Opera Siam is facing its final bow

Opera Siam is facing its final bow


norman lebrecht

July 26, 2017

Its founder Somtow Sucharitkul has issued this final warning: ‘Opera Siam faces its fourth and most serious existential crisis in 17 years. We are going to run out of funds in only a few days.’

He adds: ‘Tonight I’m performing the Mozart Coronation Mass and other works with our kids and with many volunteer choirs including one that came all the way from Lithuania to work with us, at their own expense. In the last 17 years I’ve often been heartened by the generosity of artists and music lovers. Tomorrow we leave to Malaysia where we will do a big concert which not only celebrates our young artists but will be the first performance of some of the HM King Bhumibol’s songs in the city of Johor Bahru.

‘There’s a very good chance that if our existential threat is not resolved, that tonight’s concert will be the last time will be able to perform for you.’


  • Nick says:

    Somtow Sucharitkul has obviously done a great deal to develop classical music in Thailand. But the key problems in Thailand have never been properly tackled – primarily efficient and effective management, funding and marketing. The same is true to a large extent with the two orchestras – the Bangkok Symphony and the Thailand Philharmonic. Even though the latter has an excellent brand new hall in a University complex, it is so far out of the city it is a huge problem to consider making the effort to got out there.

    Opera Siam has also frequently bitten off perhaps more than it can chew. For Khun Somtow to start a Ring Cycle doing something I believe only von Karajan had previously done by both directing and conducting was surely vastly over ambitious. Hardly surprising that the cycle ceased after just two operas. I hope Khun Somtow will now concentrate on his two largely youth-oriented orchestras – the Siam Sinfonietta and the Siam Philharmonic. On their day, both can be impressive and both provide opportunities otherwise denied to younger Thai musicians.

    • MWnyc says:

      Nick, a question, since you seem to know about things musical there: what’s the state of traditional Thai art music/court music/”classical” music in Thailand today?

      • Nick says:

        I am really sorry I cannot tell you much. My interests are primarily western classical music and so on my regular visits I check what concerts might be taking place, and sometimes change dates to coincide with one – as I did when I discovered Krystian Zimerman was to be performing Brahms First with the Bangkok Symphony.

        A major problem that has been mentioned by expat friends and Thai business colleagues is the lack of advance information about events. This applies to the traditional arts as much as to classical music. Over the years I have seen a couple of spectacular Koen Dance performances and several of an excellent and internationally recognised puppet theatre with dramas based on traditional Buddhist legends. This troupe is exceptional, even if somewhat strangely it is named the Joe Louis Puppet Theatre (apparently the founder was a fan of the boxer!).

  • Somtow Sucharitkul says:

    Hello. This is Somtow Sucharitkul writing. I’m grateful to Norman for mentioning our struggles in his website because it has succeeded in drawing some attention and help from unexpected sources. At the moment, we’ve succeeded in raising about 90% of what we need in order to not go over the cliff. So, we are hanging on by a thread, yet there is some optimism.

    As Nick, q.v., has mentioned our RING program, I’d like to make a quick report about its progress. Our efforts to continue with the cycle are actually ongoing, but have been stymied three times since our production of Walküre because of something weird happening to our Siegfried. One became ill and seems to have vanished from the scene, the second also became incapacitated not long before our planned production. The third send me an email 3 weeks before opening night requesting that we turn it into a concert performance because he didn’t think he could memorize the part. This was followed by a similar letter from the Wotan! With only three weeks to go, I looked at the resumes of all the singers we had engaged and saw that all had Holländer in their repertoire, so on the fly (and in the midst of street political protests that were taking up large swaths of the city) I sort of somehow conjured up a production of Holländer which seems to have received some quite favorable reviews.

    Personally I don’t think that simultaneously directing and conducting is as much of a stretch as one might think. There was a time when it was the norm: Mahler did it all the time. It’s really only the “super-star”-ification of conductor and director that has given rise to this idea. It’s actually a good way of integrating the musical and conceptual vision and it saves a lot of argument, and I find that opera singers are often really relieved to be able to be directed in a way that understands their process as singers. However, doing things this way is certainly not my first choice.

    We’re always being accused of biting off more than we can chew, and yet I don’t think anything important in the history of art has ever happened when people were biting off only what they could chew.

    So I wanted to say that while the RING cycle is certainly not on schedule, it is not actually dead. I’m still actively searching for a Siegfried who’s available and able to work under the peculiar conditions we have here in Bangkok. But I am a little afraid that Siegfried in Bangkok labors under a curse. I may try to refocus, as it’s been so long, by starting with RHEINGOLD all over again — because a lot has happened since 2006. For one thing, our orchestra can actually play the music now. Ten years ago, it did not have 57 staged opera productions, a complete Mahler cycle, the Rite of Spring etc etc under its belt.

    It’s a curious thing but the the productions that we have had that actually had the highest ticket sales were “Das Rheingold” and my own opera “Mae Naak.” That’s one of the most exciting things about working here. Almost every work is equally unfamiliar, and so it is always fresh for our audiences.

    All the above is predicated on us surviving the next month or so, but things are looking for and more optimistic now. 

    All best