Creators and cast members of “Where Elephants Weep,” Cambodia’s first rock opera, met with reporters at Phnom Penh’s Chenla Theater on Tuesday in front of the stage, which is being doubled in size to accommodate the show.
Written by Catherine Filloux with music by Him Sophy, the opera will premiere Nov 28 in Phnom Penh and be followed by five performances.
The music will combine Cambodian traditional and rock music instruments, such as base guitar and synthesizer, to tell what is “a very Cambodian story,” said Fred Frumberg of Amrita Performing Arts, which is producing the show.
The musical is about a Cambodian who returns to Cambodia after moving to the US as a refugee at the end of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979.
The cast consists of US singers with Asian roots from New York City’s musical theater world; well-known Cambodian singer Ieng Sithul; Cambodian actors, dancers and musicians; and Canadian stage director Robert McQueen.
The show has been seven years in the making and John Burt—a New York-based executive producer and co-founder of Cambodian Living Arts—came up with the idea of a Cambodian opera, Him Sothy said.
After scores of working sessions between Him Sophy, Burt and Filloux, the show has turned into a production with 63 people on the payroll plus the workers building the set, Burt said.
Culture Ministry Secretary of State Thai Norak Sathya said at the news conference that such productions are giving Cambodian artists the opportunity to work with international artists, which benefits the country’s art development.
As much as Cambodian audiences love their traditional classical and folk dances, they eventually tire if the same ones are performed over and over again, he said.
Efforts to preserve traditional art forms should not lead to “narrow-minded nationalism,” Thai Norak Sathya said. Cambodian artists must be encouraged to create new works and working with international artists may help them fuel their creativity, he said.