Saturday, September 14, 2019

Review of POC's PASSION: Obsequious Obsession

September 15, 2019

I had seen Stephen Sondheim's "Passion" back in 1996 with Menchu Lauchengco in the lead role as Fosca, Michael Williams as Giorgio and Gia Macuja as Clara. I remembered that I liked it and the beautiful but rather somber songs, but I cannot entirely recall all the details of the story anymore. This year, for their 20th anniversary, the Philippine Opera Company decided to stage "Passion" again. This is actually the first full production of the POC that I had seen.

"Passion" tells the story of a love triangle set in the late 1800s with handsome gallant soldier Capt. Giorgio Bachetti caught between his lustful beautiful paramour Clara, and his obsessively infatuated homely hostess Fosca. Sondheim created a situation which began to be apparently so clear cut. However, he gave it a twisty development of events which will keep the audience entranced as the unconventional love affairs unfold onstage.

Sondheim told the story with challenging songs rich in melody and romance. The first song "Happiness" was sung by a barely-dressed Giorgio and Clara while making love in bed, quite a bold manner to start a show with. In "Loving You," Fosca declares to Giorgio that her love for him was so strong that she was willing to die for him, a kind of love that the young man cannot yet grasp. It is easy to understand why this was the best-known and best-loved song from this show.

Giorgio and Fosca
(photo from FB page of Karla Gutierrez)

It was as if I was watching the show for the first time. I did not realize there was so much dark humor, not only among the comic soldiers, but in the lines of Fosca herself, which I found very surprising. I remembered Fosca to be desperate, but not as insidiously manipulative as Shiela Valderrama-Martinez portrayed her last night. Her heavenly singing voice was beautifully radiant, shining though the severely deglamorizing make-up and drab gowns she had on. On her 25th anniversary in show business, Valderrama-Martinez is the theater star of the season, and this Fosca of hers is a high point in her career.

Vien King makes his leading man debut as Giorgio. At first, King seemed too young to be the heroic Capt. Giorgio. Because of his youthful countenance, Giorgio's dalliances with Clara and Fosca looked like May-December affairs, which gave these liaisons another layer of danger and recklessness. This relative youth of King's Giorgio actually worked in the show's favor, since it gave context to the decisions Giorgio made, which may be puzzling if made by a more mature man. His singing was solid throughout, showcased in songs like "Is This What You Call Love?" That scene when Giorgio had his confused epiphany was a major acting moment for King that drew spontaneous applause from the audience. 

With her Caucasian features and colorful costumes, Jasmine Fitzgerald was a standout beauteous vision onstage as Clara. Her clear soprano vocals completed the total package. Lorenz Martinez played a key role as Fosca's compassionate physician, Dr. Tambourri. Raul Montesa was solid presence in his role as Fosca's cousin and guardian Col. Ricci. Noel Rayos stole his scenes as the funny Lt. Toraso, along with the Timothy Racho as the cook Sgt. Lombardi. Jonel Mojica, Jos Jalbuena, Lorenzo Mendoza, Vyen Villanueva, Joshua Rex Cheng, Lorraine Lisen and Jasmin Salvo complete the ensemble. 

The cast of Passion at their curtain call
(L-R: Lorenz Martines, Raul Montesa, Shiela Valderrama-Martinez, 
Vien King, Jasmine Fitzgerald, Noel Rayos)

The vision of director Robbie Guevara gave his show a lush feel brimming with complex emotions. Sets were designed by Jason Paul Tecson, enhanced by the lighting of Shakira Villa Symes. The 18th century Italy costumes were designed by Zenaida T. Gutierrez, with Myrene Santos completing the picture with her hair and make-up. The sound design was by Jojit Tayong. Guevara's resident musical director at 9Works Daniel Bartolome also leads the live orchestra in this production. Congratulations to POC Artistic Director Ms. Karla Gutierrez for the successfully steering POC into their 20th anniversary. 


"PASSION" runs from September 14-29, 2019 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium at the RCBC Plaza in Makati. Show times are 8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, with 3 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Ticket prices range from ₱3,500, ₱2,500, ₱2,000, ₱1,500 and ₱900. Show lasts for 1 hour and 50 minutes with no intermission.

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