photo by Kunlaphun Sirimamporn
Throughout our interview he spoke very softly, as if he was afraid any word coming out of his mouth would damage his voice. He believes it's a natural musical instrument everyone was born with.
For an opera singer such as Sirichai Charoenkijthanakul, this caution is normal. Taking care of his voice is important, just like a finely tuned musical instrument, and he wants to keep it as long as possible.
"You can't yell like other people do. You certainly can't sing karaoke. You should not eat too many snacks or fried food. What you must do is choose only suitable things for your voice. This job requires a lot of self discipline," he said.
Perhaps that sounds a bit excessive, but anyone who hears this stunning, beautiful, tenor voice with their own ears will soon understand that this 27yearold opera singer has really good reasons to be strict with himself.
Sirichai began his singing career in 2000 when he joined the choir club at Thammasat University. There were many choral styles to choose from, such as pop or classical.
He went for the latter.
"I chose to sing classic bel canto, because it is a type of opera, a vocal style I took a special interest in," he said. "Opera for me is the most awesome way to develop a technique with a voice. While performing in a hall you have to sing live, without using a microphone, and make sure the audience hears every note."
After a year with the university choral club, he decided to dig deeper into opera by taking voice lessons with Sophie Tanapura, a wellknown opera singer and founder of a local opera company for a new generation of Thai singers, the Metropolitan Opera of Bangkok.
In 2002 Sirichai was one of the 12 finalists in the first Thailand Classical Opera Singing Competition organised by Mahidol University College of Music.
Though he did not win the contest, it was quite a success for a young man who did not graduate directly with a degree in music but instead holds a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering.
Opera is one of the most powerful cultural media. It is a combination of spoken and musical language, music and dance.
Opera may be separated into two types of performance, recitals and plays.
"A recital is when you come out on the stage and sing classical opera songs based on the theme set for each programme. If it is a love theme, the singer will perform only classic romantic love songs," explained Sirichai.
"If the opera is a play, it is a mix of acting, singing and movement on stage. Also, the performer has to remember the dialogue and the position of stage props as well."
Sirichai has experienced both types of opera. In 2003 he gave a voice recital at the Thailand Cultural Centre. Three years later he had his first chance in an operatic play when he sang the principal tenor role in a production of Carl Maria von Weber's "Der Freisch?tz".
In 2007 he played the role of Basilio in Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro".
"To prepare for a recital, you must focus only on singing practice. If it's a play it contains more detail, with singing and movement on stage," said Sirichai.
This year Sirichai will sing the lead role of Eisenstein in the production of "Die Fledermaus" by Johann Strauss. The schedule will be confirmed later.
Considering his background in engineering, anyone can be opera singer. What they need is the will and dedication to practice.
"Those who graduate in voice may be competent in knowledge of theory, but to sing in a real situation the degree doesn't matter", he said.
"It depends mostly on how eager you are to learn and dedicate yourself to the training. If you try your best and practice often, I'm confident that you can become an opera singer if you wish."
Being an opera singer does not require a very charming face. Sirichai said the performance would be on stage, not television.
He said the most enjoyable part of his career was when he practised and sang. "As a person in love with learning how to use a natural musical instrument, my body and my voice, I always enjoy observing its development and working to do much better, becoming much more comfortable and more precise with my voice," said Sirichai.
"There is also a scientific study which says that when singing correctly you create an echo at some spot in your brain that stimulates your body to produce happy hormones," he said quietly.
See some of Sirichai's performance at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJAJKvxPqLY&feature=related and www.metoperabkk.com