Last last month, Opera Siam celebrated Verdi's 200th birthday by mounting the Southeast Asian premiere of Otello, considered by many to be the master's masterpiece. Aware that, in this Verdi year, he needed a new twist, artistic director Somtow Sucharitkul went to Phya Rachawangsan, a play by King Rama VI which is adapted from Shakespeare's Othello and which just happens to be having its own 100th anniversary this year.
Opera Siam's production became as much a celebration of Thailand's new creative confidence as a performance of a classic. This was not an Otello you could hope to see in Europe. If you closed your eyes, you would hear an excellent performance of Verdi's opera; but if you closed your ears, you would see King Rama VI's play, in which the setting has moved from the Mediterranean to the Straits of Malacca, and in which the Islamic outsider Otello isn't having jealous fits on Christian Cyprus, but in the Buddhist kingdom of Srivijaya, circa 700 AD.
It is so startling and original a concept that Somtow doesn't have to do anything else at all. Into this setting he places a fairly conventional Otello, not rethinking any of the motivations or adding outlandish subplots as would almost certainly occur in any of the "Euro-trash" versions.
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