View From The Wings – 3
THE ODYSSEY OF DE LEON’S ‘NOLI ME TANGERE’ FROM MANILA TO USA AND BACK
by Pablo A. Tariman
The most widely publicized version of Felipe Padilla de Leon’s “Noli Me Tangere” opens at the Resort World Manila on Thursday, September 11 and will run until September 28 with a double cast composed of Who’s Who in Philippine music.
Probably the most widely marketed Filipino opera in history, the opera will have its first taste of Resort World’s 1500-seater Newport Performing Arts Theater now identified with ABS CBN’s The Voice and The Voice Kids whose latest winner got a million and a house and lot and is now visible in prime time teleserye of the same network.
In this new high tech venue, it would be thrilling to hear arias from “Noli” being projected in LED screen with 3-D effects and magnified many times over by state of the art digital audio system.
For once, the Filipino opera will share the same venue famous for Manila re-staging of “Sound of Music” and “The King and I” and the return engagement of Il Divo.
The 2014 Resort World run of the opera has the Maria Clara of sopranos Rachelle Gerodias and Myramae Meneses and the Padre Damaso of distinguished baritones Andrew Fernando and Jonathan Velasco, the Ibarra of tenors Sal Malaki and Ivan Nery and the Sisa of Antoni Mendezona, among others.
For the record, the De Leon opera had its world premiere in 1957 in the 1,040-seater FEU Auditorium, then moved on to the 2,000-seater CCP main theater in 1974 with the Ibarra of Don David, the Maria Clara of Ruby Salazar, the Sisa of Fides Cuyugan Asensio and the Padre Damaso of Jimmy Melendres.
Asensio’s Music Theater Foundation revived “Noli” at the CCP in 1987 with the Ibarra of Nolyn Cabahug, the Sisa of Asensio (alternating with Luz Morete) and the Maria Clara of Andion Fernandez with the Philippine Philharmonic conducted by Oscar Yatco.
Baritone Nomer son added that this same production with reduced performers toured the US in 1988 and was heard in Chicago, Detroit,St. Louis and Los Angeles.
Contrary to the publicity generated by the new production, the opera had fairly good exposure in Metro Manila’s opera circuit. In fact, it had a long running production at UP’s Wilfredo Ma. Guerrero Theater in 2011 and 2012 under the direction of Alexander Cortez with another move-over engagement at the FEU Auditorium.
But the most amazing aspect of this production is that the producers believed in the timeless appeal of the opera not just in native soil but in the United States as well.
“Noli” had its first New York run last year at the Kaye Playhouse of Hunter College in New York with an orchestra under the baton of Michael Dadap and presented by the Foundation for Filipino Artists, Inc led by its its chairperson, Loida Nicolas Lewis.
It may be noted that of the major singers in the cast, only baritone Andrew Fernando (as Padre Damaso) was singled out by the New York Times in its review.
The baritone told this writer that he easily came to terms with the “evil” nature of his role.
“In the acting part, the evil nature of Padre Damaso masked by his vocation as a friar is something to be carefully and intelligently portrayed. I don’t want to be the snarling and barking Damaso in the opera. I also want a character who thinks that his agendas are for the good of all and for the sake of righteousness. On the other hand, the vocal range of Padre Damaso is wide and thick. Keeping the heft — and at times warm — is a color I need to bring out in singing my part.”
Fernando’s character — who is one of the most hated characters in Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere” next to Dona Victorina – was the same one that caused the conviction of tourist guide Carlos Celdran “for offending religious feelings.”
On September 30, 2010, Celdran carried a placard bearing the word “Damaso” during a mass at the Manila Cathedral denouncing the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines which was against the legislation of the Reproductive Health Bill.
Opines baritone Fernando on his ‘controversial’ role: “I find the part of Padre Damaso an exciting role. The journey in learning his music and his character has been truly amazing. Both are dramatically and musically challenging. The different nuances of the role are indeed worth exploring. The deeply hated character is a joy and pride to portray.”
Nicolas Lewis – a native of Sorsogon and a graduate of St. Agnes Academy in Legazpi City — said she first saw a performance of De Leon’s “Noli Me Tangere,” performed by a diverse cast at Harris Theater at Millennium Park in Chicago two years ago. “That rare musical experience has prompted me to bring Maestro de Leon’s opus to New York,” she said.
From New York,”Noli” was brought to the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. this year with the Washington Post writer Grace Jean having a good word on the Filipino opera.
With direction by Anna Etsuko Tsuri and presented by the Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Asian Artists, the production – noted Jean — unfolded as an elegant affair in the Eisenhower Theater.
Wrote she: “Despite several awkward scenery-change pauses, the opera overall flowed with passages reminiscent of Mozart, Rossini, Puccini and Wagner under conductor Benjamin Dia’s baton. Playing the hero, Crisostomo Ibarra, Sal Malaki and his golden tenor anchored the opera, and his expressive singing sent it soaring. As his faithful betrothed, Maria Clara, soprano Brittany Palmer performed with vocal subtlety and fragile stage presence befitting a tragic heroine. Baritone Roberto Perlas Gomez’s Elias embodied bravery and righteousness, while Antoni Mendezona turned in a captivating performance as Sisa, the mother of two boys, Basilio (sung by the talented Elijah Sirilan) and Crispin (Zion Sirilan), who disappear, prompting her derangement. Mendezona’s coloratura dazzled and pulled heartstrings during her lament in the woods. Rounding out the fine cast, baritone John-Andrew Fernandez was convincing as the spiteful Padre Damaso, while soprano Katrina Saporsantos sang beautifully as Tiya Isabel.”
The Resort World debut of “Noli” — under the direction of Freddie Santos and with the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra under Rodel Colmenar – indeed bears watching.
The state of the art audio system and the 3-D effects could do wonders to “Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa” and “Kay Tamis Mabuhay Sa Sariling Bayan.”
Indeed if the young show up along with reliable opera followers of the old generation, it means the opera marketing worked and it’s about time we debunk the notion that opera is a dead art in this country.
If the massive publicity and marketing worked, we can only thank the producers — Loida Nicolas Lewis, Jerry Sibal, and Edwin Josue — for standing solid behind a Filipino opera.
As writer Ramil Digal Gulle of InterAksyon wrote, “It takes balls to stage an opera in this country where most people have either no idea what opera is, or think it’s brain-meltingly boring. They would rather watch She’s Dating the Gangster any given day. And at the presscon for the Noli opera, producers (Loida Nicolas Lewis and Jerry Sibal) all three of them, displayed the biggest, most operatic set of balls ever.”
For tickets to the September 11 to 28 run of “Noli Me Tangere,” please click this link.