Where Elephants Weep, Phnom Penh, 2008
Where Elephants Weep is the first Cambodian rock opera. It tells a modern story about Cambodians returning to their country following 30 years of civil strife. Loosely based on an ancient Cambodian love story, the opera follows Sam, a refugee from the Khmer Rouge genocide, who leaves America to return to his homeland, committed to finding his roots. He unexpectedly falls in love with Bopha, a Cambodian pop star. The story examines generational and social dislocations caused by war, as well as more traditional clashes with modernity. While following the traditional storyline, the opera also speaks to the experiences of some of the artists involved in the project, namely Arn Chorn-Pond, founder of CLA, and composer Him Sophy. Both survived labor camps and atrocities committed during the Khmer Rouge’s four-year reign.
Cambodian composer Him Sophy’s score combines ancient Khmer traditions with modern Cambodian and Western styles, merging ancient Cambodian lullabies and Khmer Rouge propaganda songs with elements of Western rock. The opera’s orchestra includes a rock band, traditional Cambodian ensembles, and a string quartet—bringing together state-of-the-art synthesizers and electric guitars with folk instruments dating back to twelfth-century Cambodia. Additional music and orchestral development was provided by Scot Stafford.