they were supposed to come up with this cheque.

The "audience" consisted of people wandering around at a rather upscale buffet.  Well, never mind.  We began.  Zion sang a lovely rendition of "O Holy night" with a heart-stopping top B flat at the end and got a nice round of applause.  It seemed that the music itself would at least be okay.

The string quartet played a bit of Mozart.  More applause.  Then they launched into Jingle Bells and all hell broke loose.

First, the assistant F&B manager descended on the quartet.  He said, "No Christmas music!  The boss's orders!"

Well, considering that the programme we have painstakingly worked up consisted almost entirely of Christmas music, this was going to be a tall order.

Nevertheless, we got in a huddle and next we despatched Stefan to sing the "Toreador Song" from CARMEN.  He had just after all done the role to enormous acclaim in Bangkok, and you can never go wrong with this song.

Except at the Amanpuri, rated the world's No. 1 Spa, where a blonde, perhaps German, woman, who was Mr. Assistant F&B's boss, now asked us whether, as well not playing any Christmas songs, we could also avoid playing anything classical.

I called Bruce.  "It's worse," I said.  I explained the latest developments.

He said, "Well, they knew they were getting opera singers and a classical quartet ... and they knew it was Christmas music."

I said, "Well, I guess getting the cheque upfront was the right thing to do."

At that moment, it began to rain.  It looked like providence was going to get us out of this tough spot.  Well, the F&B people immediately suggested that we might as well leave.  "We'll worry about the details later," they said.   One of them said to Trisdee, "It would be better if I wasn't seen talking to you."  They couldn't wait to get rid of us.  It was clear they were all very nervous and that heads were about to roll.

As the van left the premises, the heavens began to open.  Rain was sluicing down in sheets.  The huge open-air seaside buffet was clearly not going to withstand the forces of nature.

As we entered the main road, Zion, a devout Catholic, said, "Jesus must be angry they wouldn't let us sing his songs on his birthday."

I found her simple faith curiously comforting in that moment.

I have no idea what the Amanpuri resort was thinking if it accepted the idea of a classical Christmas concert without realizing that such a concert would contain both classical and Christmas music.  I haven't a clue why, if they were told that two well-known opera singers would be in the group, they didn't realize that they might be singing opera.  And why a ban on Christmas music on Christmas Eve?  And if so, what about telling the performers in advance?

It is, I suppose, a salutory lesson.  I've never been fired five minutes into a performance before, but there's a first time for everything.

Monday, December 20, 2010

And now ... back to Controversy ...

I recently received a letter from the owner of Naxos, which is probably the most widely-distributed label of classical music in the world.  Mr Heymann, one of the most respected figures in the classical music recording world, has been following the Trisdee-Bundit controversy keenly.  You see, it seems that he does have a stake in it.  He has asked me to ask my readers for help and I will explain what he has asked for in detail.

Do you remember that in my blog entry "Bundit-The Plot Thickens" I told of an unexpected development ... that it looked like this was no longer a case of deceptive marketing, but might end up as out-and-out piracy?

That the question might no longer be one of an obscure artist from a small country cleverly marketing himself ... but a major scam being perpetrated on a much larger scale, in which K Bundit's reputation is but an iota of collateral damage?

In that blog, I explained how, although K Bundit's CDs in some cases made references to music licensed from http://www.royalty-free-classical-music.org/, a website in which it is claimed that all tracks are conducted by a Dr. Keith J. Salmon, some of those tracks appear to be the actual work of extremely big name conductors and orchestras such as Karl Böhm, Georg Solti, and Neville Marriner.

My blog has set off a slew of responses in the classical music world.  John Duffus, the impresario, checked out a number of tracks available from Dr. Salmon and said this: "However, imagine my amazement when I came across one track that is unquestionably my old orchestra in a recording made in 1986 with the coloratura soprano Beverly Hoch" ... a few days later, he emailed me again.  "Salmon's Brahms Violin Concerto is the Kennedy/Tennstedt/LPO recording!"

