WHOEVER said the opera is dead obviously didn’t get the chance to see Gilas!, one of the dazzling shows featured in the 3rd National Theater Festival. The performance brought together renowned luminaries of opera in the country on a single stage, and with the country’s leading orchestra, the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO), formed one unforgettable ensemble.

Gilas! showcased Filipino scenes of the late 18th century when dramatic political and social changes were taking place. Ten opera pieces comprised the two-hour event last Nov. 10 at the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

Librettos and high notes

An opera version of Jose Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere,” with music by National Artist Felipe Padilla de Leon and libretto by Guillermo Tolentino, opened the musical. Three artists performed for each of its three acts—soprano Maria Katrina Saporsantos played Maria Clara in a rural setting in Kay Tamis ng Buhay; tenor Nolyn Cabahug portrayed Ibarra upon his father’s death in Di Ba Sila Nagpapatay; and soprano Rachelle Gerodias, a UST Conservatory of Music alumna, played Sisa on the brink of madness in Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa.

Also in the first half was Larawan ng Kababaihan: Maskara at Mukha, revolving around three women of different social statures—Tandang Sora, (soprano Ma. Austregelina Espina,) Sisa (soprano Mary Patrice Peralta Pacis, a UST Conservatory of Music Voice graduate,) and Doña Victorina (Jay Valencia Glorioso.) The three women wail about the different sins they committed against country, sins that they are on trial for. The piece advocated femininity through soft but effective melodies that captured the sympathy of the audience.

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The grand finale, Aba Santo Niño in which, all of the artists participated, was a fitting cap to a wonderful afternoon. Crippled Bartolo, (tenor Jose Randy Gilongo, a UST Conservatory of Music alumnus,) attributes his miraculous healing to the Santo Niño. The harmonious effect of renowned opera singers blended into a powerful climax.

Along with the PPO, the artists of this musical feat gave an accolade-worthy performance. Standouts included Thomasian soprano Irma Potenciano in her recital of “Oo, ang palayaw ko ay Mimi.” Potenciano certainly reaffirmed her reputation as one of the country’s top concert and opera performers with her powerful voice projection and graceful elegance that only years of top, solid performances can produce. Other outstanding performances were of soprano Aileen Espinosa Cura, tenor Raymond Leslie Diaz, soprano Joan Cano and baritone Marvin Gayramon, in a tavern scene of La Boheme.

One of the finest lyric operas ever written, La Boheme was translated by Thomasian National Artist for Theater and Literature Rolando Tinio in 1992 for a CCP production he directed. Cura gave a sensible recital of her role, with crystalline high notes that got the undivided attention of the audience. Diaz, Cura’s partner in the duet, gave the same exceptional performance. Cano and Gayramon, on the other hand, played a couple fighting because of the woman’s flirtatious acts toward another man. Cano is a UST Conservatory of Music graduate in Voice and was formerly a soloist for the world-renowned UST Singers. Though both gave outstanding performances, their voices were clearly overpowered by the other pair.

Taken as one, the harmonious blend of the symphony is music together with the voices of the artists gave life to colorful and majestic sounds that are undeniably exuberant. What makes it even more praiseworthy is the fact of the lyrics being easy to understand, quite contrary to the common misconception that operas are hard to identify with. This can be associated with the fact that the librettos are in Filipino, so understanding and appreciating them are much easier for the audience.

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The tribute made by these artists to Philippine Opera is truly an experience of life and art. They not only revived the passion that elegant artistic excellence deserves, they also re-established the level of Philippine opera in the cultural arts scene. Anne Nerissa C. Alina

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