Leah Salterio

‘Rama Hari’ on its last weekend

February 24, 2024 Leah C. Salterio 139 views
Arman Ferrer and Shiela Valderrama Martinez play the leads Rama at Sita in Rama Hari
Photo by Jojo Mamangun

THE February 23 (Friday night) performance of the Filipino modern rock opera ballet, Rama Hari, saw National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab conducting the orchestra for one special show.

Mr. C took over from his son, Toma Cayabyab, albeit only for the Friday night show. Toma regularly wields the baton for the Orchestra of the Filipino Youth, who provides the live music in every performance of Rama Hari. Chorus is the Ryan Cayabyab Singers (RCS), with members from Baihana and Conchords.

The Friday night performance was undoubtedly well-received, with the standing ovation and the long applause given to the show.

The lead cast and Mr. C went outside the theater to give in to the long line of people waiting to pose for photos with them after curtain call.

“I am very excited for this last run of Rama Hari this weekend and next,” Mr. C wrote on his FaceBook account.

“Come and watch this (habang buhay pa kami ni Alice!!!). I don’t think it will be restaged in the next 10 years. The last time there was a major re-staging was in 2011. That was 13 years ago!

“The dancers are sooooooooo good and sooooo disciplined. Iba sila talaga. The costumes and stage design by Badong Bernal are classic. Bienvenido Lumbera’s libretto is moving, lyrics are sublime in the arias and scintillating in the production numbers.”

On February 25 (Sunday) at 7:30 p.m., the closing show is a special gala performance for the Angat Buhay Foundation.

National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes was likewise acknowledged inside the theater before the Friday night performance at the Samsung Performing Arts Theater in Makati.

Rama Hari is an ancient adaptation of the Sanskrit epic poem, Ramayana. Five visionaries who would later become National Artists, worked on this landmark production – Alice Reyes (dance), Ryan Cayabyab (music), Bienvenido Lumbera and Rolando Tinio (literature), Salvador Bernal (theater design).

Although three had passed on, their respective legacy was carried on in Rama Hari. The grandiose stage created by Badong Bernal who was credited for his set design, was recreated for this present staging.

Rolando Tinio did the English translation that is still used to this day for the new presentation of Rama Hari.

Poet and dramatist Bienvenido Lumbera wrote the lyrics for the original songs – all of 24,000 verses divided into some 500 chapters – which have been relived occasionally in special events and in the restaging of Rama Hari, the last one in 2011 before this new one.

Ever since, that has been the strong pedigree behind Rama Hari’s selling point. That brought audiences to the theater to see the rock opera ballet anew.

Not another groundbreaking production has been staged and restaged on a grand scale like Rama Hari. Clearly, the classic opera ballet has been introduced to a younger generation today.

Most of them were not even born yet when Rama Hari was first presented onstage, but they appreciated seeing the ballet musical today – 44 years after it was first presented.

Even the artists who essayed the lead roles today – Arman Ferrer and Shiela Valderrama-Martinez respectively portrayed Rama and Sita – admitted Rama Hari was a “dream production” for them.

Singing and memorizing the deep, Tagalog lyrics of the opera proved to be daunting for the lead characters, but they delivered and definitely, didn’t disappoint. Each character had a dancer and singer counterpart.

Shiela carried out a hair-raising and beautiful Magbalik Ka Na, Mahal, her solo that clearly merged Mr. C’s music with Bien Lumbera’s deep, Tagalog lyrics that raise the level of pure poetry in music.

Arman, meanwhile, soared with his vocals as Rama, always set to astound the audience with his powerful tenor.

Not to be missed is Poppert Bernadas as the scheming Ravana, making his mark in this next generation of performing artists.

Other cast members are Karylle Tatlonghari and Nica Tupas (Sita alternates), Vien King (Rama alternate), John Mojica, Poppert Bernadas, Paw Castillo, Jon Abella and Audie Gemora.

With Katrine Sunga, Miah Canton, Marynor Madamesilla and Raflesia Bravo. The ballet is danced by the Alice Reyes Dance Philippines.