May 27, 2017 02:59 AM PST
SINCE 2007

Noli Me Tangere: The Opera

Earnest Snoops

The opera version of national hero Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere, which earned raves when it was presented last month in Washington, DC, made its successful return to the Philippines at a well-attended gala night.

Clad in their Filipiniana and barong attire, the throng of VIPs -- diplomats, prominent businessmen, political leaders, patrons of the art, and Metro Manille’s who’s-who -- came to celebrate the gala night staging of Noli Me Tangere: The Opera at the Newport Performing Arts Theater of the Resorts World Manila. The opera was last presented 27 years ago in the Philippines.

The mall atrium of the entertainment hub was packed with exchanges of gracious greetings and jollity as everyone celebrated the re-staging of the powerhouse opera piece based on Dr. Jose Rizal’s novel, Noli Me Tangere, with libretto and music composed by National Artists Felipe de Leon and Guillermo Tolentino, respectively. Noli Me Tangere: The Opera is considered the first Filipino opera composed in the Western operatic tradition when it had its world premiere in 1957.

It was Filipino-American businesswoman and philanthropist Loida Nicolas Lewis, who, after spearheading the staging of the opera in New York and Washington D.C. last month, brought the opera to Manila. The three-day, sold-out run at the Kaye Playhouse at the New York’s Hunter College caught the attention of the New York Times. While the Times reviewer wasn’t impressed, the New York production caught the attention of Dr. Edward Seidel and his Bicolana wife Dr. Lorna Imperial-Seidel, who worked to have the opera staged at the U.S. capital – and at the Kennedy Center at that.

In the DC production, the opera was condensed from NYC’s full, three-act version to just two acts, with a running time of a little over two hours. This time the Washington Post gave it a rave review. “The opera overall flowed with passages reminiscent of Mozart, Rossini, Puccini and Wagner under conductor Benjamin Dia’s baton,” the review said. Looking back at the history of opera in the Philippines, the event also honored and presented awards to two opera singers: Irma Ponce Enrile Potenciano and Fides Cuyugan Asensio, both of whom have mentored many of the country’s established opera singers as well.

On stage, Lewis introduced the two men behind J&S Productions, Inc.: executive producer Jerry Sibal who did the impressive multi-media stage sets and costume designs, and Edwin Josue, the opera’s assistant executive producer who is also a U.S.-based real estate broker.

The special gala night featured seasoned and accomplished opera singers like Sal Malaki as Crisostomo Ibarra, Rachelle Gerodias as Maria Clara, Jonathan Velasco as Padre Damaso, Noel Azcona as Elias, and Antoni Mendezona as Sisa.

It was evident that the lead singers committed themselves to delivering the rich tones and powerful voices demanded by such an emotional opera, especially including the scene where Sisa found her unconscious son Basilio in the forest.

The live music played by the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra with Maestro Rodel Colmenor on the baton also added to the rich aural and visual experience of the entire production. It also helped that screens on the left and right side of the stage projected close-up views of the scenes with English subtitles.

Producer Sibal, who also did the costumes and set, made full use of Resorts World’s giant LED screen, with digital imagery for key sequences such as the riverside picnic that looks like it was straight out of a Manansala painting.

Director Freddie Santos, who helmed the much acclaimed production of “The King and I” for Resorts World Manila, once again showed his mastery of the Newport stage as he was able to move the action and change scenes seamlessly, while at the same time creating haunting and dramatic images that will not be easily forgotten, particularly Sisa’s lament. Part of the proceeds of the opera will go to the preservation of the original copy of “Noli Me Tangere” in the Philippine National Library, as well as assistance to super typhoon “Yolanda” victims and scholarships for opera singers.

Noli Me Tangere: The Opera runs until Sept. 28 at Resorts World Manila.