By Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Saturday, September 20, 2014
Expectations were high at the gala of “Noli Me Tangere: The Opera” at the Resorts World Manila Theater. After all, there was much hype even during the casting for the Manila production of what had originally been presented in the United States, the most recent being at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
Loida Nicolas-Lewis recounted in her remarks before the show that watching the opera abroad so moved her and awakened in her a fervent sense of pride in being Filipino that she was determined to bring it over for the Manila audience. Never mind, she said, her initial apprehension that opera as theater entertainment may not lure a large following as yet. Fortunately, Loida is overly generous with her time, energy and financial resources that she makes the near-impossible happen.
The stage set was beautiful and the story, though so familiar, continued to engross and engage. My daughter Aina, who did not have too pleasant memories of being mandated to read the “Noli” in high school (before Ambeth Ocampo whose anecdotes and research would have helped teachers make Rizal a more welcome figure to the youth), was enraptured. She said she did not want to look at the English subtitles because she wanted to savor the beauty of our language.
This interpretation of the novel was more love story than revolutionary, and something today’s students will warm up to—must-have cultural fare to enrich the curriculum. It is as entertaining and a rich teaching resource as it is a wonderful takeoff point to discuss Rizal in greater depth.
The scenes with the crazed Sisa played by Filipino-Spanish coloratura Antoni Mendezona were memorable and hair-raising. Also noteworthy were Rachelle Gerodias as Maria Clara and Sal Malaki as Crisostomo Ibarra.
I was in conversation with two individuals who were also at the Kennedy Center showing. Both liked it, and Yvette Jarencio said, “I liked the experience of watching a Pinoy mini-opera at Kennedy Center. It was well attended and speaks well of the Pinoy.”
It was also commendable that the Resorts World Manila Theater, huge and luxurious and comfortable, and previously associated only with Western stage productions, was the venue for “Noli.” A few people took note of that, too. Thank you, Kingson Sian.
To me, the evening’s most exciting discovery was that the opera, the very first such interpretation of Rizal’s “revolutionary and subversive novel” and the Philippines’ first full-length Filipino opera, was composed in 1957 and was the product of two talented artists whom the Philippine government eventually declared National Artists—Felipe Padilla de Leon for the music and Guillermo Tolentino for the libretto. Tolentino is well known and remembered for his outstanding classic sculptures like the Oblation at the University of the Philippines and the epic Monumento ni Bonifacio (circa 1933) in Caloocan. (Yes, on that horribly busy thoroughfare, where to stop, gawk at and admire the sculpture is a risk to one’s life—but please, don’t any bureaucrat touch it now.)
I tried in vain to look up what the De Leon (1912-1992)-Tolentino (1890-1976) association was like, and it remains an intriguing issue. It helped to know that Tolentino engaged visual artist Victorio Edades, who headed the Thirteen Moderns movement, in a running debate on classical and modern art. Tolentino viewed art as a vehicle for nationalism and was a Rizalist. Unknown to today’s generation, he was a guitarist, an espiritista, and author of a baybaying Tagalog. De Leon was a major Filipino composer best known for translating the lyrics of the National Anthem from the original Spanish to Tagalog.
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I cannot let the anniversary of the imposition of martial law pass without commending what appears to be a standard assignment of Xavier School junior high students every time September comes. Carrying the weight of an exam, the assignment is to interview someone who lived through martial law and, just to ensure authenticity, a photo and short biodata are required.
My interviewee did not realize how closely my family and I had experienced those dreaded years, so it was easy for me to answer questions like: What was good about martial law? I did not have to think long and hard because of the high price we all had to pay—not only my own personal losses and travails (nothing compared to those of the real heroes) but also the death and detention of countless young men and women that created a felt vacuum of leadership in society. It somehow restored my faith that that nightmare will not be forgotten, and will not happen again.
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Today’s highly acclaimed UK-based YA author Candy Gourlay (Candy Quimpo of the Mr&Ms Reconciliation series in her former life as journalist) is in town to launch the Anvil edition of “Shine,” a Random House title nominated for the Carnegie Medal and was chosen Best Novel in Europe for 2014. Catch her at the ongoing Manila International Book Fair events and at a special workshop for young writers on Sept. 27, 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at the Canadian American School, 6f Alphaland City Club. Call 09176240196.
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.