Mozart at Angkor

‘A Cambodian Magic Flute’ based on Mozart’s Opera.

After a series of workshops and auditions in February 2015 and March 2016 a semi-staged version of excerpts from the opera will be finally performed in MARCH, 10 2018 in Phnom Penh at the Chaktomuk Conference Hall.
The result will be a unique Cambodian spectacle.

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Ever since its first performance in 1791, Mozart’s much-loved The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte), has been a cornerstone of the Western operatic tradition. With its combination of unforgettable melodies and pantomime humor, this opera is both a parable of the universal search for truth and, if you like, the first hit musical, enjoying an unprecedented run of over 100 performances in its first season. For the first-ever performance of a classical opera in Cambodia, there could not be a more magical setting than The Magic Flute, nor any more magical setting than the majestic temples of Angkor. Amrita Performing Arts dancers have been working with international opera professionals alongside an eager team of local musicians, singers and craftspeople, to present three performances using the 12th century Angkorian temple of Chau Say Tevoda as an awe-inspiring stage setting. This event will bring an exciting new genre to a World Heritage Site and heighten awareness of the richness of Cambodia’s heritage in the Western world, while also introducing Cambodians to one of Europe’s greatest cultural icons.


Cambodians of all ages and visitors from all over the world will be able to relate to the simple humanity of this story. With its powerful mythological and allegorical content, the opera’s morality and affecting love story have clear parallels with the popular Ramayana story and other elements of Hindu and Buddhist symbolism. The Asian-European artistic team will draw on these parallels as well as incorporate traditional Cambodian disciplines such as robam borann (Cambodian classical dance) and sbaek thom (leather shadow puppetry) to create a wonderfully eclectic and at the same time uniquely Cambodian spectacle.

Ever since political stability returned to Cambodia after the demise of the Khmer Rouge, a lot of money has been spent on reviving the indigenous arts, much of it engendered by Amrita Performing Arts. This production will reap the benefits of two decades of this kind of work. However, the country’s growing number of classical musicians has largely been ignored. Ironically, while some in the West might view the works of Mozart and Stravinsky as colonial imports, Asians are passionate about these composers and voraciously devour Western classical music in all its forms, not only as practitioners but also consumers.

This landmark venture will establish apprenticeships and tuition in all aspects of classical music-making, building on progress made by young artists at Phnom Penh’s Royal University of Fine Arts and one of the city’s private music colleges, run by Cambodia’s foremost composer Him Sophy. Moreover, the project will create opportunities for Cambodians to learn the essentials of theater production and management, including costume design, sound and lighting, and stage management. Cambodians will gain a better insight into their capacities and abilities to achieve goals they might never have imagined.


The west and southwest sides of Chau Say Tevoda temple, approximately one kilometer from Angkor Wat, offer a superb setting for the complex production we envisage, as well as good sight lines. Having been granted permission to use the temple by the APSARA Authority which controls Angkor, the action will take place mainly on a stage-like area linking two parts of the monument, accessed by a walkway erected specifically for the purpose. The temple grounds , moreover, have ample room for parking, a hospitality tent and toilet facilities.


The production will bring together Cambodian actors, dancers, puppeteers, singers and instrumentalists, with theater and opera professionals from around the Southeast Asian region and beyond. Performed in both English and Cambodian, the chorus will be made up entirely of Cambodian singers and the orchestra will include at least twelve of the country’s top instrumentalists. At least five operatic roles will be sung by Cambodians.


December 2018 (exact date to be determined).


Amrita Performing Arts, founded by the American Fred Frumberg in July 2003 as a not-for-profit organization, has spent the last ten years in collaboration with artists from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, producing works representing all forms of Cambodian performing arts. It was a driving force behind Seasons of Cambodia, the two-month celebration of Cambodian culture that electrified New York City in 2013.

Prior to his arrival in Cambodia, Frumberg spent 15 years in opera houses and theaters throughout the USA and Europe, assisting stage directors such as Peter Sellars, Francesca Zambello and Deborah Warner. He was Metteur-en-scène at the Paris Opera from 1994 to 1997, a staff stage director for the Netherlands Opera in the late 1980s and production manager for two World Festivals of Sacred Music in Los Angeles in 1999 and 2002.

