Tenor Carreras Fills Angkor Wat With Music

angkor wat – In the darkness of the jungle, the towers of Angkor Wat slowly appeared, shaded green and gray. Then the voice of a man, cradled in music, rose into the night. For the following hour, Spanish tenor Jose Car­reras and the ancient monument displayed the kind of beauty that humans are capable of.

On Friday, 900 people, paying from $500 to $1,500, attended the Carreras benefit, including Princess Kalayani of Thailand, who arrived with an entourage that filled a plane.

“People were coming for two reasons,” said Gilbert Madhavan, Cambodia’s general manager for Raffles International Hotels and Resorts, which organized the event. People came to hear Jose Carreras, one of the three tenors whose performances in the 1980s broadened opera’s audience. They were also coming for Angkor Wat, which is not your average concert hall, Madhavan said.

The ancient monument was a towering backdrop for 112 chant­ing monks, 70 resounding drums, and 150 Apsara dancers from the Royal Cambodian Dance Troupe. As the dancers glided into view, the towers of Angkor Wat shifted from a red tone to mauve and gold, soft tones on the monument walls that reflected the gold, green, blue and white costumes of the glittering dancers.

The lights, and the monks and dancers made the place beautiful. The performance of Carreras, though, made the place mystifying. As the tenor sang, accompanied by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Angkor Wat jutted into the dark sky with only its outline lit.

An attentive, elegant audience dined under the music, as couples held hands and hugged. By the last number, the towers were shrouded in fog and ringed by the dancers, and the applause of the audience was lost in the magnitude of the outdoor space. They had to stomp the floor with their feet in their multiple requests for encores.

Making this happen took means as colossal as the monument itself.

“Technically, it was hugely complicated,” said Nigel Jamieson, the artistic director retained by Raffles for the event.

Lighting Angkor Wat took six generators, 20 miles of cable and 800,000 watts of electricity. About 1,000 people took part in setting up and holding the evening. (It took 100 people just to light the bowls of fire that led audience members to the dining area.)

Madhavan came up with the idea of the concert about two years ago when he was looking for a way to profit Grand Hotel d’Angkor while benefiting Siem Reap as a whole, he said. “Angkor Wat was the natural choice [for the setting] because it’s spectacular. But it had to be done very respectfully to befit the stature of the monument.”

Besides, the performer had to be of such a reputation that people would be willing to pay $1,500, $1,000 and $500 per person to see him.

The first suggestions made to Madhavan were US rock stars. “I said, ‘I don’t think so’.” He soon settled on opera, and approached Carreras, who agreed. “This done, I thought, how can I find 1,000 chairs, and how are we going to find power to cook on site,” he said. Four hundred kilograms of cod had to be prepared.

Details that needed handling included putting raincoats under tables since it would not be possible to shelter Angkor Wat and the location in case of a storm. As it happened, a drizzle led guests to put on the $0.50 ponchos from the Siem Reap market over their evening gowns and suits just long enough to have their photos taken.

The four organizations to benefit from the evening were chosen for their international appeal, he said. Veterans International, which makes artificial limbs and wheelchairs for land mine victims and runs a rehabilitation center, was contacted at the very beginning of the project, said Larrie Warren, country director. The silk-making shop set up by the organization to help land mine victims support themselves made, especially for the event, the dark silk kramas men received at the concert.

The three other organizations to benefit from the concert are the Cambodian Red Cross, SOS Kinderdorf, which opened a village for orphans in Phnom Penh and is building one in Siem Reap, and WildAid, which combats illegal wildlife trade in Cambodia.

The concert was supported by the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Culture and Apsara Authority. The Cambodian government provided the site itself at no cost, said Madhavan.

The amount to go to the four organizations will be made public in about three weeks, after an audit has been conducted, Madhavan said. Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was a guest of honor at the concert, thanked the audience for supporting tourism and charity activities in Cambodia through their presence.






Related Stories

Latest News