Like shadow puppets come alive, Sri Mamanda Bangsawan's re- imagining of the legend of Raden Mas showcased the art of body language gracefully, with a flick of the wrist, tilt of the chin and upward turns of toes conveying myriad moods.
But there the comparison with wayang kulit ends, as this Malay opera's bevy of dancers twirled and sashayed in enthralling synchrony under the sure eye of choreo- graphers Kamel Riduan and Welas Subagyo. Subagyo, an impressive singer, also shone as loyal soldier Raden Dandiar.
It was three hours very well spent, not least because of the tasteful kaleidoscope of ornate sets, an altogether breathtaking spectacle of two Malay courts of old, namely Kediri and Temasek.
The two states become intertwined after Kediri's crown prince, Pengeran Agong, flees to Temasek after slaying his brother-in-law Raden Manosekoro, thus avenging the death of his angelic wife, former court dancer Mas Ayu.
REVIEW / THEATRE
RADEN MAS: AN EPIC OF A PRINCESS
Sri Mamanda Bangsawan
With Pengeran in Temasek is their love child, Raden Mas, or Golden Princess in Malay.
When Pengeran later saves the Sultan of Temasek from pirates, the latter gives Pengeran his daughter to marry. The latter seethes at how Pengeran dotes on Raden Mas and beats her up whenever Pengeran is not looking. No good comes of all this in the end.
The sheer polish of this production extended to its resplendent costumes, which were dripping in sequins. Also, rarely had rolls of cloth been used to greater effect, now flapped about by performers to denote fury, then unfurled to suggest blood gushing down stairs.
Happily, heft and heart complemented all that style, with not a wooden performance in sight.
Casting director Yusop Atan chose his leads well. Fido Ahdross as Pengeran owned the night, crooning loud and strong as he morphed from gallant warrior to emaciated prisoner. Marina Yusoff as Mas Ayu was heartrending. She and Fido had superb chemistry; no wonder playwright Nadiputra resurrected her character so often, as a ghost in the second act. In her stage debut, Siti Shahirah Samad as Raden Mas acquitted herself well. Her rich, rounded voice topped a winsome turn in which she echoed Marina's well-judged nuances.
The puzzle was why Nadiputra pared down Siti's part, rendering her a hapless victim rather than as the legendary icon of purity and fidelity. Nadiputra's script, in fact, had Raden Mas lamenting that she was "a rag… fraying and fading".
The actors fared better than the actresses, with the exception of Norhazah Wati Senang as a demon. Her every growl was spine-chilling, unlike fellow demon Margaret Chan, who flitted about like Maleficent gone to seed.
The first act was much tighter than the second, and the one letdown was the music, which was mostly pleasant tinkles that built to crashing cymbals. For an opera, this was a blot, but not one big enough to mar this night.