Rithisal Kang Executive Director at Amrita Performing Art


Robert Turnbull has spent 20 years raising the profile of the arts in Cambodia. He has personally supported musicians studying abroad as well as written numerous articles in the NYT and WSJ. Aside from being a journalist, Robert has worked as a pianist in the operatic world and an understanding of the complexity of operatic production. In 2012 he created Le Festival d’En Blanc et Noir, a piano festival in the Corbières Mountains in France.

When Robert arrived in Cambodia much of this effort was focused on the traditional indigenous performing artists at a time when it was a clear priority. Now the situation has moved on. Skills in Western classical music are currently highly sought-after, and yet, unlike Vietnam or Thailand, countries with tangible infrastructure, there has been a little in the way of government support or training.

Cambodia is a nation that accepts help from other countries and institutions to help foster professionalism, resources and expertise.

The Cambodian Magic Flute project is designed to further these changes. Finally, it is the turn of another group of artists, hitherto neglected musicians like opera singers and clarinet players to have a chance at honing their skills.



Stage Director Stefano Vizioli and Musical Director Aaron Carpene have between them contributed to over 100 opera productions in well-established opera companies and festivals as far afield as La Scala, Milan and Beijing.
Stefano Vizioli is currently the Artistic Director of the Opera della Primaziale Pisana.

As opera assumes greater popularity throughout the Asian region, Vizioli and Carpene have come to specialize in reconceptualising Western opera through the traditional performing arts and theology of Asian cultures. Their production of Handel’s Acis and Galatea in the Royal Kingdom of Bhutan in 2013 brought together an international opera cast with the Royal Academy of Performing Arts in Bhutan. The production was recreated a year later at El Paso University, Texas, the project’s co-producer. The New York Times’ Rachael Monroe proclaimed it, “not just an extraordinary achievement, but a deeply moving human experience.”



In February 2015, the artistic team headed musical director Aaron Carpene and stage director Stefano Vizioli with Cambodian artists, musicians, singers and dancers, selected the ones who will benefit of the international training.

The workshops for ‘Mozart at Angkor’ were generally successful. Taking place at both the Royal University of Fine Arts, Sovannaphum Theatre and the Circus School in Phnom Penh, the ten-day event advanced the project considerably and represented the first time that so many of Cambodia’s classical musicians and dancers in various disciplines had been assembled ‘under one roof’.

Robert Turnbull created an on-line campaign for this ten-day event and managed to raise the target amount of $16,000, most of which went to paying participants a fee and Per-Diem. Most of the donors were non-Cambodians living in Cambodia who are aware of the arts scene. No foreign public bodies or foundations were approached at this early stage.

We invited six singers from other Asian countries (Thailand, Korea, Vietnam), all of whom had performed the opera on stage and knew their roles well. Around 70 Cambodians took part, from players of both Western and Cambodian instruments (25) to dancers in both classical and contemporary disciplines (25), and, of course, opera singers (20).
Though the majority of Cambodian singers were young and lacked experience, most were anxious to learn and some had brought ambitious arias by Saint-Saens, Cesti, Mozart, Handel and Puccini.
Some instrumentalists showed technical aptitude, four or five of them having received training in Japan and Russia and had had some experience playing in orchestras. A handful had stopped playing for lack of opportunity. Around five players of Cambodian classical instruments took part, to the delight of conductor Aaron Carpene, who immediately began to re-imagine some sections for the score for these new forces.

AMRITA’S dancers demonstrated a high level of professionalism and creation, many having had opportunities to work with western choreographers over ten years and to perform in festivals abroad. Four of them were invited to the Teatro Real in Madrid last year to take part in a production of Stravinsky’s Persephone in a production by Peter Sellars. This production was revived at the Aix-en-Provence festival in July 2015.
AMRITA’s artists have worked with international choreographers and directors from the West and Asia. Some of them are currently the emerging choreographers who are actively performing and creating their own works, several of which have been presented at regional festivals.

