Robert Turnbull, a former journalist who is producing a Cambodian opera based on Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” is preparing to see it played out near the famed temples of Angkor Wat.
While many talented Cambodian artists have been performing traditional Cambodian arts around the world, this opera brings together Cambodian artists and dancers from across disciplines, in what Turnbull called a “Cambodian spectacle.”
As a volunteer teaching Western-style dance in Cambodia, Turnbull said he recognized the potential of young Cambodian artists who lack technical support in classical music-making.
While there is increased interest in opera production and Western classical music in Southeast Asia, there is no “proper music conservatories and infrastructure here,” he told VOA Khmer.
Given a lack of technical skills, “Mozart at Angkor” ultimately aims to provide “apprenticeships and training in all aspects of classical music-making” to Cambodian artists, he said.
“Another thing is of course an opportunity to train Cambodians in some technical issues, such as lighting, sound, engineering, set and custom design, and stage management,” he said. “All these things are very important. There are few Cambodians who have these skills.”
“Mozart at Angkor” is a three-year project that initially involves establishing an ensemble through auditions and workshops, a process that started last week. The auditions are taking place at the Royal University of Fine Arts and are being supervised by Italian stage director Stefano Vizioli and Australian-Italian music director Aaron Carpene, who recently set up a similar opera in Bhutan.
As the line producer, Amrita Performing Arts is dealing with logistics and organizing, bringing talented Cambodian artists to the auditions and workshops. Three Vietnamese, one South Korean, and one Thai opera singer are assisting with auditions, as well.
The final production, “The Magic Flute” will be a unique operatic performance, held in 2017 at the Chau Say Tevoda temple in Siem Reap, where Cambodian artists will sing their first major opera, as well as perform the robam borann Cambodian classical dance and sbaek thom shadow puppetry.
Although “The Magic Flute” is a western classical opera, its narrative has a lot in common with many Cambodian performance arts, such as the story of the Ramayana, especially the rescue of Sitha by Rama and Hanuman, Turnbull explained.
Because the dialogue is very funny and universally humane, Turnbull believes it will be “a very enjoyable experience for Cambodians.”