Meanwhile, here is the email in question from Klaus Heymann:

Dear Somtow,
I read your column about the above and the Bundit CDs.
I think he was tricked by Dr. Salmon -- RFCM also had a copy of my wife's Vivaldi Four Seasons on its site and, in the meantime, it has taken it down from the site and all the other sites licensing this stuff from Salmon have also taken it down.
There are many more recordings from other record companies on the RFCM site, for examply EMI confirmed that the Brahms violin concerto is their recording with Nigel Kennedy. There are also Universal recordings on the site.
Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1 is Jorge Bolet from Vox.
Perhaps you can invite your readers to identify more rip-off’s on Mr. Bundit’s compilations.
Best regards,
Klaus

People such as myself and Trisdee are busy performing artists (and in my case I've also got operas to finish writing and a novel that's 3 years overdue.)  Last week Trisdee dashed off to Turin to conduct the RAI National Orchestra and his concert was carried live throughout the Italian broadcast media as well as available for web streaming, meaning that his many fans in Thailand who happened to be up at 2:30 am could see him for themselves.  If we spent our lives tracking down the real identities of the hundreds of tracks on these websites, we would have to give up our careers.  

However, if we enlist your help, and go as far as we need to go to protect any performers whose rights may have been violated, we can all work together on this.

You see, it turns out that this is not about K. Bundit at all.  He is at best a minor player, and may be as much a victim as any customers who may have purchased his CDs thinking that he was the conductor.  Indeed, he has already made a move to amend the problem by putting stickers on the sealed CDs stating that he is the compiler, not the conductor.  (The question of "why now?" is an ethical one, not a legal one.)

What this is about is a more pernicious kind of piracy than what you can see in the alleys of Bangkok.  If I buy a Chinese knock-off of a Solti CD, it still says on the cover that Solti conducted it.  Solti is being cheated — but only of his royalties.  Any real artist will admit, if you get him drunk enough, that in the end it's not about the money.  If someone ripped off my CD in that way, I'd be annoyed but on some level, I would also be flattered.  It does, after all, add to my fame, if not my bank account.

When someone markets a recording by Georg Solti and says it is by someone else ... that is far worse than taking money out of Mr. Solti's wallet.  That is taking away Mr. Solti's name.  His identity.  His very nature as an artist and even as a human being.

This must not be allowed to happen, in this country or anywhere else.  If K Bundit has read this blog, he knows that at least some tracks on his CDs may be pirated.  If that is indeed the case, they cannot legally be sold, whether he was aware of the original piracy or not.  They must be taken off the market.

With so many artists screaming about Dr. Salmon's websites, my advice to K. Bundit would be to play it safe and just recall all the CDs until people like EMI and Naxos have gone on the record to state that Dr. Salmon has permission to use their work without attributing it to their artists.

Klaus Heymann has devoted decades of his life to making thousands of pieces of music accessible at realistic prices to a very large audience.  Thanks to him, I can listen to music which in my student days I could only get hold of my tracking down scores or applying to read manuscripts in libraries.  If he asks me to ask my readers for help, I take this very seriously.  

If any of you spot something suspicious please let me know and I will pass on the information.



Saturday, December 18, 2010

World Opera Week

On Monday night we had a rather avant-garde evening.  Last night we had a traditional gala night at the opera with the audience in tuxes and a presiding princess.  Tonight, we'll have CARMEN again, without the tuxes but with hopefully even more excitement.  And on Sunday -- an "alien opera"!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Don't miss Carmen....



Don't miss Carmen ... here's a bit of rehearsal footage to whet the appetite...
Thailand Cultural Center 16th and 17th at 7:30 pm

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Vive La Revolution!

This has been an absolutely amazing week of ups and downs, drama, delusion, and divine madness.

First came the concert at Thailand's "ground zero", Central World.  Yes, I did hear from a few fanatic yellow shirts who called me to say, "Thank you for claiming back our territory!" To which I would reply: "Excuse me?  This territory belongs to EVERYONE.  That was the whole point of the concert."  On the whole, people did understand this, and understood also that where words fail us, sometimes it can be music that brings us together.

The last concert I organized in the name of peace was in fact in collaboration with the infamous Dr. Weng ten years ago.  Yes, I know the man has said a lot of insane things lately and become a bit of a joke, but I have absolutely no doubt of his sincere desire to make this country a better place.  Curiously, my mind did flash back to that concert, which took place in a relatively happy time for our country, when HRH Princess Galyani was still with us.  There were those who called it a "world war" concert because behind the scenes there was the kind of Machiavellian backstabbing and jealous betrayals that are the very subject of opera (both soap and the other kind.)

