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.