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Thursday, July 18, 2024

An overture to opera

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While theater productions have been aplenty in the country, opera has been far and few in between. In the six years, I’ve been with the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), I can remember watching two operas so far.

In 2017, we had Gaetano Donizetti’s L’Elisir D’Amore (The Elixir of Love), a light-hearted opera about a worker who falls in love with a beautiful landowner and seeks the help of a wandering quack doctor who sells the eponymous bottle of a love potion.

History has it that Donizetti composed this opera in just six weeks, with the Italian libretto written by Felice Romani. For its Philippine premiere, Italian opera director Vincenzo Grisostomi Traviglini, assisted by Prince Sisowath Ravivaddhana Monipong (Ambassador of the Royal Household of Cambodia), took the directorial job. The late Ruggero Barbieri, former music director and principal conductor of Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, was in charge of the music direction.

Then, we have another Donizetti masterpiece in 2020, before the series of lockdowns due to the global health crisis hit us. Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor was last staged in the Philippines in 1976. It’s a tragic opera about the star-crossed lovers Lucia and Edgardo.

Lamentable that we have limited exposure to opera, but it is also understandable. While we have numerous talents we can tap, the challenge always boils down to money.

With the limited budget and support that the arts and culture sector receive from the government (if only the arts and culture sector can also have confidential funds at its disposal le sigh), it is not surprising that we can’t mount opera as frequently as we would like to.

Personally, I’d rather see my taxes go into staging world-class operas and other performance arts – or any kind of arts for that matter – than see it all go to wasteful projects.

But one might ask if mounting opera is so costly, why should we even produce it?

“Because they offer a sincere reflection of who we are, how we relate to others, and what it means, collectively and individually, to be human. Watching opera allows us to experience emotional and imaginative truths, and share profound and transformative cultural experiences,” said CCP president Margie Moran-Floirendo.

At the CCP, we are always looking for ways to present an opera in whatever capacity or form.

For the past years, CCP has been partnering with the Met Opera of New York to screen selected operatic productions through high-definition digital video technology and Dolby sound, recreating the experience of watching an opera production at the Met “live.”

Reading about the creative process behind the “live” opera in HD is quite interesting. Apparently, the Met has been broadcasting their live performance through radio. This was actually the predecessor of the Met Opera in HD program.

Using modern technology, the Met hopes to expand its reach and introduce new audiences to opera. This is also the goal of the CCP in launching this cinematic project, in partnership with the Metropolitan Opera of New York and the Filipinas Opera Society Foundation, Inc., in cooperation with the Ayala Malls Cinemas.

A low-cost way to introduce opera to reluctant audiences. There will definitely be something about opera that will catch your attention, whether it’s great storytelling, great singing, and extraordinary production values.

A continuation of its seventh season (which has been cut short by the pandemic), the CCP Met Opera in HD series features one opera every month until February 2023 at Greenbelt 3 in Makati. Featured operas include George Bizet’s Carmen, Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata, Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc’s Dialogues Des Carmélites, Gaetano Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment, and Camille Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila.

But if you are willing to wait, in two months’ time, you can have a live opera experience as the CCP, Rustan’s Group of Companies, and the Philippine-Italian Association (PIA) partner to bring Puccini’s Turandot at the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo on December 9 to 11.

“Presenting Turandot by Puccini would be an appropriate way to further promote Italian arts and culture in the Philippines and in the process raise funds for PIA,” said Nedy Tantoco, one of the producers representing Rustan’s Group of Companies.

Italian Ambassador Marco Clemente promises “substantial financial contribution,” saying that “Opera was created by a group of renaissance intellectuals in Florence more than four centuries ago. It is indisputable that the general public still tends to associate the very concept of opera with Italy and the Italian language. For that reason, it is important for an Italian Ambassador to strongly support live performances of Italian operas, especially after the long closure of theatres due to the pandemic.”

This is really something to watch out for.

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