The Mahajanaka gala was not beset by any kind of backstabbing; the worst that could be said of it was the organizers had little experience with a big classical music event and perhaps didn't realize just what a major symbol it could become (though they did by the end.)  Everything was smooth and what disagreements there were were easily assuaged.  But then again, the concert was organized by private citizens, not by a government or political party.  So none of us was trying to get reelected.

It was certainly amazing to perform there on the King's Birthday and to perform music inspired by the story of the Mahajanaka; this is a story that tells us, indeed that the Avatar of Buddha was rewarded for his perseverance when an angel appeared to lead him on to his destiny.  It's often read that way: persevere and you'll see your guiding angel.  But I would go further and say that the story means that unless you sacrifice everything, that angel isn't going to appear.

God, or "the gods", if such there be and the jury is certainly out on this question, has a tendency not to show up until you have given and given and given of yourself until there is nothing left.  At that point, a space opens up within yourself.  It is in that space that revelation comes.  Ask any messiah.

After the Dec 5 concert comes "World Opera Week" — from a huge blockbuster CARMEN presided over by the Queen to a wild avant-garde romp at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center.  And it all starts on Monday with SAVITRI —the Thai and possibly Southeast Asian premiere of a rare and gorgeous opera by Gustav Holst, conducted (in his operatic debut) by the young Nadanai Laohakunakorn.  I hope to see a lot of you there.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mahajanaka at Central World


I've been asked to put on an enormous concert in front of Central World ... in the very place where the "troubles" took place earlier this year.  I'm going to have the opera stars who are in town for the World Opera Week, happening nexr month, sing some very popular tidbits from famous operas, and then I'm going to to perform my Mahajanaka Symphony with Nancy Yuen, soprano, a large choir and orchestra ... probably around 150 performers altogether.  Of course it's rather flattering to see that they're planning 12-foot tall "Somtow banners" and a 22-foot wide ad on the side of the mall, but in the end what I am most proud of is that I have now reached the stage in my career where I can bring a large number of people together to make an important statement about harmony and hope.

The concert is on the King's birthday and it's a coming together of many segments of our society in a way which I hope will promote reconciliation and healing.

I think it's going to be one of the larger open-air concerts there have been in this country, with two orchestras, choir, children's choir, five opera singers, four harps and what have you, but the more important part of this is that many people, musicians of every political persuasion, will be creating harmony where once there was discord.

The event will begin at six with "World of Opera" -- a journey around the world in operatic excerpts.  At seven we pause to bring the candelight ceremony from Sanam Luang and to have our own ceremony.  Then after about 15 minutes, there will be a peformance of my Mahajanaka Symphony which I have revised for this event, improving the orchestral sound with what I have learned from being in Thailand for the last decade and figuring out who the musicians are and what they do best.

What is the Mahajanaka Jataka, adapted by H.M. The King twelve years ago into a lovely book, about?  The lesson we are meant to learn from this Buddhist text is perseverance.  We need to get as far as we can, drawing on our own inner strength, our hopes, our beliefs ... only if we totally give of ourselves can we expect a divine being to lead us the rest of the way to other shore.  This is a lesson common to all religious traditions and I think it's a lesson for Thailand right now.

There are not going to be any "quick fixes" for anything.  But until people realize we are in this together, there won't be any fixes at all.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Things We Fear

In this blog from time to time I post a dream I have had the previous night.  I do this for two reasons; one is for myself, to help me remember some strange image or dramatic revelation.  The second is to share something unusual with my friends.  About four nights ago I had a nightmare I didn't post because it frightened me too much.  I didn't post it so that I could forget it; isn't that what happens to dreams that you don't write down?

But it's still here.

I dreamed I was living in what looked like a brownstone house, white carpeted living room, staircase leading to an upper floor.  An intruder enters my house and I saw him in half.  He is a big, African American guy in a dark raincoat.  It's a vivid killing, with spurting gore and plenty of dangling innards, and I place the two halves into big black trash bags.  As I kill this stranger, I realize that I've killed before.

There's a commotion from upstairs and I hear Trisdee and Jay laughing.  I realize I have to hide the body.  There is a kitchen next to the living room and I drag the trash bags into it, and as I step inside, I open the larder and I see that there is no stairway down into any sort of convenient basement; the bags have to stay in the clean white tile kitchen for now.

Confused I go back into the living room and I sit down at a dining table, pick up a phone and try to dial for help.  But just then the kids come running down the stairs.  They are playing, laughing, having a great time, and when the reach the living room they start play-fighting and Jay slips and falls onto the carpet ... which I suddenly realize is still covered with glistening drops of my victim's blood....

