Monday, October 13, 2008

Finally, an Italian opera in the Philippines!

A couple of years playing classical music when I was in my teens has made me a sucker for anything classical. Name it: Mozart, Beethoven, Lizst, anything with piano and violin, or even harp or glockenspiel, I'd like to have a CD or MP3 of it. So this, together with my undying love for the theatre arts, made me wonder what would be it like to watch an opera -- a real opera at that.

And then I had a chance to have an interview with Philippine Opera Company (POC) founder Karla Gutierrez. She herself was trained in Rome, with a course that's something like a masters degree in opera interpretation. She told me that a good career as an opera performer awaited her in Italy (she has what it takes to be a star: VERY good singing and a pretty face) but she said she'd rather put up an opera company here. So to make the long story short, POC was born.

Going back to the interview with Karla, I was trying to write a story about the potential of opera in the Philippines. By the way she described me her vision -- a major theatrical production with elaborate sets, an orchestra, and a material that is sung all throughout -- I was convinced that I really wanted to see one. And with the oversupply of talent in the country, there opt to be lots of such productions here in the Philippines.

So when I've heard POC's doing Puccini's La Boheme, I begged for a free ticket from my friend (hehe).

This was the same piece were Rent (read: the movie and the musicale) was based. Not to mention the tagline, "The Greatest Love Story Ever Sung" as an added come on, I was really itching to see it.

So I went to the CCP Main Theatre last Oct. 3 to see POC's La Boheme. It was the opening night. Bloggers were invited to have a sneak peek during the dress/tech rehearsal last Oct. 1, but I opted not to go since I'm not yet an established blogger.

ReviewThe production was not as grand as what Karla described to me, but it was a good show, all in all. With the singing as the centerpiece of any opera, I think the talented performers did a good job, and they did not fail their audience made up of high-profile personalities (read: the patrons of the arts).

I thought the director was being snob for not putting subtitles. The entire piece was sung — in Italian — and I couldn't make up what they're trying to tell.

My friend who attended the press conference said there was a debate among the producers and the artistic staff if they should put subtitles. The director argued that the attention of the audience will be divided if they do that, and that the audience should have done their homework by reading up about the opera.

For me, I think the move was one sure way to bring the arts much farther from the people. In this society where art is barely appreciated, I thought the producers should have done something to at least bring it closer to the Filipinos.

But then, another friend told me that that's how it is done in Europe -- even in non-Italian speaking countries. The objective is to simply listen to the singing and the music, and from there one can have an understanding of what's happening on stage. Let the singing touch your heart, my friend told me.

So this is what is called audience development -- you try to introduce new things to your audiences, and develop their appreciation for such things.

I wasn't able to comprehend the libretto of the opera, yes, but if I'll rate my experience based on the singing, I'd say it's superb!

The cast was made up of some of the top-notch performers in the country. That night I saw Jennifer Uy as Mimi and Gary del Rosario as Rodolfo. I've learned from the souvenir program that Gary is an accomplished opera performer abroad and only came home to do this (something like that).

But in terms of both singing and acting, Ana Feleo was a showstealer as the sexy Mussetta. Her stage presence, as in her past performances (I was able to work with her in Tanghalang Pilipino's Oraciones in 2003) was really something amazing.

Also noteworthy was the performance of the three "alipores" of Rodolfo's -- baritones Lawrence Jatayna and Jesus Baang who played Marcello, Joseleo Logdat who did Colline, and John Ocampos who played Shaunard.

One comment, though. The show intended to contextualize the piece to Modern-day Manila. Yeah, the effort was there with the sorbetero and all that. But all in all, I didn't feel Manila. And the second act with the chorus in what was supposed to be a carnival of sorts, I was kind of confused on who to look at on stage, and that in my opinion, the scene was badly blocked.

But nonetheless, this project should be the start of more to come in the Philippine theatre/entertainment scene. Bravo, POC!


likha said...

i always thought that opera wouldn't reach the filipino masses -- ok not the filipino masses but the general patrons -- because, precisely, of language barriers.