July 18, 2016 1:00 am
Work proceeds on history’s most ambitious opera cycle, and there’s every indication of glorious success
Ii seems to have happened overnight, but Somtow Sucharitkul is at the halfway point in composing his 10-opera epic “DasJati” (“Tossachat – Ten Lives of the Buddha”), collectively touted by trade publications as the “biggest opera of all time”. It will be, too – provided that the composer survives to realise his extraordinary ambition.
Opera Siam’s compilation of scenes from the first five installations in the cycle – staged at the Thailand Cultural Centre on June 25 and 26 in honour of His Majesty the King’s 70th year on the throne – afforded a wonderful opportunity to revisit some of the more unusual highlights from Somtow’s fevered imagination.
Presented once again in wondrous fashion were the shipwreck and angelic rescue scene from “Mahajanaka”, the animals in the forest mourning the death of “Sama: The Faithful Son”, and the temptation of the Death-God from “The Silent Prince”, as well as the wittily electrifying Baby Dragon Dance from “Bhuridat”.
These musical dramas were performed in Bangkok over the past four years, but most interesting of all was the “sneak preview” of the next entry, “Chariot of Heaven”, from which the audiences at the Cultural Centre were treated to the scene “Tavatimsa Heaven”.
One of the problems in setting these 10 beloved Jataka tales of the Buddha’s incarnations to music is the sheer variety of storytelling techniques involved. Some of the stories are intimate and simple. Others have complicated, generation-spanning plots, and “Chariot of Heaven” derives from one of the latter. It’s based on Nimi Jataka, the story of King Nemiraj, who was so noble that the gods invited him to preach to them in Heaven. Continue reading