Noli Me Tangere: The Opera
“It’s an opera made in the same spirit of Verdi, of Puccini, of Bernini. Grand opera in the Italian style.” These were the words used by Loida Nicolas Lewis to describe Noli Me Tangere: The Opera.
The Opera is based, of course, on the novel Noli Me Tangere written by our national hero Jose Rizal. Rizal’s book was first published in Germany in the year 1886 and 2,000 copies were initially circulated. The novel exposed the defects of the Spanish colonial system in the Philippines, including the abuses committed by Spanish government officials and religious authorities against the natives. The book did not sit well with the Spanish colonial government and the church, for which reason Rizal was taken into exile, imprisoned and executed. Inspired by the novel, Felipe de Leon composed the opera more than six decades later in 1953, with libretto by Guillermo Tolentino. When it came out, the opera was also considered revolutionary in a way because it was written in pure Tagalog at a time when Western operas were lording it over the musical theater scene.
Before 2014, the last major staging in the Philippines of Noli Me Tangere: The Opera was in 1987 in UP Diliman. It was again performed in 2011 through a small production in commemoration of Rizal’s 150th birth anniversary.
Due to the efforts of Loida Nicolas Lewis, a Filipino-American philanthropist, it was restaged in the Newport Performing Arts Theater in Resorts World Manila. According to Ms. Lewis, she fell in love with the opera the very moment she was able to watch it in Chicago. She, therefore, planned to have it staged in New York and in Washington DC. Her dream became a reality when it was staged in October 2013 at New York’s Hunter College, and in August 2014, at Washington DC’s Kennedy Center. Although the presentations were in the United States, renowned Filipino artists played the roles. After Washington, they decide that it is time that our very own opera should, once again, be staged in the Philippines. After sold-out shows in the United States and after almost 30 years, Noli returned home and was staged for 21 shows in a span of a little over two weeks.
Noli Me Tangere: The Opera, Manila was produced by J&S Productions. All shows were accompanied by the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Maestro Rodel Colmenar and Directed by Freddie Santos. Thirty world class Filipino performers from the Philippines and New York filled the shoes of the characters in the opera. Among them were 10 members of the Scholastican community – a professor, alumni and current students of the School of Music. Cast A is composed of Sal Malaki as Ibarra, Maria Rachelle Gerodias as Maria Clara, Antoni Mendezona as Sisa and Andrew Fernando as Padre Damaso. Cast B is made up of Ivan Niccolo Nery as Ibarra, Myramae Meneses as Maria Clara, Jean Judith Javier as Sisa and Jonathan Velasco as Padre Damaso. Other members of the cast include Maria Carmila Lopez-Molina as Tia Isabel, Roby Malubay as Pilosopo Tasio, Reginald Santiago B. Velasco and Joaquin Ignacio D. Samonte as Basilio, Jose Luis Mari F. Yapjoco and Mark Cedrick Imperial as Crispin, Jose Raymund Concepcion as Dr. De Espadaña, Ronaldo Abarquez as Kapitan Tiago, Gil Terence Guillermo as Alferez, Fernando del Rosario as Teniente Guevarra, Adrian James Bartolome as Don Alfonso, Stephanie Aguilar as Sinang, Glenda Liao as Andeng, Kristine Balingcos as Victoria, Jahleel Jairus Gonzales as Guardia Civil, Lorenz Lloyd Lapresca and Michael Dominic Bulaong as Manlilibing, and Nicole Roxanne Aldiosa, Millicent Joy Lao, Iona Marie Ventocilla and Renee Michaela G. Fajardo as members of the ensemble.
The presentation immediately elicited positive reviews on the internet, especially on social media. The ticket prices, in all honesty, were relatively high, but it was all worth it considering the sterling performances. The acting, to say the least, was superb and compelling, English translations of the words were flashed on screens above and on both sides of the stage. The stage design and props were awesome; featured was a huge LED screen to serve as background, which was a feast for the eyes. Transitions from stage sets and scenes were all flawless. The orchestra was great, though it could have been better if the percussions were actual instruments. It would be no exaggeration to describe the performances as world-class.
The Philippines is fortunate to have great performers and artists comparable to those from Western countries. Considering the critical acclaim and commercial success by the opera, it is about time that stakeholders gave more attention to music and the arts.
By: Joshua Reymar Cortes U. Floresca