The cast and team behind the 2023 re-run of 'Rama, Hari,' a rock opera ballet that premiered in 1980 and has five national artists behind its production. (Photo grabbed from PhilSTAR Life)

RAMA, HARI,” a rock opera ballet that has five national artists behind its direction, production, choreography, music, lyrics, libretto, and translations, returned to the stage this year, over four decades after its 1980 premiere. 

Based on the ancient Sanskrit epic “Ramayana,” the production depicts the adventures and misadventures of Rama and Sita, their banishment, and encounters with the evil Ravana and his sister, Soorpanakha.

Rama, Hari, which was last re-staged in 2012, depicts the human experiences of longing for love and faithfulness and the triumph of divine justice over evil.

The late National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, who graduated from the old UST Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, was behind the lyrics and libretto of Rama, Hari.

Lumbera, a former Varsitarian literary editor, took advantage of the diverse Filipino language in condensing the 24,000 verses of the Ramayana epic into a two-and-a-half-hour libretto. 

He assigned formal Filipino to the protagonists’ lines while incorporating Filipino slang into the antagonists’ to set a distinction between the two types of characters. 

Such separation was apparent in Rama and Sita’s duet, “Awit sa Pagsinta,” and conversely, in the monologue of demoness Soorpanakha titled, “Type Kita, Rama,” which had a more modern choice of words.

Another UST alumnus, the late National Artist for Theater and Literature Rolando Tinio, was behind the translation of the rock opera ballet’s lyrics and libretto to English. 

National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes directed and choreographed the epic adaptation. It is a blend of Asian storytelling where Indian movements are incorporated into ballet choreography, further establishing the story’s setting.

National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab is behind the rock musical score, where he masterfully incorporates Filipino kundiman with Indian melodies and Asian percussion. This keeps the opera’s music consistent with its Indian themes while making it familiar to the Filipino audience. 

The late National Artist for Theater and Design Salvador Bernal devised Rama, Hari’s Indian-inspired costumes and production set. He took inspiration from the rich tapestry of the Philippines and India, making the set design and costumes’ color scheme comparable to that of Indian spices, as Reyes describes them.

Bernal is also said to have considered the leaps and turns of the ballet performers in choosing textiles that would complement their movements.

In Rama, Hari’s 2023 return, the titular character, Rama, is played by Arman Ferrer and Vien King. Sita is played by Shiela Valderrama-Martinez, Nica Tupas, and reprised by actress-singer Karylle Tatlonghari-Yuzon, who first performed the role in 2012. 

For the dancer counterparts, Ronelson Yadao and Ejay Arisola take the role of Rama, while Monica Gana and Katrene San Miguel are the dancers for Sita’s role.

The production features artists from the Cultural Center of the Philippines’s Professional Artist Support Program, Alice Reyes Dance Philippines, and live music by The Orchestra of the Filipino Youth. 

Rama, Hari is a marriage of opera and ballet that gives its viewers a unique experience of witnessing singers and ballet dancers gracefully bringing to life the ancient Sanskrit, and the one-of-a-kind collaboration of the country’s top artists. 

Rama, Hari ran from Sept. 15 to 16 at the Metropolitan Theater and Sept. 22 to 23 at the Samsung Performing Arts Theater.  

It was supposed to be re-staged in 2020 as the closing show for Ballet Philippines’ 50th season but was shelved due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 


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