January 07, 2009


It seems odd that the first Cambodian rock opera should have its premiere in Lowell, Massachusetts, but that's what happened: composer Sophy Him and librettist Catherine Filloux brought their fascinating hybrid Where Elephants Weep to the former mill town/birthplace of Jack Kerouac in the spring of 2007 for three workshop/preview performances.

Amid much publicity, Where Elephants Weep finally had its Cambodian premiere last November, and was subsequently shown on Cambodian TV on Christmas. However, a second planned broadcast was postponed after the country's Buddhist monks complained.
"Some scenes in the story insult Buddhism," said a letter sent to the Ministry of Cults and Religion by the Supreme Sangha Council of Buddhist Monks. The letter—also sent to the media— went on to ask that the ministry "ban the performance and airing of the opera", and demanded an apology from the show's director, writer and actors.
When did Buddhist monks get so touchy? I thought the source of suffering was birth, not rock and roll. Still, as a connoisseur, I think irritating an entire nation's Buddhist monks has to be the kickflip McTwist of shocking the bourgeoisie. Sophy Him and Catherine Filloux, we salute you.

Fun fact, courtesy of my lovely wife: did you know that the Catholic Church once unwittingly canonized the Buddha? If you want to join the Sangha, just say so.


Katie said...

I think I read some years ago that Lowell has a substantial Cambodian population. That might explain it.

Matthew said...

You're absolutely right. Also, one of the main sponsoring organizations, Cambodian Living Arts, is partially based in Boston. Shrinking world, &c.