NEW YORK CITY:  A uniquely Filipino opera version of Dr. Jose Rizal‘s  novel Noli Me Tangere will be coming to New York. Members of the Filipino-American community are invited to hear musical excerpts from the opera and meet the producers and performed on Thursday, January 31st at 6:30PM at the Philippine Center. (556 Fifth Avenue).

Felipe de Leon’s Noli Me Tangere is a Filipino opera written by a prolific composer who advocated for a nation’s ideals through his music creations.  It is a classical opera version of a historical novel by Jose Rizal tracking the twilight of Spanish colonization in the Philippines. The novel that inspired the opera rocked Spanish-era Philippines into political consciousness in the late 19th century.

This New York premiere, under the auspices of KGB Productions, will be sung in Tagalog (with English supertitles) by performers for whom Tagalog is a foreign tongue.

Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippin...
Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines, is a role model of young Filipino men. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The January 31st event aims to create an awareness and to properly educate the public on the significance of the production through the historical context that both siblings of Felipe de Leon will present. One of the de Leon siblings, Felipe Padilla de Leon, is presently the head of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, which is partly funding on this production.

The program for the January 31st event will feature an invocation by Rev. Francis Abaya, welcome remarks by Consul General Mario de Leon, Jr., a special message by industrialist and arts patron Loida Nicolas Lewis.

Historical and cultural footnotes on Noli and the composer will be provided by Felipe Padilla de Leon, NCCA chairman, and Bayani Mendoza De Leon, a composer. Michael Dadap, music director of the Noli NY production, will offer remarks.

Special Musical Numbers include: “Sapagkat Mahal Kita” as performed by Karrel Bernardo (baritone) and “Ako’y Pilipino,” as interpreted by Rogelio Penaverde Jr. (tenor). Producers Gerry Gaddi and Karrel Bernardo will also be present, as will assistant music directorDr. Rene Dalandan on the piano. I will serve as emcee.

Noli‘s story is familiar: Juan CrisĂłstomo Ibarra y Magsalin returns to the Philippines after seven years of academic studies in Europe. He plans to wed his betrothed Maria Clara and to fulfill his father’s dream of opening a school.

Crisóstomo Ibarra’s archenemy Father Dámaso is the notorious and imperious priest who has a vendetta against the Ibarra clan. Damaso is Rizal’s symbol of the Spanish clergy who covertly fathered illegitimate children.

Karrel G. Bernardo, a Fil-Am performer and the main producer of this Noli opera, tackles the supporting role of Elias.

With a libretto by Guillermo Tolentino, De Leon’s 1957 opera Noli Me Tangere is 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 Ladislao Bonus.) Because of its Rizal provenance, it has enjoyed a longer life than most Filipino operas. Completed in 1950, it has been performed in 1957, 1987 and last year to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Rizal.

Poster for "Noli Me Tangere" opera | KGB Productions and DaCorneto Opera's Chicago
Poster for “Noli Me Tangere” opera | KGB Productions and DaCorneto Opera’s Chicago

Noli Me Tangere did not directly spark the Philippine Revolution. When he wrote it, Rizal actually advocated direct representation to the Spanish government. Politically and symbolically, he saw Spain as the father and the Philippines the daughter. The novel, however, packed powerful ideas and lacerating truths. It described, satirized and exposed the ills of the Philippine colonial society; in particular it reveals and chronicles the oppression of Spanish rule, as well as the corruption and abuse by the Catholic clergy who insisted that the Noli was a subversive work.

Eventually Rizal himself was branded a subversive. He was executed by the Spaniards in 1896. His Noli played an instrumental role in creating the sense of a unified Filipino national identity and consciousness, but it was Rizal’s execution that was one of the causes of the Philippine Revolution. Although the Americans eventually followed the Spaniards as the country’s foreign colonizers, Noli Me Tangere (and its sequel El filibusterismo) opened the eyes and minds of the Filipinos to the possibility of sovereignty, independence and revolution.

In 1956, the Congress of the Philippines passed the Republic Act 1425, more popularly known as the Rizal Law, which requires all levels of Philippine schools to teach the novel as part of their curriculum. Noli Me Tangere is taught to third-year secondary school students, while its sequel El filibusterismo is taught to fourth-year secondary school students.

If Felipe de Leon were alive today, it would most surely please him to see non-Filipinos attempting to convey and sing one of his most treasured creations. A prolific writer and music education, De Leon cared very much for Filipino folk music and cultural traditions. He successfully turned Rizal’s El filibusterismo into an opera as well.  He also wrote numerous zarzuelas, overtures, suites, symphonic poems, chamber works, choral music, concertos, piano solos, band music, film music, children’s songs and Christmas carols. He founded the Pambansang Samahan ng mga Banda sa Pilipinas (Philippine Band Association) and the Filipino Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

De Leon is today remembered as a prime advocate of nationalism throughout his life. Martial Law babies still recall singing his patriotic song “Bagong Lipunan.” It was fitting, therefore, that on December 8, 1997, President Fidel V. Ramos granted him the highest honor a Filipino artist can receive, the National Artist Award for music.

Stamp in honor of Felipe Padilla de Leon National Artist for Music | Design by National Commission on Culture
Stamp in honor of Felipe Padilla de Leon National Artist for Music | Design by National Commission on Culture

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