MENESES, ARAUJO SHINE IN ‘LA BOHEME’

View from the Wings – 8
MENESES, ARAUJO SHINE IN ‘LA BOHEME’
by Pablo A. Tariman

The good thing about the latest Manila staging of La Boheme is that it was presented by a group (MusicArtes) who never gives up on an art form that needs substantial logistics to mount.

Declared its president, Jay Glorioso and chairperson, Josie Tan: “We are committed to work hard to make each show memorable, and to stimulate the imagination of our youth and students. Hopefully, they embrace the classic music genres that seek to elevate the spirit of life, spark hope in every form of struggle and love for a better tomorrow.”

Soprano Myramae Meneses as Musetta in La Boheme. A virtual show-stealer – the voice soared and the acting dazzled.

Soprano Myramae Meneses as Musetta in La Boheme. A virtual show-stealer – the voice soared and the acting dazzled.

The horrors of presenting opera in this country are common knowledge. For one, sponsors are scarce as hen’s teeth; the ideal venue (CCP) is unreachable to organizers with limited budget and tickets sales can’t subsidize expenses for orchestra, conductor and singers. To top it all, the audience is so limited to mostly senior citizens still hankering for “pure” and “original” productions.

But even with limited budget and a small venue (Samsung Hall opened to opera lovers by the great Korean diva, Sumi Jo) the latest La Boheme is not without its redeeming moments.

On the whole, the Musetta of Myramae Meneses was a virtual show-stealer, her notes well-focused and powerful with the kind of acting that dazzled. One figured it must be hard singing “Quando me’n vo” while she hopped from one member of the ensemble to another.

The Rodolfo of Scott Ramsay was dignified and quite subdued for a Bohemian and his Act 1 aria, Che gelida manina, had all the high notes in it minus the ringing tone.

The Mimi of Margarita Guannelli was fairly impressive with a voice that soared but hampered by tentative acting. The Colline of Nonon Baang has a kind of spontaneity that endeared as he blended perfectly with the versatile ensemble (Viva Voce). Also commendable are the Schaunard of Greg de Leon and the Alcindoro of Raymond Yadao. and of course the Benoit of Michael Bulaong.

Anton Juan’s direction made use of the small staging space but the flow of the story was constantly hampered by set-change done manually. For this reason, the three long intermissions were understandable.

Baritone Jonathan Velasco conducted the down-sized Manila Symphony Orchestra with dispatch. The opera was obviously not scored for a chamber group and the massive sweep of the arias was no longer there to be savored.

One of Boheme sponsors -- PAGCOR, represented by its president, Jorge V. Sarmiento -- shown here with the Viva Voce ensemble.

One of Boheme sponsors — PAGCOR, represented by its president, Jorge V. Sarmiento — shown here with the Viva Voce ensemble.

But it is a commendable production helped in no small measure by the sponsorship of PAGCOR represented by its president, Jorge V. Sarmiento, during the opening night.

But if there was one guest artists who was consistently good and engaging, it was the Marcello of Brazilian baritone Fernando Araujo. The acting and the singing were magnificent and you can see how well he connected with the ensemble.

Just a few days before opening night, Araujo singled out distinguished Filipino pianist and music teacher Emilio del Rosario as the one who inspired him to go deeper into music.

“I believe he was the best piano teacher in the United States for teenage pianists,” he recalls. “I was fortunate to study with him. He was a great inspiration. He was the one who advised me not to go back to Brazil and instead to proceed to Indiana University and pursue my other interest which was singing. I studied voice under James King and lied under Wolfgang Holzmair. Prof. Del Rosario prepared me for that and for this great support, I will always be forever grateful to him.”

Araujo said he has met Brazilian cellist Antonio Meneses who was gold medalist in the 1982 Tchaikovsky Competition through his piano teacher, Menahem Pressler. (Meneses happens to be the father of pianist Cecile Licad’s son, Otavio Licad Meneses.)

Brazilian baritone Fernando Araujo: a commendable Philippine debut as Marcello in La Boheme.

Brazilian baritone Fernando Araujo: a commendable Philippine debut as Marcello in La Boheme.

Known for his opera roles as Papageno (Magic Flute), Figaro (Nozze di Figaro), Marcello (Boheme), Escamillo (Carmen) and Rigoletto, Araujo has colorful singing career the highlights of which include performances at the Verbier Festival, at the Philharmonie in Munich, at the Auditório Nacional de Madrid and concerts under the baton of Dennis Russell Davies and Maestro Fabio Luisi.

Although his Boheme role didn’t have easily recognizable arias like the parts of Rodolfo, Mimi and Musetta, Araujo said there was a lot to enjoy in the part. “Marcello is a very passionate character and he is in love with Musetta. It is not only a platonic love and I like to think it is a very physical one and this shows all the time in his singing. There is elegance in this Puccini opera but mostly it has fire. Marcello has no memorable aria but he is on stage all the time and he is some kind of catalyst for the drama. He is the one consoling Mimi in her desperate moments and at the same time more down-to-earth than Rodolfo.”

Araujo said he believes in the magic of opera. “When opera was in flower during the time of bel canto and the castrati, people turn to opera to have extraordinary experience. I think the same is true today. You go to opera to experience magic. Otherwise, you just stay at home and watch TV. Opera can transcend present-day technology to bring home the message of the composer.” –Philippine Daily Inquirer

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