A battle of words ensued. Finally, Somtow’s mother Taitow was asked to mediate in the conflict. Somtow agreed to go along with the revision so that Thotsakan would die – offstage.
“Ayodhya” was allowed to premiere in Bangkok after Somtow was obliged to sign a contract that his Bangkok Opera’s production would not harm Thai culture and morals, otherwise the culture authorities would reserve their authority to shut down the production.
Yesterday, Somtow clarified the matter to The Nation that he and the director of the opera have been exemplary in their sensitivity to the concerns of the Culture Ministry and they have also gone far to make sure that the work would not upset Thai traditionalists.
“Any traditions cited by the ministry have nothing to do with opera. The traditions of khon do not apply to opera in any way,” Somtow said.
He added that khon experts disagree as to whether the taboo against the onstage death of Thotsakan is an ancient tradition – or whether it was merely established in the early 20th century.
“This is not a matter on which the ministry’s experts hold the sole, unanimous opinion. So, even if the traditions of khon did apply to opera, the argument can work both ways,” he said.
“My personal problems with this matter have nothing to do with the death of Thotsakan at all – as I have said, both the director and I did a great deal to accommodate the tradition as it was stated to us. My personal problems as an artist are that the Ministry feels it has the right to impose a blanket restriction on a work of art. This is a chilling and positively Stalinist concept,” Somtow said.
“The word culture is a holistic thing. It is about ancient traditions, but it also about modern explorations of tradition. A culture is alive precisely because it grows and is continually reinvented. Our job as artists is to mirror society and the human condition, and, most of all, always to speak the truth no matter what the cost.”
To the Ministry of Culture, however, the matter has ended.
“In the three performances, the final scene was adjusted [to avoid Thotsakan’s death onstage]. The matter has ended rather well. We never thought there would be any further problems. But we do not understand why Khun Somtow has raised this matter again with the media,” said Prisana.
Chularat Saengpassa, Pakamard Jaichalard