45-year-old virgin opera and more

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Yay!  My article on a 45-year old virgin opera was used by Philippine Daily Inquirer for its Aug. 1, 2011 issue.

The original article was only about the Santos opera, but editorial decisions were made to include the news on the upcoming Asensio concert.

Due to the insertion of new information, I had to lop off several lines from my original piece for length considerations before submitting the revised version.  Bonus for readers of Theaterbator blog by Walter Ang, at the bottom of this post are the self-excised portions!

I attempted to be witty by using subheads like "first time," lines like "love at first sight," and words like "deflower" to follow through on the use of the word "virgin" in the title (which is a play on the movie starring Steve Carell).  I don't know if I was successful or came off reading gimmicky, kekeke!

Due to space limitations, the editors further lopped off a few lines and subheads from the revised piece.  But no worries, I present to you all, the fully restored original version! (Restored title, lines and subheads in green.)

45-year-old virgin opera and more
By Walter Ang

Chris Borela
An original Filipino opera has finally been staged 45 years after it was written.

The University of the Philippines’ College of Music recently presented the world premiere of Ramon Santos’ “Ang Mahiwagang Hardin” at the college’s Abelardo Hall.

And at the heels of presenting new work, the college takes a look back via a concert featuring excerpts of lyrics/libretti written by its professor emeritus, coloratura soprano Fides Cuyugan Asensio.

Asensio’s own Music Theater Foundation Philippines, in cooperation with the UP College of Music, presents “Applause: A Musicale Retrospect” on Aug. 4-5, also at Abelardo Hall.

Santos’ virgin opera was finally deflowered, thanks to Christopher Borela’s search for material to fulfill the thesis of his Master in Choral Conducting degree.

“My journey began more than two years ago with the search for an opera, sarswela or musical composed by a Filipino,” said Borela. “The composition should be meaty and the composer should be of merit.

He alphabetically went through a list of composers at the college's library.  It was love at first sight when he got to the letter "S."

"Santos submitted 'Mahiwagang Hardin' as a requirement for his Bachelor of Music Composition degree in the UP Conservatory (now College) of Music," said Borela.  "The opera piano-vocal score was finished on May 15, 1965."

Also a professor emeritus of the college, Santos is a world-renowned composer whose works have been performed in major music festivals around the world. He has done extensive studies in Philippine traditional music and Southeast Asian and Southern China music.

The arts community and music aficionados were in an uproar in 2009 when Santos was elected for National Artist of the Philippines but was removed by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

It's complicated
“I admit that I had not been aware of this opera,” said Borela. “Santos composed the music and wrote the libretto himself. I found the music extremely challenging.”

The opera is described as a “musical journey that crosses the real and surreal to illustrate that truth, love and beauty transcends time, place and form.” Nine-year-old blind orphan Ligaya lives with her flower friends in the enchanted garden and becomes endeared to Binata. Dama de Noche foretells the impending doom of Ligaya.

“I found the music for the chorus very interesting and powerful,” said Borela. “The melody is very tonal. The dances sound like Stravinsky. The vocal lines for Dama de Noche and Binata are complex and atonal. The musical style for these characters stresses intense emotions and harsh dissonance. The accompaniment seems not to aid the singing. The overture begins with an ever-changing motif of minor, major and even modal forms.”

He noted several other technical elements of the composition that rendered the opera as “different and challenging,” but graciously gave way to oversimplifying the description to aid non-opera experts as “definitely even more dissonant than Sondheim.”

Not the first time
Director was Roselle Pineda, a professor for the Department of Art Studies, College of Arts and Letters; and choreographer was Angel Lawenko-Baguilat, artistic director of UP Dance Company.

For the cast, Borela recruited two-time European Gran Prix winner UP Madrigal Singers, as well as Jesper Mercado, Mary Jane Egloso, Biance Camille Lopez, Kitbielle Pagui and Ervin Lumauag.

After the one-night-only performance, what did Santos have to say about the consummation of his opera? "It made me really happy.  I just keep on making works, I never know when they will be performed.  All these things that I'm doing have a purpose," he said.  "It's either for self-satisfaction or for graduation," he added while laughing.

Fides Cuyugan Asensio
“Applause: A Musicale Retrospect” is Asensio’s “gesture of thanking the artists, supporters and friends who have been supporting her through the years.” Her foundation gives scholarships to young classical performers.

Asensio was the first Filipina to receive a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. She established her career upon returning to Manila and eventually became chair of the Voice and Music Theater Department at the college from the late 1980s to the late ’90s.

The concert lineup includes “Amy” (work in progress); “Larawan at Kababaihan: Mukha at Maskara,” music by Lucrecia Kasilag; “Mayo—Bisperas ng Liwanag” (inspired by “Mayday Eve” of Nick Joaquin), music by Rey Paguio; “Spoliarium,” an opera on the life of Juan Luna, music by Ryan Cayabyab; “Why Flowers Bloom in May,” music by Kasilag; “Song of Joseph,” a musical on the life, love and death of St. Joseph,” music by Raymond Roldan; and “La Loba Negra,” music by Francisco Feliciano.

Directors for the concert include Behn Cervantes, Alex Cortez, Nazer Salcedo, Henry Tejero, Noel Cabazor, Tony Mabesa and Alegria Ferrer.

“Applause: A Musicale Retrospect” runs Aug. 4-3 p.m., and Aug. 5, 7 p.m., Abelardo Hall, UP College of Music. Proceeds will fund ongoing scholarships in the field of arts, music and music theater. Contact 4121575, 9296963, 0919-6577961, or mtfp_jr@yahoo.com.

Bonus! Here are the self-excised portions that were no longer included in the revised piece that I sent in:

Borela asked permission from Santos and received an enthusiastic response with only one question from the composer, "Paano ang magic?"

"He was referring to a transformation scene that happens towards the end of the opera and I couldn't give an answer," said Borela.  "He finally said, 'Bahala na ang director.'"

Armed with constant “encouragement and heartfelt guidance” from his adviser UP Concert Chorus musical director and conductor Janet Sabas Aracama, Borela lost no time in tapping his former batchmates from the Philippine High School for the Arts, where he was a music major.  

He got Roselle Pineda, PHSA theater major and currently a professor for the Department of Art Studies, College of Arts and Letters, to direct; and Angel Lawenko-Baguilat, PHSA dance major, currently an instructor for the Dance Program, College of Music and artistic director of UP Dance Company, to choreograph. 

He also got former batchmates Rowena Bayon to be part of the visual design team and Jonathan Coo to play the timpani.

"The element of contradiction is what makes this particular opera difficult and challenging," said Pineda.  "For example, the numerous scenes where the chorus sings of happiness but the music exudes danger and melancholy; the ambivalent character of Dama De Noche or even the lovelorn Binata."

"Contradiction became the framework.  We wanted to show the contrast between Reality (the stage) and the Fantasy World (the shadowplay) by using visual themes and cues that are consistently contrasting," she said.

Pineda collaborated with lighting and production designer Teta Tulay and the Anino Shadowplay Collective to visually execute the music's inherent "contradictions."

"For color schemes, we used achromatic for the stage and polychromatic for the shadows. The stage is minimalist and almost bare while the shadows always show multiple images. Scenes from 'reality' are visually characterized by geometric, straight and jagged lines, while the enchanted garden scenes are characterized by curved lines, arabesques and curlicues." 

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