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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Two-night concert could resurrect reputation

Two-night concert could resurrect reputation

It promises to be one of those very special occasions and certainly boasts artistic integrity

BAYON Temple has replaced Angkor Wat this year as the site for live concerts aimed at the high-season tourist market.

The highlight of the entertainment to be staged at Bayon this season is scheduled for February 25-26. This is a two-night concert and dinner called Tribute to the Masters featuring gifted 13-year-old soprano Bosbapanh and a host of other performers.

It promises to be one of those very special occasions and certainly boasts more artistic and cultural integrity than the show now running at Bayon until January 28, the heavily promoted Smile of Angkor Grand Epic Show. This is staged by Performance and Arts (Cambodia) Co Ltd, a subsidiary of Angkor Coex, the company that runs the international convention and exhibition centre on the edge of town.

The organisers claim they have sunk $4 million into this schlock extravaganza, which seems aimed mostly at the Korean tourist trade, and which promises to “bring the real ancient Cambodian songs, dance, dressings, fairy stories, temples, back to life”.

Tickets for dinner and the 70-minute show are on sale at Angkor Coex headquarters for $68 for a-class seats and $58 for B-class seats. VIP tickets are available for $168, but prices have been reduced at a sales outlet in Pub Street.

This concert echoes two similar extravaganzas run at Angkor Wat over the last three years, and both ventures ended as box office turkeys.

The most professional was a $1.5 million “mega-theatre” performance, The Legend of Angkor Wat, which debuted in the 2007-2008 tourist season.

This was produced by Bayon CM Organiser, a joint venture between Cambodia’s Bayon Radio & TV, and the Bangkok-based CM Organiser, an event and production company.

Slick as it was, with big-name Cambodian performers in lead roles, the show never achieved its revenue targets and its death blow was delivered in 2009 with the onset of the economic crisis.

Later in 2009 the locally registered Korean company, Sou Ching, announced that was staging The Angkor Night Show in the Angkor Wat precinct every evening during the dry season.

The nightly production featured more than 150 performers, 45 lighting technicians and engineers and 50 support staff. It was massive, moving across the interior of Angkor Wat and culminating in a traditional dance show held on a stage with light gantries that have been erected on the site.

The entire temple interior was lit up and wired throughout for sound, with an upmarket dining area.

This turned out to be a loser as well, and before its brief run came to an end, it became embroiled in a controversy over alleged damage to the temple by the installation of lighting fixtures. The project sparked outrage when the company began inserting lights into holes in the walls of the temple to replace lights placed on the ground.

The company said the holes were pre-existing, though tourists and others said they suspected that the holes had been carved out specifically for the project.

Photos of Angkor that showed lights placed at regular intervals in part fuelled the allegations, though Sou Ching denied causing any damage to the temple.

The government and the Apsara Authority also rejected claims that Angkor Wat sustained damage as a result of the project.

Then, on June 2, 2009, the government filed a suit in which it charged Moeung Sonn, president of the Khmer Civilisation Foundation, with spreading false information and inciting the public in connection to his claims that holes had been drilled deep into the temple’s walls.

Shortly after the suit was filed, Moeung Sonn flew to France to avoid arrest.

The Angkor Night Show limped on for a few weeks, and the production was then officially suspended, never to be heard of again.

It then became obvious that authorities had a change of heart about using Angkor Wat for long-running theatrical productions.

A Moscow-based company in 2007 had pitched a series of concerts at Angkor Wat as part of a festival titled Angkorica.

The proposal, which included plans for an appearance by the Icelandic singer Bjork as well as elephants covered in white-and-gold cloth, was priced at between $3.5 million and $5 million.

But in June 2009 Vladimir Meshkey, general producer for Rise Entertainment, told The Post that the company had been advised by the Apsara Authority to consider a more modest festival at another site.

The suggested new site was the Bayon temple.

Rise Entertainment then said it would opt for a scaled down three-day festival which to date, perhaps thankfully, has not happened.

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