Chey Chankethya, in her capacity of Amrita Performing Arts’ artistic director, has been involved in creative process. She is a key artistic and cultural point of reference for the artistic directors Stefano Vizioli and Aaron Carpene.

All in all we identified around twenty musicians who we hope will be interpreting Mozart’s score. A handful of instrumentalists have already reached the technical level required. The rest require urgent training, which should begin as soon as possible and continue until the performance in December 2018. In the case of opera singers, we aim to cast the chorus from Cambodians and the seven or eight smaller roles, but basic training is still urgent and necessary. For the bigger roles we are looking at three Cambodians living abroad, all of whom are studying opera. The roles not taken by Cambodians will go to regional singers, from Vietnam, Thailand, China and Korea.

This project is an educational one above all and the challenge is now to find partners who will undertake this training and monitor progress, as well as organize concerts over a two year period. We are in discussion with both Singapore’s Yong Siew Toh conservatory of music and Mahidon University in Bangkok

Our plans also involve RUFA (Royal University of Fine Arts) and its Faculty of Music as a major partner and if the education program develops in the country, it will take place there.

During this period we also met the Minister of Culture in Cambodia who endorsed the project and asked us to continue working with them. The Australian ambassador who will be keen to assist this project through non-financial commitment.


One year in the making, six days in action, 27 musicians, a crack production team, and a couple of brilliant Italians: Mozart At Angkor is proud to say that the music section of our The Magic Flute workshops II is now completed!

The workshop was a huge success and while we were expecting great results, the fusion of Cambodian and western classical music was far more powerful than we had anticipated. Set against the backdrop of the APSARA temple complex in 2018, this is going to be a truly memorable performance of The Cambodian Magic Flute.

Firstly, we would like to thank Mr Keo Dorivan and his expert Khmer ensemble for bringing the untouched spirit of your ancestors through your instrumentation and into this opera.

To the extremely talented students of Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music and your accompanying faculty, we have been delighted by your professionalism and your warm company, and we look forward to working with you next year.

Mozart At Angkor would also like to thank our brilliant Music Director Aaron Carpene for your technical expertise, stamina, and humble respect for the legacy of Cambodian people and culture. We don’t forget Aaron’s inseparable partner Stefano Vizioli (TMF stage Director) who developed an exciting movement narrative which draws upon the very best of western classical and both ancient robam boran and contemporary Cambodian dance forms. Working closely with Amrita Performing Arts, Stefano also engaged shadow puppeteers and circus performers, in preparation for an eclectic choreography that showcases the very best of Cambodia’s talent and heritage.

To our wonderful Cambodian vocalists and classical musicians, we look forward to working together as we prepare for our 2017 workshops.

The Magic Flute continues to generate growing interest within the local community and the support of our sponsors has been pivotal to the success of this project so far. This year, Mozart At Angkor is pleased to welcome the Intercontinental Phnom Penh as principal sponsors for our 2016 workshop series. The InterContinental are significant patrons of classical music in Cambodia, and we look forward to working closely with them as we build to a further workshop series in 2017, with an accompanying public “work in progress” performance.

A further thank you to the wonderful teams at UNESCO Cambodia and Innov8 International Groupe for their ongoing belief in and support of this exciting project.

Lastly, to the most excellent crew from the company Amrita Performing Arts, you have been yet again a true pleasure to work with and the invaluable link between all parties concerned.

Musical Director Aaron Carpene and Stefano Vizioli:

“In the second workshop, Stefano and I worked with both Amrita’s dancers and a group of ten Cambodians playing traditional instruments. We rearranged key moments of the magic flute but also focused on substitutions of Mozart music with original Cambodian music.

Whole scenes of the opera have been reinterpreted by Amrita dancers in line with their own repertory of styles, from folk dance, to modern dance, to male mask dance, to classical dance.

We were fascinated to discover there are many parallels in the ‘rituals’ employed by Mozart and schikaneder in the opera to those of traditional Cambodian cultural precepts. The similarities between the opera’s narrative and the Ramayana story are striking.

In 2016 we refined much of the previous  2015, developing more parts of the score and the substitution of Mozart with Cambodian music and folk dance.

