Monday, October 13, 2008

Sneak peek at Opera

Before reading my post below on the latest opera performance here in the Philippines, here's an interesting (ehem) review that I wrote in 2006 about a production of the Philippine Opera Company. This one's about Master Class. The show's restaged and is running until Oct. 25, with Cherrie Gil, one of the icons in the local TV, film and theatre scene, playing the lead.

So here's my review, which should encourage everyone to see the ongoing show.

* This piece appeared at the Weekender/Arts and Liesure section of BusinessWorld on July 21, 2006.

Opera 101: A sneak peek at opera

Master Class
By Terence McNally
Presented by the Philippine Opera Company
July 21 and 22, 8 p.m. (2006)
Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Ayala cor. Buendia Aves., Makati City

To those who do not have the discerning ears - or perhaps the patience - to appreciate classical music, the mere mention of the word "opera" triggers boredom. It may be because the arias are in unfamiliar languages, or, it may be the high-pitched birdlike voices that lull some to sleep. Because they are not willing to take the chance on it, a lot of people miss the great things that opera has to offer - the music and the magic combined on stage, the experience that the privileged few, so it seems, get from every performance.

With its aim of increasing the Filipino's awareness and appreciation of opera, the Philippine Opera Company makes a good first step to introducing the art to more Filipinos with its production of Master Class.

The production is very apt as the company's season opener. Since this is a play on opera rather than a full-length classical piece, watching Master Class does not require one to be a buff to comprehend what playwright Terence McNally wants to convey.

Master Class gives one a glimpse into the life of the legendary soprano Maria Callas (played by Jay Glorioso), touted to have been one of the greatest opera singers in the recent history for having revived the bel canta heroines of some of the greatest Italian composers. The play focuses on the latter part of Callas' life, that is, as a teacher giving a series of master classes at the Juilliard School of Music. While she did in fact conduct the master classes, the events in the play are of McNally's imagination.

While biographical sketches similar to this often result in travesty or comes out as a mere retelling of a famous figure's life, McNally was able to creatively weave Callas' musical genius together with the drama of her personal life.

The play shows a master class featuring three music students. This is where McNally is able to tell the people, for instance, that art is not detached from real life. This is best exhibited in one of Callas' lines - "You don't just stand on stage, you own it," saying that performing is not about pretending but being the person that one portrays at a particular time and place.

Such insights into music and performances are complemented by monologues that Callas delivers when she mentally moves out of the scene and airs out the miseries of her personal life.

McNally structured the play to include the audience, with the proverbial invisible wall between the actors and the audience eliminated. With the audience essentially included in the class, Glorioso as Callas, is able to inject a comedic touch as she delivered quips to the audience throughout the play.

The class does not become a mere showcase of the vocal prowess of Karla Gutierrez as Sophie de Palma, Anna Feleo as Sharon Graham, and Juan Alberto as Anthony Candolino with their renditions of some popular arias. Callas, after all, interrupts them after their first notes - sometimes even before they start singing. And even when they sing the pieces in their entirety, the renditions subtly turn to recorded versions. Rather, these actors were able to give remarkable acting performances in their respective moments.

In the brief vocal exhibitions, Gutierrez was the most memorable as her dynamics never failed to amaze, despite the fact that she was only required to sing a short portion of the aria.

Feleo's voice is equally striking, and I hope her character has become more solid through the production's run than it was during press night. Same with Alberto who looked a bit inhibited in his movements onstage - but his singing was a different matter!

The role of Maria Callas requires a strong actress, and Glorioso, in my opinion, was a good choice to play the part. As the role requires, she is an authentic singer. However, some people think that a stronger actress could have been cast as the role requires only minimal singing. But still, although her performance may seem to need a little more heft as compared to Baby Barredo's in Repertory Philippines' production some years back (I was
told Barredo had firsthand experience of a master class under Callas), I believe Glorioso will be able to give a stronger delivery throughout the rest of the run.

Full of insights on Callas' life and the basics of opera, complemented with equally impressive sets and lighting, Master Class depicts how art - opera in particular - truly becomes a magical reflection of life.

Disclaimer: I wasn't paid to make this post, or am I close to people at the POC. I just want to share the experience.


eye in the sky said...

interesting. i saw "masterclass" in london a few years ago with patti lupone playing callas. she was just fresh from her critical raves in broadway when she opened the london production then. it would be interesting to see iconic cherie gil in the local staging.

and it's so true about non-english operas. the ones performed in london are never subtitled. people are supposed to know the story prior to the performances so that they can concentrate on the vocal performances rather than the narrative. operas aren't even huge acting vehicles - as some of the most renowned opera stars aren't known to be great "actors". this makes the opera stage way different from the musical theatre, but magical nevertheless.

likha said...

i wanted to see how cherie gil interpreted this one. not really a fan of opera but music is music...i appreciate them all.