A Fright at the Opera: Somtow and Neumann Plan “Plan 9 from Oldenburg”



A Fright at the Opera
Somtow and Neumann Plan “Plan 9 from Oldenburg”

Bangkok, 23 December 2022 —Somtow Sucharitkul, novelist, composer and occasional filmmaker, was in Hof, Bavaria, for the European première of his opera Helena Citrónová, a dark, relentlessly tragic work inspired by the true story of a Slovak Jew in Auschwitz who had an intense relationship with an SS man. In the audience was Torsten Neumann, longtime director of the Oldenburg Film Festival and considered something of a kingmaker in the European indie scene.

They met afterwards for a few drinks. Neumann, it transpired, had never seen an opera in the flesh. The genre overwhelmed him. “How can I marry opera and film?” he asked Somtow, who the previous month had been in Oldenburg with his orchestra, the Siam Sinfonietta, playing an entire evening of Bernard Herrmann film scores to a tumultuous standing ovation. Somtow told Torsten about the many recent film-to-opera adaptations, from Dead Man Walking to The Fly.  

“But if there’s one film I’d like to do as an opera more than any other,” he added, almost off the cuff, “It would be Plan 9 from Outer Space.”

In about thirty seconds, Neumann was convinced. He had gone from opera tyro to opera producer in a single day. They agreed to plan the opera for 2024. Plan 9 from Outer Space: A Really Grand Opera by Somtow Sucharitkul is already in the libretto stage. Some of the music will appear as a teaser “suite from the opera” by the fall, and rehearsals will begin in earnest next year.

“Plan 9 is, of course, celebrated as the worst picture ever made,” Somtow said, “and a cultural icon. Movie buffs have all the lines memorized. And I intend to compose the score in the spirit of Ed Wood — with utter seriousness and high moral intent, as befits the exalted subject matter about aliens saving humanity from itself — so timely in these, ah, times.” But will the opera be funny? “Hopefully the audience will render itself incontinent from laughing,” he added. “But they won’t dare go to the toilet. Opera is sacred.”

Torsten Neumann said, “Of course, we’re not intending to produce the ‘worst opera’ in history. Quite the opposite. The true spirit of Plan 9 comes from the utter sincerity of Ed Wood’s vision and the fact that no amount of ineptitude, or lack of money, or mishaps like the star dropping dead before shooting began, could dampen his optimism and faith. In a way it’s a metaphor for all filmmakers and their many-sided visions.”

Torsten Neumann’s vision for the premiere is wide-ranging. “I’ve been considering using an immense spectacle of light to add a really other-worldly feel to it,” he said.  He is talking to opera houses, but doesn’t want to limit the venue to a conventional space.

Torsten Neumann is well known as the director of one of “the top 25 coolest festivals in the world” (Movie Maker Magazine) and the “Sundance of Europe” (Hollywood Reporter).  His collaboration with Berlin-based filmmaker RP Kahl is ongoing with huge success of “Bedways”, which he produced, and which Germany’s leading news magazine “Der Spiegel” rated as both the best German film of the year and among the ‘Top 10 Films of 2010’ internationally. His most recent collaboration with Kahl is “A Thought of Ecstasy.”

These days Somtow Sucharitkul (who writes and works in film under the name S.P. Somtow) is perhaps more well known as a composer of operas on lofty subjects, such as his recent opera set during the Holocaust which was just premiered in Germany, The Snow Dragon, dealing with child abuse which opened in Milwaukee, and The Silent Prince, the first in a series of ten operas about the past lives of the Buddha, which first opened in Houston and subsequently played in Bangkok, Brno, and Bayreuth. But he is equally enthusiastic about his B-movie credentials, which include writing screenplays for Roger Corman and Brian Yuzna, as well as directing the 1980s The Laughing Dead which has been recently resurrected and made available in glorious 4K by Vinegar Syndrome. “Funny how it’s gone from universally panned to a cult classic in a mere four decades,” he said.

At first, Somtow considered adding all sorts of film-history resonance to the project, even toying with Plan 8 1/2 from Outer Space as the concept for a while. Instead, he says, “I won’t use a single word in the libretto that wasn’t straight from the pen of Ed Wood.   But whether the Bela Lugosi character will manage a plaintive, tragic aria, when he was silent (not to mention dead) during the entire production of the film … that will be a nice little Easter egg to come.”


Media contact:

Warin Pattarapatumthong (Audi)

TQPR Thailand

+66 9 6964 6428



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