***

The fact that I still remember this vividly four days later must mean something.  The corpse and the trash bags are very black and the house is very white.  That is surely symbolic.  It's a dark thing right here in my house ... and my kids are about to stumble upon it?  I think that for once some classical Freudian scrutiny is probably called for.

But now that I've written this out, it will perhaps exorcise whatever is bothering me and tomorrow I can speak of beautiful, optimistic plans for the future and wonderful epiphanies in literature and music.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Carnival of the Animals....



Something Different ... two days ago, I invited Andrew Biggs to narrate "Carnival of the Animals" for an audience of wildly kids from all around our region.  I thought I'd share the video with you....

Andrew's Thai is of course infinitely better than mine in some ways, with the odd Australianism lending great charm and of course that lovely self-deprecating humor ... it's one of the most congenial collaborations I've ever had....

For a kids' concert to last 2 1/2 hours was pretty amazing though ... I guess I mistimed it!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Toilets and Tenors

There are tenor jokes and there are toilet jokes, but on Friday I experienced both in one sitting ... and at first it wasn't that funny, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that our existence is really one cosmic joke anyway.

So here's the thing, Antoine, the very fine young tenor from the U.S. who lives in Chiangmai and has performed many times with the Bangkok Opera including in oratorio (Rossini, Haydn) and opera (Handel, Puccini, etc) was doing his first leading role for us — the role of King Satyavan in Holst's opera Savitri, slated to open in a few days' time.
Rehearsals are going fine, and Antoine has some concert engagements in India, so off he goes, fully expecting to come back in plenty of time for the dress rehearsals and so on.

While travelling between gigs in India on the infamous Indian railroad, he visits the toilet.  Now these railway lavatories are of the old-fashioned kind; they open up right onto the tracks beneath, providing extra fertilizer for the lush vegetation that abounds along the railway lines.  It is low tech, but eminently green.

Unfortunately, something a little less biodegradable got sucked into the toilet -- Antoine's passport.

Normally such an event would provoke a snigger, but nothing more.  After all, when an American citizen loses his passport, he merely shows up at the embassy and they immediately issue a temporary replacement.    Antoine did so at the first opportunity and he let me know that he'd be a bit delayed, but no big deal.

Then came the bombshell.  In its infinite wisdom, the government of India decided that, since Antoine's visa to India had been sucked into the Black Hole of Calcutta along with the passport, Antoine was therefore now, technically an illegal alien.

Now, in my native country (and I refer to both of them, Thailand as well as the United States) illegal aliens tend to be escorted to the nearest border and told to get the hell out of Dodge.  But India is another country as we all know, and Antoine was told that since he was not in India legally, he would now need a special exit visa to depart.  Such a visa could only be obtained after a complex bureaucratic process and the first possible time the process could even begin was in fact the day after the last scheduled performance of Savitri.


Now, despite the fact that everything was all prepared for the production to proceed, finding a tenor in Thailand to learn a leading role in a rare opera in three days was simply not going to happen.  So, maybe not the weirdest reason to postpone an opera in the history of opera, but surely the weirdest I've experienced personally.

In a panic, I managed to book the only day available in any viable venue for the rest of the year, December 13th at the Small Hall of the Thailand Cultural Center.

Well, Gustav Holst has waited almost a century to have this opera heard in Thailand, and I suppose another six weeks won't hurt.

But what this story teaches us — reminds us — is that all of us, no matter how full of noble aspirations, how puffed up with poetic conceits, how inspired by edifying and grand thoughts that encompass entire universes — all of us are still at the mercy of a few sordid bodily functions. Though our eyes may be fixed on the stars, yet our anal sphinctres remain firmly planted in the dust whence we came.  That is, ultimately, what the human condition is all about, and why art exists.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Another Review - Houston Chronicle this time

The following review came from the very generous Buzz Bellmont as is quoted from its original source HERE.


Opera Vista presented the world premiere of SomtowSucharitkul’s The Silent Prince on Friday evening, October 15, at Zilkha Hall in the Hobby Center.

An excited and eager youthful sold out crowd witnessed the world premiere at, unfortunately, its only performance in Houston.

The next performance of The Silent Prince will be in Bangkok, Thailand, in December, where Opera Vista is participating in the annual World Opera Week.