Narim was extremely helpful with translation and choreography for the artists, perfectly understanding all the details of the plot but also giving us important information about style and advice and helping me to identify and finding the best choreography for the dramatic sequences. Our collaboration was a process of sharing experiences, for which I am extremely grateful to her and to the entire company. I was able to share many ideas with them and we also had a lot of joyful moments. Not only did they fall in love with the plot and the music but were able to share their ideas with me, so I felt blessed to work with these wonderful people.”



‘A Cambodian Magic Flute’ enters the second phase, a semi-staged concert version of Mozart’s opera, performed at the Vann Molyvann’s Glorious Chaktomuk Conference Hall in Phnom Penh on March 10th, 2018.  This concert of Mozart’s masterpiece represents the first time a classic opera has ever been performed in Cambodia.




13 Cambodian dancers from Amrita Performing Arts.
9 Cambodians playing traditional instruments.
28 piece orchestra made up of 24 members of the Saigon Philharmonic Orchestra and four from Cambodia.
8 Asian soloists, three from Cambodia.


Created in 2000 Amrita Performing Arts has emerged as one of Southeast Asia’s leading dance company in Cambodia. Initially trained in classical dance the troupe of around 30 dancers have since adopted contemporary dance techniques through proximity and training by western choreographers such as the American Mark Morris. When Amrita performed as the Guggenheim Museum during the Seasons of Cambodia festival in New York, the New York Times wrote : ‘their dancing had mimicry, charm and virtuosity throughout; sometimes its spell goes deeper yet’.


Saigon Philharmonic Orchestra
resident of Ho Chi Minh Conservatory of Music

South Vietnam leading orchestra was founded in 1995 out if the city’s leading Conservatory of Music. The orchestra plays for the both and city’s opera and ballet companies in the Opera House, a colonial structure in the heart of the city. They also perform abroad and were chosen to form part of the orchestral forces for the Southeast Asian premieres of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman IN 2016. The European style conservatory has been shaping the raw material of talent as the demand for opera grows among Vietnam’s increasingly sophisticated public young generation of musicians. The country produces some of Asia’s finest singers.



CMF aims to bring Asian soloists from around the region. Asia as a region has its own rich history in the performing arts and until the last decade or so has been slow to catch onto this Western medium, with only the northern countries of Japan and Korea performing operatic repertory with any regularity. All that has changed over the last few decades. Today resource-rich China has built a number of opera houses while Thailand can boast six different establishments producing opera. Increasingly smaller companies, sometimes with quite ambitious plans are challenging the more established regional companies.

CMF has been following these developments and assembled a team of soloists with exactly the right voices for the roles. Contrary to some views, Mozart is not easy to sing and requires a purity of line and control that eludes many trained singers.


In collaboration with Amrita Performing Arts, the Rome-based conductor-stage director team Aaron Carpene and Stefano Vizioli are working with a group of Cambodians to re-conceptualize sections of the score for local instrumental forces. The flute solos of the Fire and Water Trials will be taken by the kloy, while Papageno’s magic bells, usually played on the glockenspiel are played on the pin, the traditional Cambodian harp recreated recently by the French ethnomusicologist Patrick Kersale from bas-relief images of Angkorian temples.

‘Our idea is to capture the magic of Papageno’s instrument through the beguiling sounds of Cambodian traditional instruments’, says Carpene. ‘Mozart’s music for the glockenspiel will be transformed by a Khmer ensemble tantalized by the thought of what Mozart would have done himself if he had had access to Cambodian musicians in Vienna in 1791!’ 

Keo Sophy was born in 1968 and grew up in a traditional music family in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In 2006, he received his Bachelor’s Degree in composition from Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) in Phnom Penh. Since 1994, he has taught composition, music theory and Khmer traditional percussion as a Professor in the Faculty of Music, Royal University of Fine Arts. He has composed many pieces for both Western and Khmer traditional instruments. As a traditional musician, he has performed in Cambodia, Mongolia, Japan, USA, Vietnam, Indonesia, South Korea, China, Thailand, Philippines, Taiwan, Singapore and Australia.

