Luk thung, pop and jazz singers join Khun Ploypailin for a heavenly tribute to the King
What do royal granddaughter Khun Ploypailin Jensen, Swedish luk thung singer Jonas Anderson, Chicago Lyric Opera star Stacey Tappan and rock icon Pod Moderndog have in common, not to mention “Thailand’s Got Talent” winner Myra Molloy and jazz favourite Athalie De Koning?
All of these folks and more are set to appear as ancient deities when Opera Siam stages Somtow Sucharitkul’s “Nemiraj – Scenes from Ten Lives of the Buddha” on Saturday and Sunday at the Thailand Cultural Centre.
The stage is a compilation of scenes from the first five operas in Somtow’s epic cycle of music dramas “DasJati – Ten Lives of the Buddha”.
The highlight will be the world premiere of the Tavatimsa scene from “Nemiraj”, “The Chariot of Heaven”, the most recently completed opera in the cycle.
In this scene the Bodhisattva is taken on a journey to Heaven and meets the 33 gods of Indra’s domain. Somtow has created an ensemble number with 33 individual vocal lines – and has invited top singers from Thailand and other countries to bring the score to life.
Khun Ploypailin will play the role of Atma, the Soul, in the 33 Gods Scene. Jonas Anderson plays Vayu, the Wind God, Pod the god Shiva, Tappan plays Agni, the Fire God, and Nadlada is Antariksha, goddess of the interstellar spaces. Molloy plays Nakshastra, goddess of the stars, and De Koning plays Prana, the Life-Force.
Trisdee na Patalung will conduct the Siam Orpheus Choir and Siam Philharmonic Orchestra.
Somtow’s “Das Jati” has been taking shape for more than a decade. By the end of the year Opera Siam will have produced five of the 10. And Somtow be halfway through the task of composing what will be, if completed, the “biggest opera of all time”, eclipsing the previous record holder, the four-opera Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner, in breadth and number of characters.
Somtow’s operatic re-imagining of the entire central mythos of Theravada Buddhism is intended to realign the international performing-arts world and elevate Thailand as a new operatic mecca. New York’s Opera News and London’s Opera magazine have touted Opera Siam’s achievements as turning Thailand into “the operatic hub of Southeast Asia”.
“Assuming I live to complete it,” Somtow says, the ‘Das Jati’ cycle will give the region a unique operative epic tradition of its own. Doing the cycle every three years as a huge festival event can provide employment for singers, directors, dancers, musicians, designers and conductors for generations to come,” he adds.
Not only does the project appeal to opera lovers, but also to the Buddhist community, educators and aficionados of dance.
A compilation of scenes from the first five operas in the cycle will be staged at the Thailand Cultural Centre on June 25 and 26 to honour His Majesty the King’s 70th year on the throne.
The highlight – the world premiere of the Tavatimsa scene – marks the first time an ensemble of 33 voices has ever been scored for an opera (usually the number is seven or eight.) Putting together the ensemble number has been a scheduling nightmare, says the composer, but “I am really gratified that so many big names want to be part of this historic moment.
“We are deeply gratified that Khun Ploypailin Jensen has agreed to play Atma. The entire cycle is my final gift to the country and to our beloved dynasty, and this cameo by His Majesty’s granddaughter is a beautiful symbol of Thailand’s deep connection with and love for our King.”
n “Nemiraj – Scenes from Ten Lives of the Buddha” will be performed Saturday and Sunday at the Thailand Cultural Centre.
n Sunday’s shows are at 2 and 8pm. Saturday’s show is a by-invitation preview at a time to be announced.
n Admission is free but tickets must be reserved in advance via www.OperaSiam.com.