The highly ambitious and spectacularly superb The Silent Prince marks the first full length opera produced by Opera Vista, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit opera company conceived in 2007 to bring forth the performance of new operas written by contemporary composers.

The Silent Prince tells the Buddhist tale of Temiya Jataka, a Buddha who has been reincarnated as a prince. 
When forced to choose between committing terrible karmic deeds and disobeying his father, Temiya withdraws from the world into silence. 
The royal court tries to draw him back into the world, but a king’s patience can only last so long before he takes justice into his own hands and, because the young prince does not take the course of the king’s choosing, the king banishes his son to the forest, where he will be killed.
It is there in the forest that the silent prince is awakened and revealed as the divine form of the Bodhisattva (the incarnation of Buddha) and is finally recognized by all.

Somtow Sucharitkul’s sumptuous and marvelously lyrical score is enchanting (several traditional Indian instruments are used in the orchestra---tamburas, celeste, harmonium), moving, intriguing, and always retains a deep sense of mystery and spirituality.
His rich and beautiful orchestrations are masterful, meaningful, and mesmerizing.

Conductor Viswa Subbaraman conducts with great fire and enthusiasm yet his large orchestra, composed of twenty-three highly skilled musicians, never overwhelms but strongly accompanies and supports the stunning onstage performances.

The action begins in heaven where Suja, the queen, has heard the cries of the entire creation and of the birth pangs of Chandra Devi on earth.
The king, Shakro, and his queen appeal to the Bodhisattva to return to earth to incarnate (through Chandra).

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Ryan West as Prince Temiya
Kelly Waguespack as Maya

Soprano Kelly Waguespack is stunning as Suja, and imbues the Queen of Heaven with the rich, clear, and pure vocal tones worthy of the queen of heaven.
She also superbly sings the role of Maya, the god of illusion, who appears to tempt the young prince.

Baritone Matt Strader powerfully and purposefully sings the role of Shakro Devanam Indra, the King of Heaven, and later appears as the Yama, the god of the underworld, who sternly reminds the young prince that he was once a warrior king.

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Timothy Jones as King of Kashi
Shannon Langman as Chandra Devi

Bass-baritone Timothy Jones gives a tour de force performance as the King of Kashi and his strong, clear, and resonant baritone is perfectly realized.
His commanding stage presence as the King is indisputable.

Soprano Shannon Langman is magnificent as Chandra Devi, the Queen of Kashi, and her rich, colorful, and carefully controlled soprano voice is a joy to behold, and particularly touching in a lovely melodically haunting lullaby she sings to her silent son.

Soprano Elizabeth Borik is excellent as Aspara, the Prince’s wet nurse.

Composer Somtow Sucharitkal saves his best surprise for the second act, when the silent prince is awakened to his destiny and begins to sing to the universe.
Sucharitkal brilliantly composes Prince Temiya as a male sopranist, a higher register than we experience from a counter tenor.

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Ryan West as Prince Temiya 
Shannon Langman as Chandra Devi

Ryan West is remarkable as Prince Temiya and exhibits an other worldly presence from his first moment onstage.
When he finally speaks and begins to sing, The SilentPrince comes alive with the fervor, freshness, passion, and power of fireworks in the night.
West’s vocal expertise as a sopranist is ingenious, intriguing, and intrinsically mystical and spiritual by nature.

Stage director Joe Carl White ingeniously and inventively stages The Silent Prince, using a variety of levels and entrances to create variety, always painting excellent and engaging stage pictures.

Choreography by Rathna Kumar and MaheshMahbubani adds excitement and energy to the production and uses dancers in traditional, colorful Indian costumes from the Anjali Center for the Performing Arts.

A two story traditional set design by Kevin Holdenand Tom Meyer uses Moorish arches and a central moveable staircase, all painted in earthy greens, oranges, tans, golds, browns, and dark blues.

I question whether a traditional set was necessary for this new opera, and, certainly, it will be no easy feat to transport it to Bangkok in December.
I believe a contemporary setting using various levels and shapes of platforms, exquisitely lit and placed, might have greater enhanced and simplified The Silent Prince and turned it into a timeless masterpiece rather than a specific period piece.

Lighting design by the talented David Gipson perfectly captures the deep hues and colors of this colorful Buddhist legend.

Costumes by Prashe are exquisitely detailed, fabulously flowing, and harmoniously colored.

My only wish is that The Silent Prince could have run for several more performances so that more Houston audiences could have experienced its wonder, its awe, and its beauty.