One of the ancient instruments included in our Magic Flute ensemble is the ‘pin’, or  ornate harp, whose design is based on a 7th century sculpture found at Sambor Prei Kuk—the most important pre-Angkorian site, located in central Cambodia.

The man behind it is Patrick Kersale, a French ethnomusicologist who reconstructed a collection of 50 Angkorian and pre-Angkorian instruments by studying wall sculptures on a number of Khmer monuments.

Use of the harp probably ceased in the 1300s, claims Kersale, who has miraculously revived not only the instruments but the tonalities of the royal cortege that set the musical narrative for the Angkor empire in its prime.  For the first time we can imagine the ‘sound of Angkor’.

‘Finding musical instrument-makers to reproduce the ancient drum and string instruments was not difficult, Mr. Kersale said. However, crafting a long-forgotten harp was not so simple, so Mr. Kersale went to Burma where the harp still features prominently in traditional music.

On his return to Cambodia, it was only a matter of time before he found locals prepared to learn the instrument, and we are very proud to welcome two of his students into our project.


Four Cambodian Musicians playing Flute and Clarinet will join the Orchestra, first for four rehearsals days in Vietnam Ho Chi Minh and finally for the concert at the Chaktomuk.

We will take the opportunity having all of these talented artists together in once to offer open rehearsals to all musicians students in the Royal University of fine Arts as well as free open workshops about Singing and Conducting. The press interviews will be at the Royal University too.

Chan Vitharo was born in Phnom Penh, the son of a professor of plastic arts at the Royal University of Fine Arts, Phnom Penh. From 2009 he has played the flute at the Royal Palace with his majesty, former King Norodom Sihanouk’s band entitled the Royal Singing Orchestra. In 1989 he received a baccalaureate in Flute at the School of Fine Arts in Phnom Peng under professor Eang Sengthai where he has been teaching ever since.
After further studies with the German virtuoso Anton Isselhardt he received a scholarship from the Japanese government to study flute at the Elisabeth University of Music in Hiroshima with professor Oshiro Keiji. Vitharo plays regularly in Cambodia, China and Japan. He also conducts, having won a scholarship at Korea’s National University to study conducting with professor Chong Chi Yong.

Him Savy was born in Prey Veng Province, Cambodia. Her first musical experience was in traditional Khmer music groups. She began formal musical training in 1990 and continued her studies at the Royal University of Fine Arts where she now teaches. As well as her expertise in traditional Khmer music, particularly as a singer, Him Savy is a leading Cambodian musician on the Western flute and she has performed  Solo two flutes with String Orchestra, Tembi House of Culture, and Atma Jaya Univesty of Jogyakata, Indonesia. On September 2009 Him Savy performed Solo for two flutes with Germany String Orchestra. She also performed for everywhere in Cambodia, Japan, USA, Vietnam, Indonesia, China, Singapore, Taiwan and Australia.

Ikeda Bonsamnang Clarinettist: Born in Phnom Penh, Cambodian-Japanese virtuoso clarinettist, Mr Ikeda graduated from the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh. He continued his studies under full scholarship from the Cambodian government and attended the Dnipropetrovsk State Music College in the Ukraine and received BM in Clarinet. He further obtained his Post-graduates curriculum course at the Birmingham Conservatoire in the UK, and under full Japanese Government Scholarship obtained Master of Music at the Elisabeth University of Music in Hiroshima, Japan. Mr. Ikeda was a member of the Dnipropetrovsk Philharmonic for one year. Afterwards, he returned back to Phnom Penh and actively. engages in many musical performance. Mr Ikeda joined the ASEAN-Japan symphony Orchestras in Tokyo, Japan (2003) and ASEAN Orchestra in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (2011).

Check Bunhong; Clarinettist

Teang Borin, known as ‘Din’,  as born and raised in Kampot province. He moved to Phnom Penh in 1999 to study architecture at Norton University, from where he graduated in 2005. Din worked in an architecture and design company for the next ten year but thereafter decided to take up painting full time. He now works out of a studio on Street 136, has been the recipient of several major commissions and exhibited widely within Cambodia. He enjoys a strong presence on line. Din has global outreach – his paintings are on show in the USA and Europe.

Clemence, called Klemsy by her friends, wishes she could spend her life reading books and working on her next Halloween masks. She’s been working as a communication manager and graphic designer in Phnom Penh for the past 4 years, often on cultural projects. On the side, she’s been making masks and FX make-up out of her love for costume parties. She enjoys exploring creative techniques and creating masks inspired by paintings and literary characters. She’s thrilled to get the opportunity to make masks for the Magic Flute.

Sorn Doran is a shadow puppet cutter and designer.Trained in Siem Reap, the national centre for sbeik thom, he takes just under one month to create a puppet, depending on size and complexity. His work involves buying, curing the leather, designing, cutting and staining. He has spent ten years creating puppets for the  Reamker, currently the subject of all the large puppet performances. He says there is no reason why another story can be told with newly designed characters.Seckon is keen to experiment with new forms and has already made preliminary drawings of scenes of the magic Flute.





The performances will take place in Chau Say Tevoda Temple in December 2018, seating about 500 people.


Reason to give to
A Cambodian Magic Flute Project:

1. Donors can contribute to a historical event, the first classic opera ever performed in Cambodia.

2. Before the civil war Cambodia was a regional leader in the classic arts. Today the country wants to rejoin other ASEAN countries in these arts. Interest in Western classical music by young musicians is growing rapidly as part of a regional trend, so that in a sense the future of Western classical music lies in Asia. This opera is part of an effort to help Cambodia retake its rightful place on that particular prominent stage. Donors can be part of that.

3. This opera is essentially so Cambodian in its many aspects that it can become a repertory piece, a special site-specific and culture-specific production that can be repeated using future generations of musicians. Like the Reamker itself, one might claim, THE CAMBODIAN MAGIC FLUTE could become a major and regular  event on the tourist itinerary, not so much a technical ‘sound and light show’ but a powerful piece of theatre.

4. Even though we are setting out to make this opera accessible to all people, especially Cambodians, Western opera brings with it a level of education and sophistication that appeals to the middle classes of many cultures, not just the West but also the Middle-East and Asia. Cambodia has, in one sense, an advantage in not having this highbrow art form as part of its standard repertory, allowing it to avoid some of the pitfalls that have alienated large numbers of people in the West.

5. For many years different sectors of Cambodia has received support from a wide variety of sources. Our view is the arts should be part of that transformation. Music should and must be part of any cultural regeneration.  Sponsors will be contributing to the resurgence of culture after the decimation of the wars of the70s and 80s.

6. Cambodian companies as well as individuals are slowly beginning to recognize the value and importance of culture in the process of national reconciliation. The country is at a turning point in its social development when the obligation to take care of Cambodian culture rests not so much with the foreign not-for-profit sector but with its own people, many of who have recently become extremely wealthy. The country to no longer simply victim of a tragic past but a society looking to create new cultural norms requiring significant investment.


We launched a fundraising campaign to secure the final needed to fund this exciting second phase of ‘A Cambodian Magic Flute’  to make sure that the performance will have a big impact in Cambodia.
Donors to our Indiegogo Campaign will receive special benefits commemorating the Chaktomuk performance.


The aspect of this project is as important as the theatrical aspect. But while people are invariably enthused by Mozart at Angkor, such encouragement needs to be translated into concrete support. From hotels, caterers and travel agencies, the project will generate significant income for the local tourist industry; dozens of Cambodians will be employed as part of a major logistic infrastructure effort.

‘A Cambodian magic Flute’ Campaign donors support the MOZART at ANGKOR Production & realization and AMRITA PERFORMING ARTS’ mission to be a catalyst in a vibrant Cambodian arts sector, inspiring new generations. All donors will be recognized in Amrita’s annual report and on our website. Donors above $1000 will also be recognized in A Cambodian Magic Flute performance booklet.

Like Aida in Luxor or Turandot in Beijing’s Forbidden City, our Magic Flute will raise the cultural profile of Cambodia and the country’s credentials as a place open to western ideas and to celebrating the common humanity of all people. The event will attract the world’s press as well as celebrities and the new breed of cultural tourists who follow a calendar of special occasions around the world, while sponsors will be able to entertain their guests in a profoundly memorable way.

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