View From The Wing

by Pablo A. Tariman

Photos: Elizabeth Lolarga

The City of Pines has heard some of the country’s first-rate singers among them tenor Otoniel Gonzaga, the first and thus far the last Filipino tenor to sing Verdi’s “Otello.”

Gonzaga opened the Baguio International Music Festival in 1988 and with pianist Cecile Licad and cellist Antonio Meneses closing the festival on same year.

Euphoric curtain call for Viva Voce's "La Boheme." A first in Baguio City.

Euphoric curtain call for Viva Voce’s “La Boheme.” A first in Baguio City. (Photo by Boy Yniguez)

But the city has yet to hear its first live opera which is understandable as it takes so many resources to mount one.

(In the early 80s, Sarah Caldwell of the Opera Company of Boston motored to Baguio City to check suitable venues for opera during the staging of Mozart’s Magic Flute at the CCP. Nothing happened as the Opera Company of the Philippines died a natural death after the first EDSA People Power.)

Sunday last week, Puccini’s “La Boheme” made its debut in Baguio City at The Hill Station of Casa Vallejo to deafening applause with some teary-eyed music lovers obviously carried away by the opera’s heart-wrenching finale.

Directed by soprano Camille Lopez Molina, this La Boheme in chamber music form, was actually set in Baguio with the still existing Rumours Bar along Session Road as one of the settings.

Soprano Camille Lopez Molina coaching the Rodolfo of Carlo Manalac and the Mimi of  Iona Ventocilla.

Soprano Camille Lopez Molina coaching the Rodolfo of Carlo Manalac and the Mimi of Iona Ventocilla.

The young Rodolfo of Carlo Manalac became a Baguio student from Pangasinan while the Mimi of Iona Ventocilla became a graduate of a Baguio Weaving School with the Musetta of Myramae Meneses became of a native of Cagayan de Oro and transported to Baguio City as a night club singer who got involved with the Chief of Police now in the person of the Alcindoro of Raymond Yadao.

Opening with a view of Mines View Park in the background, Viva Voce’s La Boheme is at once intimate and very much closer to home with very a very young, if, boyish Rodolfo of Manalac who sang with a solid warm tenor sound that was pleasing to the ears. It was a well-liberated ringing sound that you didn’t expect from someone looking so young and unassuming.

Indeed, Manalac has great promise and he might as well be a living instrument for telling the young generation that opera is not about old folks at home listening to their favorite arias in rocking chairs. His Che gelida manina started fairly well, strong emotions and all, but decided he’d rather not risk vocally by going higher in the aria’s most anticipated finale. After all, the opera is not about this well-loved warhorse of an aria.

Carlo Manalac reviewing score of Boheme before rehearsal.

Carlo Manalac reviewing score of Boheme before rehearsal.

Ventocilla carved a very delicate and highly vulnerable Mimi aided to a great extent by a ravishing soprano sound that had its great moments in Mi chiamano Mimi. The solid sound was breathtakingly consistent until the death scene where she proved she could sing and act as well.
As the lead characters had to sound forlorn and gloomy because of unrequited love, the Musetta of Myramae Meneses provided the much needed contrast as she sashayed into Rumours Bar launching her signature aria, Cuando men vo to great applause. The voice remains fresh, the high notes hit their marks so well and her acting sizzles. She is a prized Musetta every Filipino can be proud of.

On the other hand, there is the feel of youth and rare intensity in the Marcello of Carlo Falcis, the Schunard of Greg de Leon, the Colline of Roby Malubay and the thoroughly involved Alcindoro of Raymond Yadao.

With no orchestra in sight, the piano accompaniment of Farley Asuncion was as thoroughly engaging and precise down to the last notes.

The direction of Lopez-Molina left nothing to be desired. As it is, she mounted the opera for what it has to offer, a story of doomed love and starving artists braving near starvation and coping with unpaid bills in the cold nights of Baguio.

Viva Voce in University of Baguio in a program called "The Evolution of OPM." A well-deserved standing ovation.

Viva Voce in University of Baguio in a program called “The Evolution of OPM.” A well-deserved standing ovation.

The brave but highly innovative production might as well be a contemporary case of art imitating life. The organizers had very little resources with music loving volunteers providing sets and costumes including transport and meals for the artists.

It was no doubt a labor of love and the audience rewarded them with tumultuous applause and several curtain calls.

The Viva Voce group has unusual warmth and camaraderie it showed in the tight and well-coached singing ensemble.

(The group earlier received a standing ovation for a special performance called “The Evolution of Original Pilipino Music” at the University of Baguio which already has a Conservatory of Music.)

Although this Baguio version of La Boheme was sang in the original Italian libretto, the audience knew what the characters were singing with Pilipino translation being flashed by the surtitles.

Pablo Tariman watching Boheme rehearsal in Baguio City.

Pablo Tariman watching Boheme rehearsal in Baguio City.

Indeed, the production is portable opera which can be toured anywhere in the country with young singers who can easily connect to the young generation.

Let’s keep opera alive with this modest production that hit its right target – the heart and soul of every music-loving Filipino.

(This chamber version of La Boheme was presented by Cultural Events Organizers in association with Hill Station and individually supported by Des and Auring Bautista, JB Bautista (president of the University of Baguio), Ray Dean Salvosa (board member of the University of the Cordilleras), Mitos Benitez Yniguez, Vixienne Calulut, Sr. Perla Macapinlac, ICM, Ben Tapang, Oscar and Tottee Pacis, Rolly Fernandez of Inquirer Northern Luzon and the Manila Chamber Orchestra Foundation.)

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  1. June 3, 2015

    Dear Pablo,

    In your most current blog on the overdue tribute due to the already proclaimed National Artists, one quote from Alice Reyes stood out in your well-argued essay: “And like any other artists, I hang on to my obsession with dance regardless of whether my work does well or not in the box office. Our passion keeps us alive.”

    And so it is with cultural work, whether in the metro where you have a variety of fare to choose from or in the regions. The passion keeps us going despite naysayers that there are more important priorities to attend to. We do what we can given the limitations on resources and even volunteers. That somehow some support comes in the nick of time and doubting Thomases see our world-class Pinoy artists singing or performing their hearts out makes the behind-the-scenes sacrifices worth the while.

    You, Pablo, who has also given much to take the cudgels up for many unsung (or would have remained unknown) artists and musicians deserve our salute, too. I know at what cost your passion for live coverage, reporting, reviewing comes. The vision is still to remain centered, grounded in the belief in the redemptive powers of Art and not discouraged by the ineptness of powers that be who dismiss “culture” as a luxury for the elite and continue to measure a nation’s worth by GNP or GDP, and not by the strength we find in our culture and the arts.

    Thank you for the extra miles you traveled to witness a daring La Boheme in its reconstructed Baguio setting that is meant also for a contemporary audience so they realize the timelessness of the Masters’ music. If you and Joseph and some more hardy souls are up to it in a few months, let’s take it on a road tour.

    Your reader and fella cultural sakada,


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