Thai audiences at World Opera Week in Bangkok are in for a divine appointment when they get to experience Opera Vista’s stunning and spectacular production of 
Somtow Sucharitkul’s The Silent Prince.

One thing is clear---Opera Vista has a bold and bright future ahead if The Silent Prince is any indication of its strikingly magnificent ability to produce excting new operas.

For more information on Opera Vista and its many exciting programs, please click on:

Monday, October 18, 2010

 A Stunning Review from Houston's "Culture Map"


Opera Vista’s premieres The Silent Prince


An overprotective mother who thinks her son is God? A virile father who rejects his son’s gentle and stereotypical female traits? A deity sent to earth to know great pain and carry the burden of others?
Thai composer Somtow Sucharitkul’s Bollywood-style chamber opera The Silent Prince, although based on an Indian morality tale, crosses many cultural bridges with a comprehensive story line with numerous allegories, tangents and thought-provoking interpretations, all relevant and current.
If you are not familiar with the tales of Temiya, a Buddha reincarnated as a prince who decides to become silent, Sucharitkul’s themes are universal and are similar to Judeo-Christian values.
Written in a very comfortable tonal language, Sucharitkul disperses a misconception that contemporary opera is esoteric and impertinent. A world premiere perfect for the Houston stage, the rich and exotic sonorities created by juxtaposing delicious instruments like the traditional Indian tambura with celeste, the church-like harmonium and harp with colorful coloratura flourishes, the effect was mesmerizing capturing an honest, respectful and modern representation of Indian culture.
For Opera Vista’s biggest spectacle to date, Viswa Subbaraman, artistic director conducted a challenging but satisfying score and assembled a powerful cast. As Chandera Devi, mezzo-soprano Shannon Langman’s enchanting and assertive delivery of rather difficult virtuosic embellishments balanced baritone Timothy Jones’s strong, stubborn and regal character as the King of Kashi.
Sucharitkul’s decision to call for a male soprano as Tamiya intensified the divine and celestial quality of the moment when The Silent Prince is no longer silent. Ryan West was able to capture the moment beautifully with a round tone that floated on top of already shimmering orchestral textures.
Although Opera Vista’s plans to include a live elephant did not come to fruition, its omission did not compromise the experience. With a philosophy of less is more, the clarity of the narrative did not need such extraneous flashy additions. But I am certain the Houston Zoo will appreciate the company’s vow to make an donation in honor of Tupelo, the zoo’s most recent arrival as an apology to the audience.
Performing elephants are illegal in Thailand and with plans to tour this production in the works, Opera Vista may just have to get used to the idea.


-- JOEL LUKS



Saturday, October 16, 2010

Seven Minutes before my premiere

Well, I forgot about the dateline, so my post of (my time) 2 days ago was a little premature ... It's Saturday in Bangkok, but in Houston it's Friday night and opera is just about to begin.  Apparently it's a sellout or nearly so.

Found a great article in Houston's CULTURE MAP ... click to read.

Apparently I will have some pictures and footage in only a couple of days (to distribute to the Thai press) so I might be able to share some images on this blog.

Friday, October 15, 2010

On the Eve of a Premiere


In a few hours my new opera, The Silent Prince, will premiere in Houston.  By a curious and aggravating set of circumstances that is nobody's fault, I won't be there, so I'll have to watch it on video shortly afterwards....

I won't be the first composer to miss a premiere of course.  Wagner didn't show up when King Ludwig of Bavaria jumped the gun and insisted on doing parts of The Ring in Munich.  But Wagner didn't show up because he was pissed off; I'm not.  But I keep hearing from all the people involved about how brilliant it's going to be, and I hope that anyone who likes my work, who can make it to Houston on Friday the 15th will do their best to come.   Here in fact is the link:

I've wanted to compose a stage work about Temiya, the Silent Prince, for at least fifteen years, though I must admit that at first I conceived it as a ballet.  Why?  Well, the hero is silent.  By it's very nature, it can't be an opera.  Or can it?

I just wrote a very long analysis of my opera for all of my readers, and then, before I pushed "save", the power went out in my street and all the lights went out....

I'm not sure I can dredge it back up from the recesses of my ageing brain.  So, here's a link to a website I created that talks about the opera a bit....  THE SILENT PRINCE

I'll get back on later ... meanwhile I wish all the performers ... a brave lot as it's not the easiest opera in the world to sing and play ... a wild and wonderful time tonight.... and a very heartfelt toi toi toi....

