Viswa Subbaraman

Opera and Orchestra Conductor

Asian Excursion (Part 4 - Ain't no host like a Bangkok host)

Sorry this post is a long one! I had to cover the past few days since I haven't been able to write the past few days. I had an incredible visit to Bangkok. I finally met the composer of The Silent Prince, Somtow Sucharitkul. I arrived in Bangkok directly after the Asia21 Young Leaders' Summit in Jakarta. (I'm getting a chance to see a good part of Asia that I haven't yet - talk about being blessed with travel). I arrived at the incredible Rembrandt Hotel. (After a lengthy wait in Immigration and Customs.  My mom had sent some gifts for people in India, which I then had to explain to the customs guy - who was convinced for some reason that I had been in China recently).

Anyway, I arrived at the Rembrandt Hotel (thank you, Opera Siam). I walked in and they promptly told me that I would have to check in elsewhere. By elsewhere, they meant in the VIP lounge (again - thank you, Opera Siam). I don't know why, but I still love nice hotels. Again, I've been lucky that most of the hotels people put me in when I conduct are nice hotels, and each time I walk in one, I smile. I hope I never lose that.

The first night I had dinner with Somtow, one of Somtow's students, Darren (the stage director for Carmen), and Stefan (one of the singers). It was nice to finally meet Somtow. I felt like I had known him for years. (In some ways, I have - we collaborated on The Silent Prince, and the process lasted years, but it was nice to actually meet the person). I ended up back at the hotel and collapsed. I was exhausted.

The next day was sort of a free day for me. I ended up going to the Grand Palace in Bangkok. It was an amazing sight to see. I'll post pictures of it below. I have to say I enjoyed seeing the aspects of Indian culture in the mix. On one huge wall was a pictorial representation of the Ramayana. (In fact, Rama is a title of the King of Thailand). I didn't realize it was a Buddhist/Hindu monarchy. It was a cool experience.

The next morning started with an interview for Bangkok's The Nation. It was a fun conversation. I finally had the opportunity (especially after decompressing) to discuss the experience of putting TSP on stage. What really struck me as I was discussing TSP with the Thai reporter was the enormity of the feat that Somtow pulled off. He wrote a new opera that brought the house down. After going through all the new operas submitted for the competition and all the new operas I see on a regular basis, the magnitude of writing a great new opera is truly incredible.

Somtow and I then met with Renuka Narayanan from the Indian Embassy in Thailand. Plainly put, she was a hoot! What a well-read and interesting person. Honestly, I was rather shocked that she was in the Indian foreign service. We had conversations about authors, philosophy, Somtow's opera, and of course, India. She was a huge proponent of a tour of The Silent Prince as am I.

What Somtow was able to do is truly incredible.  He wrote a very Asian themed opera with musical influences from traditional Carnatic music. The story was based on a (perhaps for Western audiences) obscure Buddhist folk tale. It used non-stereotypical voice types like the male soprano. The triumph was that it spoke to an audience thousands of miles away of predominately young professional Texans. It's a testament to the power of music, of course, but there is a lot of music that doesn't speak across so many cultures like that. I think more than anything it's a testament to the work that Somtow put into writing this opera. It's definitely one that I would do again at the drop of a hat. It showed Somtow's mastery of the art form.

So, given how I felt about his opera, it was great to finally meet him. It was also amazing to see the incredible talent that he's drawing to Bangkok and to see the hours he's putting in to making opera an important art form in a city that has never had it as it's tradition. Thailand has a treasure and a lot to be proud of in Somtow!

My final evening there, Somtow and I met one of my new friends from the Asia21 Summit, Kwang Asadej Kongsiri. It was a fun dinner of Thai food. It was also rather humorous to find out that in some distant fashion Somtow and Asadej are related to each other. Asadej claims to not be an opera fan, but I think we can convert him. We had a long discussion with him on funding possibilities for a tour of Somtow's The Silent Prince through Asia. One cool idea from Renuka earlier was to perform it at Lumbini, Buddha's birth place.

You can see all the pictures under the Photo Gallery tab on my website.

Pictures of the Grand Palace in Bangkok: