Mozart at Angkor

‘A Cambodian Magic Flute’ based on Mozart’s Opera.
A series of workshops and auditions took place in February 2015 and March 2016 to identify the Cambodian musicians that will eventually form the core of the production. A semi-staged version of excerpts from the opera will be performed in January 2018. Cambodians working in indigenous musical and theatrical forms will also present their work to the conductor and stage director for incorporation into the final production. 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 combines work as a producer with a busy career as a journalist in the arts. His articles on Cambodia’s cultural revival for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Economist and International Herald Tribune between 1997 and 2012 were among the first to be published on the subject in the international press. With his unique knowledge and experience of both Western classical music and Southeast Asian culture, he now divides his time between Phnom Penh and the village of Lagrasse in Aude, France, where in 2013 he founded the piano festival En Blanc et Noir. Before dreaming up this ambitious project, Robert had been involved in all aspects of the revival of classical music in Cambodia.



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.”





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




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.

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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