angkok is a city of many sights, sounds, flavours, tastes, and aromas… all of which are essentially Bangkok. But I believe that another facet of Bangkok that makes it so fascinating is the eclectic mix of interesting people that this giant city has drawn into it, who have chosen to make it their home, or base of operations. I am lucky in my profession that I have been able to meet many of them. On one of my assignments around town I had chanced to meet Darren Royston, highly regarded choreographer and dancer from Britain’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). Over an interesting and illuminating chat I told him about my interest in music, comedy, and theatre in Bangkok, and he said that I should meet his friend Stefan Sanchez, a fellow Brit who was an opera singer.
After saying goodbye to Darren at the end of the evening I thought no more of our conversation until a couple of weeks later when I received a message from Darren inviting me to meet Stefan, and also to go along to see ‘Fame, the Musical’ at Mahidol University’s Salaya campus.
I of course replied in the affirmative, and Darren arranged for me to meet Stefan on the corner of Sukhumvit Soi 33, where he and some friends would pick me up and drive me to the venue in Thonburi, on the other side of the river. I had no idea what Stefan looked like, but I imagined a Pavarotti styled type of guy, as I knew he was an opera singer. After a few minutes wait I spied an imposing figure with a beard, parading down the street, owning the pavement. This had to be the guy I had come to meet, I thought. It was indeed, and he greeted me with a booming ‘Hello, you must be Robin, nice to meet you’.
That first meeting turned into many more, and I am now happy and privileged to be able to include Stefan amongst my circle of friends. So, let’s learn a little about Stefan. Stefan Paul Sanchez is a baritone opera singer who studied singing and piano at the Royal Academy of Music, London, graduating with distinction, and has the honour of being the youngest ever baritone at Sadler’s Wells Opera with a major role. In 1998 Stefan was made an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music for his work with opera singers.
Throughout his career he has directed in the UK, Europe, USA, and throughout Asia, in productions of La Boheme, Tosca, Rigoletto, The Magic Flute, Le Nozze Di Figaro, and Carmen. In Bangkok Stefan has produced Savitri (Holst) and Tosca (Puccini) at the Thailand Cultural Centre, Blue Beard’s Castle at the National Theatre and the Mae Naak Thai opera at the Chalerm Krung Theatre. In 2011 Stefan was responsible for the transfer of Mae Naak to the Bloomsbury Theatre in London, taking 70 singers and musicians to London to participate in the production.
Stefan is the founder of Grand Opera Thailand, a professional opera company that provides training and performances in Thailand and other countries, and its associate, the company for Young Thai Opera Singers, which was formed in 2012 and has performed in prestigious venues in Thailand and overseas.
I really got to know Stefan when I was covering the development of his 2019 Bangkok production of ‘The Workshop: A Dress Rehearsal for Life’. Stefan was the Producer, Napisi Reyes the Director, Darren was the choreographer, while Cherie Carter-Scott and her sister Lynn Stewart were co-creators of the whole shebang. Dr Cherie is currently a Bangkok resident, and has been a professional life coach since the mid-70s… she is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of motivational book ‘If Life is a Game, Here are the Rules.’ Together with her sister they had the idea that the individual stories of each of the people they coached in their workshops would make a great story. So, they set about doing just that! With Michael Pomije dealing with the financial and business aspects of the production they took on the mammoth task of putting on the production themselves. Ten years later down the line the end result was a world-class musical that a packed house of Bangkokians were thrilled by at the performance held in the Thai Cultural Centre in mid-2019 by Thai actors and actresses in English!
I followed the production from the early rehearsals right through to the finale. Thanks to Stefan I got to see how a major production like this comes together. I was, though, an outsider looking in. The bond between the cast, the production team and the director only grew stronger as showtime approached. It was a privilege to have seen them all at work.
But there is another string to Stefan’s bow that has given him a chance to unleash his seemingly boundless energy in yet another direction. Voice Wellness. What on earth is that you might ask. Stefan explains in his own words; “I discovered during my work as a singer and producer that vocal health also encourages spiritual and mental wellbeing. I have always enjoyed looking at symbiotic relationships between different disciplines, and began experimenting with the casts of the shows I was directing, to find more connection between them, their voices, and the characters they were portraying. The results were amazing and led me to conclude that the process of rehearsing and training was not only to enable a better understanding of an opera character, but also of promoting a deeper relationship within the self.”