Thai Opera Prepares European Invasion

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The Silent Prince, the first part of Somtow Sucharitkul’s epic in progress DasJati – Ten Lives of the Buddha, was originally commissioned by an opera company in Houston and premiered to a sellout audience in 2010. At first designed as a standalone work, it eventually became part of a master plan to produce, in the words of London’s Opera Now magazine, “the most extended music drama of all time” — a cycle of ten full length works based on the central mythos of the Pali canon of Theravada Buddhism.

Since its premiere The Silent Prince has already had two revivals, but in August the ten-part cycle is set to gain a foothold in the very heart of the world of operatic mega-epics. Opera Siam is bringing The Silent Prince to Bayreuth, Germany, where it will play at the same time as Wagner’s Ring Cycle, the reigning magnum opus of epic operas.

Under the sponsorship of ThaiBev, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, Crown Property Bureau and numerous pledge sponsors who join the project via social networks, the tour is a collaboration between Thai and western artists. Five German singers will be joining the cast, making up part of the chorus; another of them, Falko Hönisch, will be singing the role of the King of Benares. The cast also includes American mezzo Colleen Brooks and Australian bass Damian Whiteley — and Thai singers Jak Cholvijarn reprising his signature role as the Bodhisattva, Zion Daoratanahong, Nadlada Thamtanakom, and Kittin Suchato. Trisdee na Patalung conducts. In total a team of about 70 people will take place in the production including members of the multiple award winning Siam Sinfonietta orchestra.

Royal granddaughter Khun Ploypailin Jensen will be presiding over the Festival’s opening ceremony on August 1, and the musicians of Opera Siam will be performing four other concerts in the days leading up to the premiere.

Following the Bayreuth debut, the whole troupe will perform the opera in Prague and Brno in Czechia.
“In its basic narrative,” Somtow says, “this opera takes place in a distant time and involves kings and divine beings. But at its crux there is a modern story: a troubled, dysfunctional family desperately trying to deal with a child who has withdrawn into a secret world — whether it is autism or schizophrenia, whether it’s physical or psychological … and this is what can speak to people today.”
Accepting the position of religious advisor for the Ten Lives of the Buddha project, popular “football monk” Chao Khun Thongchai opined that Somtow is “a great artist of Thailand … indeed, of the world.”

Reviews for The Silent Prince
“Somtow Sucharitkul’s sumptuous and marvelously lyrical score is enchanting … moving, intriguing, and always retains a deep sense of mystery and spirituality.
His rich and beautiful orchestrations are masterful, meaningful, and mesmerizing.”
— Houston Chronicle
“Sucharitkul disperses a misconception that contemporary opera is esoteric and impertinent,”
— Joel Luks in CultureMap.
“The score spikes lush western sonorities with tangy Asian elements”
— OPERA magazine, London
“An extraordinary achievement for Thailand, and a gift to the world”
— Jonathan Richmond in The Nation