The legend of the great Siamese warrior-queen Suriyothai, so memorably brought to the screen in 2001 by filmmaker MC Chatrichalerm Yukol, is coming to the stage next month as a ballet-opera.
Internationally acclaimed maestro Somtow Sucharitkul retells the moving story in a two-act performance featuring more than 200 dancers, opera singers and musicians from the Siam Philharmonic Orchestra. Thailand's best opera singer in Europe, Nadlada Thamtanakom, and dancer Winita Lohitkul share the role of Suriyothai.
The world premiere on August 23, a late birthday present for Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, will raise the curtain on a lush production that combines Western narrative ballet and Thai dance-drama.
"Suriyothai" invokes the glory days of Ayutthaya, when it was Siam's capital, a major international metropolis, a meeting place for world culture and the seat of a sprawling empire.
"I selected the Suriyothai history, first, to celebrate Her Majesty's birthday," Somtow says. "And, second, because Thailand is different from other countries in that Thai women have so much more influence in their homeland.
"I was so bored with hearing Europeans say Asian women are the men's back legs! I wanted to show the world that Thai women can be the heroes."
Somtow, 60, said the art of "narrative ballet" - in which dance alone tells the story - has been "moribund since the great days of the Ballet Russes, 100 years ago".
He has set out to revive the art form with choreographer Puwarate Wongatichat, who previously worked with on "Mae Naak", "Otello", "The Silent Prince" and "Reya". They have created a hybrid style that pools elements of modern and classical Thai dance.
"I can compare the production to Thai food, which is the most popular in the world because of the texture, even if the ingredients aren't originally Thai," Somtow said. "This show is like that - I take ballet and opera, combine them together and it's still Thai."
The tale is set in 1548. Europe teeters in the political wind. Edward VI clings to the English throne but five-year-old Mary Queen of Scots has just been betrothed to the king of France. In Asia, the Ming rulers have sealed China's borders, barring all foreigners. And yet one Asian city is as welcoming as can be.
Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, French and Dutch traders have settled in Ayutthaya, many of them armed to support the kingdom's imminent war with Pegu, the Burmese domain ruled by King Tabengchaveti. A slew of assassinations have shaken the Ayutthaya court and all hope for the future rests with the young Prince Thian, but he is concealed in a monastery and has taken his vows, leaving behind his beautiful wife Suriyothai.
Somtow's ballet-opera is a rich pageant of scenes from this history, beginning with Prince Thian being acclaimed king and ending with Suriyothai's heroic sacrifice to save her husband and her kingdom.
The Siam Philharmonic, under the baton of Trisadee Na Patalung, will provide dramatic accompaniment to every turn of the page. Nadlada Thamtanakom will sing the heroic queen's words. Winita Lohitkul will dance the queen's role. Kampanath Ruangkittivilas stars as King Tabengchaveti.
The musical drama, about 75 minutes in length, is a new kind of stylistic fusion, inspired in equal parts by classical Thai dance-drama, opera, ballet and splendid temple murals from a bygone era. The costumes, supported by the Textile Gallery's Pasaya brand, will carry their own modern look.
Textile Gallery managing director Schle Woodthannan said the Siamese characters' clothing will bear prints in the phum khao bin "rice-grain" pattern.
"Blue is the key shade of the dresses. It's Her Majesty's birthday colour and evokes calm," Schle says. "The Burmese characters will wear costumes with golden stripes, referring to power."
Excerpts from "Suryothai" have been staged to great acclaim in Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria. In Vienna, "The Burmese March" from Somtow's score was chosen to signify the Siam Simfonietta's triumph in an international orchestra competition.
And "The Suite from Suriyothai" will be played at the Euro Festival Berlin on August 11, at the invitation of the organisers and Thailand's German embassy.