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Opera Siam

The Maestro – Opera Siam

Combining the forces of its youth orchestra, which had no concerts, with Thai film crews, who had no film work, Opera Siam’s film about an insane maestro has harvested prizes at home and abroad. It tells the story of a conductor who abducts a youth orchestra to a remote mansion and forces them to play his ‘masterpiece’. Both a dark comedy and homage to the horror films of the 1980s, it tackles the nature of genius and madness. Here, Opera Siam’s director Somtow Sucharitkul recalls the film’s genesis under challenging Covid restrictions.

Our opera company was on hold. Our orchestras, both youth and regular, had no concerts because gatherings were limited to 20 people. This had been going on for more than a year and I was very very worried about all of their mental health.

In came British director Paul Spurrier, with whom I collaborated previously on a film about a serial killer obsessed with Gesualdo. Paul told me the same malaise had hit the film industry.  No productions in Thailand. No work for film crews.

I said, ‘Can you think of a way to combine our out of work young musicians and your out of work film crews?’

Paul told me that there was a loophole, because filmmaking, subject to Covid-controls, was still allowed. An orchestra could indeed rehearse and play — if it was in a film. Paul sent me off to write a screenplay, then told me he would only direct if I played the mad maestro myself.  ‘It will be easy,’ he said, ‘just be yourself, only a little bit more mad.’

He came up with a wild plot. An insane Thai composer/conductor, who’s been kicked out of every opera house and orchestra in Europe, has returned to Thailand and is teaching rich kids in a shopping mall. He dreams of conducting his masterpiece, Tongue of an Angel, in memory of his opera singer mother who was brutally murdered by his uncle (probably his father) during his twisted childhood. When Covid comes, he begins luring child prodigies away to an abandoned house in the hills where he plans to create a musical utopia and perform his masterpiece. Needless to say, things start to go wrong… after all, he is mad, and some of his child prodigies aren’t that sane either. A few dead bodies later, with an audience of handcuffed impresarios, he conducts his piece (livestreamed by hacking into someone else’s livestreamed concert), joined by all those dead people and the ghost of his mother.

We shot the film entirely under Covid restrictions. Well-known Thai actors joined the cast, but the main players were the real youth orchestra and a young soprano in our young artists program.

In September, the movie premiered at the Oldenburg Film Festival where it won the ‘Spirit of Cinema’ award.  Since then, it’s won two more awards: ‘Best Creative Vision’
‘ from a Thai festival and ‘Outstanding Achievement in a genre film’ from Singapore.