Monday, October 4, 2010

Bundit - the Plot Thickens

When Trisdee first showed me Bundit's CD with its bizarre packaging, I assumed that this was all about marketing.  I assumed that no one had done anything illegal, but that the whole thing was symptomatic of the ethical quagmire that is marketing in this country.  I believed Trisdee to be a hero for bringing this matter out into the open because it provided an opportunity for us to discuss these ethical questions in public with a clear example in our hands of "how NOT to market a cultural product."

Nevertheless the plot has thickened.  There's more to this than meets the eye.  I want to start this blog by saying that I will present what I've seen with my own eyes, make no judgment or accusation, and leave the matter in the hands of people with the qualifications, time, and inclination to deal with it.

I want to direct people's attention to a different CD produced by INSPIRE MUSIC and K Bundit.  It's called "Mozart in Love".  Like the CD "Heavenly Music" which Trisdee has discussed earlier, it has all the packaging problems discussed by Trisdee: the misleading outisde, the sealed - and concealed - small print attributing most of the performances to Dr. Keith Salmon and the RFCM Orchestra.  Fine.  On the surface, it's just another example of the things Trisdee discussed on his blog.

The problems begin when you insert the CD into your computer.  It opens automatically in iTunes, and according to iTunes, the following is the content of the CD.


Horn Concerto No.3, Mvt, 1 6:42 Bundit Ungrangsee Mozart In Love Classical Mozar
Mozart: Symphony #29 In A, K 201 - 1. Allegro Moderato 7:23 Neville Marriner: Academy Of St. Martin In The Fields Mozart In Love Classical Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart: Violin Concerto #4 In D, K 218 - 1. Allegro 8:58 Gernot Winischhofer; Saulius Sondeckis: Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra Mozart In Love Classical Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart: Violin Concerto #5 In A, K 219, "Turkish" - 1. Allegro Aperto 9:24 Vitas Antonavichius: Baltic Festival Orchestra Mozart In Love Classical Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart: Così Fan Tutte, K 588 - Overture 4:44 Karl Böhm: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra Mozart In Love Classical Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Piano Concerto No.21, Mvt.1 14:34 Bundit Ungrangsee Mozart In Love Classical Mozar
La Ci Darem La Mano ("There We Shall Take Hands") 3:31 Bundit Ungrangsee Mozart In Love Classical Mozar
Porgi Amor ("O Love") 3:35 Bundit Ungrangsee Mozart In Love Classical Mozar
Clarinet Concerto Mvt.1 12:26 Bundit Ungrangsee Mozart In Love Classical Mozar
Mozart: Le Nozze Di Figaro - Overture 3:53 Georg Solti: London Philharmonic Orchestra Mozart In Love Classical Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The reason that iTunes reveals this is that we now have universal track IDs on every track produced by a legitimate CD company, and the IDs stay with the tracks no matter where they go.

You will see that among the tracks listed are tracks conducted by numerous conductors and played by many orchestras.  Some are from the Baltic States and may well be recordings from the Soviet era in which the rights situation may be quite obscure since during the communist era, the Soviet Bloc played by its own copyright rules.  But THREE of the conductors are by any standard "world famous" - Neville Marriner, Georg Solti, and Karl Böhm.  If those tracks are actually the tracks they purport to be, then there is no longer a case of deceptive marketing, but a far more serious case.

But who is responsible for these tracks, and are they actually the tracks that iTunes says they are?  So far, I have only personally tested one of the tracks, the Nozze di Figaro Overture which is the last one listed.

Dr. Salmon has samples on his website, www.royaltyfreeclassicalmusic.org, of all his offerings.  Anyone can download these samples, so it was easy to compare Dr. Salmon's recording of this piece with the recording on K Bundit's CD.

They are not the same recording.  Therefore, the attribution of this track on the packaging of K Bundit's CD is incorrect.

It is also easy to find a legitimate copy of the Solti recording of Le Nozze di Figaro.  It is an extremely famous recording produced by Decca/London, now a subsidiary of MCA.  I downloaded (and paid for) the recording, and compared it t the track on K. Bundit's CD.

It is a 100% match.

The question we must ask is ... how could such a thing happen?  Why is a performance by one of the world's greatest conductors present on a CD that is (a) attributed in small print to another person and (b) packaged to convince the casual buyer that it might have been conducted by yet another person?

