Saturday, September 27, 2014

Review of NOLI ME TANGERE: THE OPERA (RWM): Soaring Nartional Masterpiece

September 28, 2014




Honestly, at first I was not planning to watch "Noli Me Tangere, The Opera," which was being re-staged in the Newport Performing Arts Theater in far-off (for me) Resorts World Manila.  Furthermore, I already watched this same opera when it was performed by Dulaang UP (MY REVIEWin Diliman fairly recently, in November 2011. However, because of a generous invitation and my curiosity on how this opera will be staged in a much bigger venue got the better of me.

The Noli Me Tangere of course is a masterpiece of Philippine literature, an immortal novel by Philippine National Hero Dr. Jose Rizal. This opera also carries a prestigious pedigree, being composed by Felipe de Leon and written by Guillermo Tolentino, National Artists both. This particular production of Noli the Opera is under the direction of Freddie Santos. It is being performed by a cast of more than 30 Filipino opera singers from both New York and Manila. The accompanying music is played by the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Rodel Colmenar. The stage & costume design was by Jerry Sibal.

It just so happened that the main cast I caught this afternoon playing the four main characters are the very same people which I caught three years ago in UP. 

Crisostomo Ibarra was played by Ivan Niccolo Nery. Maria Clara was played by Myramae Meneses. I will call this the junior cast, as they alternate with more senior and bigger name opera artists Sal Malaki and Rachel Gerodias in these roles. But I imagine that Nery and Meneses would match the ages of the characters more accurately. 

Nery's voice quality was over and above all the male singers in the show.  His tenor was flawless even as he was hitting punishingly high notes, much fuller and more mature than I saw him in UP. He may not really look like the Ibarra we imagine from the novel, but in this opera, he definitely nails the role. Meneses was radiant as Maria Clara with her smiling eyes and sparkling soprano voice. She too has improved in her acting and vocal technique since I last saw her.

Sisa was played by Jean Judith Javier. Her highlight is Sisa's poignant soliloquy of madness and Javier does all of the required difficult trilling perfectly. She received the loudest ovation during the curtain call. 

Padre Damaso was played by Jonathan Velasco.  This character is so hateful in the whole show, especially in that scene where Damaso was laughing at Ibarra's plan for a school. The way Velasco performed there, you'd want to jump the stage as take a dagger to his neck yourself.


I have to say their voices were sounded much better here, more rounded and solid, no doubt thanks to the ultra-modern sound system of the Newport Theater. I do not see any microphones on them at all. That said, there are also sound hitches noted, like failed mics for some minor characters.  I did not expect since this was already the second to the last day of performance that I watched. 

When you compare this big-budget Resorts World production with the more austere UP production, there were pros and cons. The RW stage is huge, so it is more difficult to fill it up. They rely on the video screen backdrop to create a more three-dimensional illusion of depth. Those scenes inside Kapitan Tiago's house are specially beautiful. But there were times when the huge stage looked too empty. Those intimate scenes of Crisostomo and Maria Clara, as well as the scene of Sisa's headlong descent into madness, worked much better on the smaller stage of UP. 

One thing that helped in the appreciation of the show are the meticulous simultaneous English translation of the libretto overhead in the main stage, and on the big screens on both sides. Even if you can understand most of the Tagalog words, you can still miss some details when these words are sung in opera style, so the subtitles were much appreciated.

It was admirable that a generous sponsor had made it possible for public high school kids to have a rare chance of watching a world-class show. They filled up the whole balcony and side orchestra sections it seems. However, maybe they should have been better briefed on proper theater etiquette. During the first act everything was OK. In the second half after the intermission, probably they were restless already, their chatting became disturbingly audible. They would also applaud in the wrong moments, sometimes even before the songs were finished. They were actually laughing during the Sisa scene. Anyway, I am happy that these children were able to see an opera, and hope it would inspire some of them to go into the performing arts themselves.

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