Based in Bangkok, Opera Siam makes its first UK visit with this European premiere production of a work by the Thai composer and writer Somtow Sucharitkul. Based on folk sources, Mae Naak is a ghost story about a soldier, Maak, who has left his wife and son at home, spending years in battle. At the end of the war he returns home, where his house is a ruin. But he sees it as it was, and his wife Mae Naak and son as they were before he went away. In reality they are dead. Vampire-like, Mae Naak is able to simulate life and kill her enemies. Only at the end is the terrible truth revealed.
Somtow Sucharitkul is not just a composer but also an author of gothic fantasy and horror fiction. He has worked as a filmmaker too, and it is easy to see how well this plot could adapt to the screen. Unfortunately, neither Stefan Sanchez’ rudimentary staging nor Somtow’s score - which borrows heavily from romantic opera composers such as Puccini, Richard Strauss and even Gounod, adding in a sprinkling of authentic Thai effects and film-score melodramatics - is able to realise its potential.
There are some worthwhile things in the show. Striking is the baritone of Kyu Won Han, whose Maak has genuine dignity and presence. High-flying soprano Nancy Yuen impresses with her top register as Mae Naak. Best of all is the committed playing of the mainly young musicians of the Siam Philharmonic Orchestra, and the perfect control obtained by conductor Trisdee na Patalung.