I can think of three possibilities:

(a) Decca made a deal with K. Bundit and Inspire allowing him to use a recording by one of the world's most famous conductors and also allowing him to attribute it to someone else
(b) Dr. Salmon sold Inspire Music the rights to use this recording, but somehow neglected to inform K. Bundit that it wasn't actually his intellectual property to sell, and meanwhile swapped the recording in his own inventory, so that K Bundit had no idea what had happened
(c) K Bundit knowingly used the Solti recording and attributed it to Dr. Salmon.

Of these possibilities, I think most would agree that (a) is the least likely.

I have not tested any of the other tracks and haven't been able to compare them with Dr. Salmon's tracks for the simple reason that, after sending that email to K Bundit which was quoted on K Bundit's blog, Dr. Salmon then cancelled my membership in royaltyfreeclassicalmusic.org and it is no longer easy for me to access his samples.  I suppose I could join under another email address, but let me honest: this is a can of worms I do not want anywhere near me.  To be honest, I am afraid to test any other tracks because I don't want to discover any more anomalies.

I make no accusations.  Anyone who owns or buys a copy of the CD "Mozart In Love" will be able to test these facts for himself and will be able to draw his own conclusions.

I have sent a report of a possible rights problem to the piracy department of MCA, and they have responded to let me know they're investigating the CD now.   They will determine the legal status of all this.  Meanwhile, anyone who wants to investigate this on their own is free to do so and to draw his own conclusions.




A part of the above recording has been independently confirmed to constitute one of the tracks in Inspire Music's "Mozart in Love" CD.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Truth and Justice - Sometimes

Although I should really be spending all my time preparing for the concerts this weekend, I've been forced into appearing as a TV talking head several times in the matter of Trisdee's discoveries about the CDs of K Bundit.

The strangest discovery I have made is that many people in this country are unaware that perfomers even have any rights over the their own performances.  In fact the Director General of the Department of Intellectual Property, who presumably is the supreme authority of our government for protecting these rights, appeared not to know that they existed when she called into Mango TV to discuss the issue two days ago.

One of the most appalling things I've ever experienced is when this woman began lecturing myself and Sukie Clapp on the fact that Mozart was dead and we could do whatever we wanted with his music, completely missing the point that if I make a recording of a Mozart Symphony, Sukie Clapp can't just use *my* recording without my permission ... let alone claim that he conducted it.  Same goes for if I were to use Sukie's recording of a third party's pop song.  There are two different levels: the UNDERLYING rights, which might well have expired, and then the rights to an individual interpretation of a particular work.

These are rights which are negotiated millions of times every year by performing artists all over the world and are the entire basis for how performing artists put food on the table. There is absolutely no controversy about the existence of these rights.  That's why musicians get paid at all ... we BUY their performances.

Now, it is a sad thing that the person who is paid by our government and thus by the taxes of all these artists who get their money from the sale of these rights ... to PROTECT our rights ... is telling us we don't have these rights.  The money from these rights has a role to play in her monthly paycheck!

Alas, this is not so unusual in the bureaucracy of Thailand ... or even in higher levels of government.  Do you remember, years ago, when Youtube was abruptly banned because an offensive video that denigrated the institutions of this country?  Of course, the video was shocking to the sensibilities of Thai people, but a single video can easily be blocked without affecting the entirety of Youtube.  It is the equivalent of finding one instance of mail fraud, then banning the postal service.

Of course, any computer literate ten-year-old could have instructed our government in how to seamlessly block one offensive video, but it soon transpired that the then Minister of Communications didn't realize what a mess this was because, as he confessed himself, he "didn't really use the internet." A well intentioned attempt to "protect the public" ended up as a grave embarrassment for the country.  In addition, millions of innocent users had their normal internet usage disrupted, including many users whose youtube postings were *helping* the country's image.

Nevertheless, incompetently run and creaky though our bureaucracy is, it probably means well.  For instance, I was able to make a full report about this director-general's odd lapses of knowledge to her boss, the minister of commerce, and to make sure it actually ended up on his desk and was acknowledged.  The intentions are there even if the execution could use work.

And of course, things could be worse.  When I was in Beijing for the Opera Summit earlier this year, I was completely cut off from the known universe because all my communications tools that I normally use, such as youtube, facebook, twitter, and blogger, were blocked.  In moments such as these, I still count my blessings.