Bangkok, New York, and London
Bangkok Opera Presents Wagner's "Ring" With a Difference by Robert Turnball
Thailand's decision to be the first Southeast Asian nation to present the work has surprised even the most ardent Wagnerians. The production, by the Bangkok Opera, has the official blessing of the composer's great-grandson Wolfgang, who inaugurated Bangkok's Wagner Society last year. But it is a huge undertaking for a country that has been producing Western opera for only five years. Will Wagner be raising a quizzical eye from beyond the grave?
To be performed over the next four years, this new "Ring" is being called the first to address a regional sensibility. Instead of Nietzsche, substitute Buddha: the cycle of destruction and rebirth is wrought not so much by power but by the Buddhist pitfalls of desire and attachment.
The design too embraces Thai motifs. A work still associated in many minds with horned helmets and mythical castles features gods as bejeweled classical dancers, entering a Valhalla that imitates the Bangkok skyline.
The impresario behind the project is Somtow Papinian Sucharitkul, a British-educated Thai conductor of vaulting ambitions who also dabbles in painting and filmmaking and has written 47 cult novels under the name S. P. Somtow. As a musician he is a refreshing polymath in an age of increasing specialization. Not content to conduct opera, he also produces, designs and directs it; when inspired, he'll also finish it, as he did with the last act of Puccini's uncompleted "Turandot," once the opera was out of copyright.