GRAND productions by the Cultural Center of the Philippines of the classic operas—Giacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly and Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville—attempted to revive interest in the classic musical form and featured key Thomasian performers.

Puccini’s tragic opera was slated June 22 to 23, while Rossini’s comedy was staged July 13 to 14, both at the CCP Main Theater.

Madame Butterfly is the story of Cio-Cio-San, a Japanese geisha who belonged to a once-prominent family. Madame Butterfly, as she is fondly called, agrees to marry Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, a naval officer in the American fleet stationed at Nagasaki in 1904. Unbeknownst to Butterfly, Pinkerton plans to marry an American girl someday and has only married her for sport. Butterfly renounces her ancestral religion for her husband, much to the indignation of her uncle and relatives.

When Pinkerton returns to the United States, Butterfly gives birth to their son and endures seven years of waiting. Her faithful servant Suzuki and the American consul Sharpless urge her to marry the wealthy Prince Yamadori, but Butterfly declines, confident that Pinkerton will make good on his promise to return.

When she receives news of his return, Butterfly scatters flower petals all over their house. But it is Pinkerton’s American wife, Kate, who comes, saying that she is willing to treat Butterfly’s son as her own.

Choosing to die with honor rather than live in shame, Butterfly attempts to kill herself, but is interrupted by her son. She says goodbye to him and sends him off. She then does the inevitable.

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Directed by Anton Juan, the production was distinguished by its stage design, with enlarged origami (Japanese paper sculpture) figures of cranes and butterflies.

Subtitles were flashed above the stage of the production as the songs were sung in Italian libretto. A huge digital screen served as a background, harmonizing with every scene of alternating war clippings and soft hues. At one time, Juan situated the story during the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the showing the mushroom cloud breaking out in the Japanese horizon.

Japanese soprano Mako Nishimoto portrayed Butterfly, while Mexican tenor Dante Alcala played Pinkerton. Thomasian baritone Andrew Fernando played Sharpless.

Other Thomasian alumni in the cast were Lemuel de la Cruz as Goro, Jun Jaranilla as the Imperial Commissioner, Jilbert Chua as Butterfly’s uncle, and Nonon Baang as Prince Yamadori. Jade Riccio, who’s taking her Major in Vocal Performance at the University’s Conservatory of Music, played Kate Pinkerton.

Rossini’s romantic comic opera, The Barber of Seville, tells of Almaviva and Rosina’s romance made possible through the intervention of the titular barber, Figaro. Count Almaviva introduces himself to Rosina as Lindoro to make sure she falls in love for what he is and not for his money. But the scheming doctor, Don Bartolo, imprisons Rosina in his house with the plan of marrying her. But in the end Count Almaviva and Rosina finally end up together.

Premier soprano Rachelle Gerodias, again a product of the UST Conservatory of Music, played Rosina. Meanwhile, baritone Fernando was again featured as Rosina’s music teacher, Don Basilio.

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Another Thomasian performer was Noel l Azcona, assistant music director to the internationally acclaimed UST Singers, who played Fiorello, Count Almaviva’s servant. Members of the UST Singers, under the choral conductor, Fidel Calalang, Jr., sang the chorus for the play.

Much like the Madame Butterfly, The Barber of Seville flashed above the stage the English translation of the Italian libretto.

Fernando said that for both operas, they performers were phonetically trained. In addition, he himself has a vocal coach from New York.

Gerodias described the opera as similar to “a common sitcom, to which everybody can relate.”

“[The opera is] comedy, and you don’t see a lot of comedic operas here. Everyone can relate, even for non-opera-cultured people,” she said.

Fernando and Gerodias described their co-performers as “wonderful and very talented” artists.

“[Andrew Fernando] has a very unique and powerful voice. Such voice is very rare for a Filipino performer,” Gerodias said.

The two have been friends since high school, where they sang for the school choir. They performed together in theater for the first time in Rolando Tinio’s adaptation of La Bohéme at the CCP in 1992.

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