By Randy Gener/via gmanews.com - A landmark opera based on the great novel by the Philippine national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, will be staged in full orchestral splendor for the first time in the East Coast.
At a January 31 town hall hosted by the Philippine Center, a committee led by philanthropist Loida Nicolas Lewis and Consul General Mario L. de Leon Jr., announced that “Noli Me Tangere: The Opera” – the operatic retelling by Felipe Padilla de Leon of Rizal’s 1887 novel with a libretto by Guillermo Tolentino – will alight at the Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse in New York in October 2013.
“Nothing happens in the world if it does not happen in New York,” said Nicolas Lewis. “Here is a Filipino who has created a world-class opera based on Rizal’s ‘Noli.’ It will be sung by a diverse cast in the Filipino language.”
The town hall’s aim was to foment grassroots support in the Tri-State area. So Nicolas Lewis enlisted Aida Bartolome of the Foundation for Filipino Artists, which promotes Philippine arts and culture in New York, as well as Jose L. Ramos, chapter commander of the Order of the Knights of Rizal. Karrel Bernardo, a baritone, and Rogelio Peñaverde Jr., a tenor, sang two popular De Leon songs (“Sapagkat Mahal Kita” and “Ako’y Pilipino).
“The Philippines has now shed its title as ‘Sick Man of Asia’ and is now considered a rising star,” said Nicolas Lewis. “Our mother country is now number 3 around the world in Growth Domestic Product for 2012. We extended a $1-billion loan to the International Monetary Fund to stabilize the economy of our former colonial master Spain. It is time for us Filipino Americans to show the world that we are a cultured people.”
This ambitious staging of the “Noli” opera promises to be a milestone in almost every respect. It comes at the heels of the 75th year of the proclamation of a national language based on the Tagalog dialogue on December 30, 2012. That date also marks the 100th year since the remains of Rizal were reinterred in the Luneta monument.
Consul General Mario de Leon added this “Noli” opera is “groundbreaking” because it celebrates the birth centennial of the prolific Felipe Padilla de Leon (no relation), who was born on May 1, 1902.
Said ConGen De Leon: “While most of us are probably familiar with his more popular songs such as ‘Noche Buena,’ ‘Payapang Daigdig,’ and ‘Pasko na Naman’ – all classic Filipino Christmas songs – this is an opportunity to know more about the artistic legacy of Maestro de Leon. I hope we will all support this endeavor which aims to introduce new audiences to the musical genius of one of national artists.”
The organizers asked for the support and blessing of De Leon’s two sons: Felipe Padilla de Leon Jr., the new chairman of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts in the Philippines, as well as Bayani Mendoza de Leon, a composer and ethnomusicologist, who spoke of their late father via Skype.
Bayani Mendoza de Leon noted that the “Noli” has been translated into different languages, made for film and for television, and has been adapted to a musical. His father worked closely with Tolentino, who was obsessed with the novel, to re-cast it into a distinctively Filipino opera using the European opera genre. De Leon and Tolentino then followed it in 1970 with an opera version of “El Filibusterismo,” the sequel to “Noli Me Tangere.”
Because of its Rizal provenance, De Leon’s “Noli” opera has enjoyed a longer life than most Filipino operas. Completed in 1950, it has been performed in 1957, 1987 and in 2011 to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Rizal.
De Leon’s “Noli” opera was, however, not the first Filipino opera ever written. That honor belongs to “Sandugong Panaginip,” a 1902 work with a libretto by Pedro Paterno and music by Ladislo Bonus. The difference is that “Sandugong Panaginip” was a one-act Tagalog opera made up of five scenes, while De Leon’s “Noli” opera was written with two acts, making it the country’s first full-length grand opera.
The complete “Noli” opera has rarely been fully staged with a full orchestra. Until last year, it has never received a major production in the United States. Most “Noli” productions are either concert versions or musical vignettes that rework the sociopolitical relevance of several indelible characters (usually women, such as Maria Clara and Sisa).
Past efforts to fully stage the “Noli” opera in the U.S. had come to naught. De Leon’s opera eventually had its U.S. debut in May 2012 under the auspices of Chicago’s da Corneto Opera.
Bernardo, a Chicago-based opera singer; his producing partner Gerardo Gaddi and Michael Dadap, who will serve as music director, hired an emerging playwright/director, May Nazareno, to ensure that the New York staging incorporates the issues young FilAms face today. “The vision we have for New York is to make it more realistic and grounded in its approach,” said Bernardo.
“Today, we are facing different faces of oppression caused by greed, poverty and intolerance,” said Dadap. “Rizal was God’s messenger to awaken us all. De Leon’s opera version from the novel is a vehicle serving as a powerful reminder that we Filipinos must not forget the struggles of our race. Over a century later, Rizal’s words and wisdom still ring true.” – The FilAm
Randy Gener, the curator/organizer of Filipino Mundo-NYC, is a New York-based editor, writer, dramaturg, artist and the only Asian-American recipient of the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism. He was engaged by the “Noli” committee to serve as the emcee of this Philippine Center town-hall meeting.
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