CHICAGO:Â Â Talk about transnational. And diversity. Â An opera with a Latin titleÂ that talks in Tagalog. But is sung in a U.S. production by non-Tagalog singers. A Filipino opera written by a prolific composer who advocated for a nationâ€™s ideals through his music creations: Felipe de Leon. Â A classical opera version of a historical novel by Jose Rizal tracking the twilight of Spanish colonization in theÂ Philippines. A novel that rocked that country into political consciousness in the late 19th century. A country whose classical opera tradition borrowed greatly from the introduction of European opera.
On May 26 and 27, 2012 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, da Corneto Opera, an all-American opera company in Chicago, tacklesÂ Felipe de Leonâ€™s operaÂ Noli Me Tangere. This U.S. premiere, under the auspices of KGB Productions, will be sung in Tagalog (with English supertitles) by performers for whom Tagalog is a foreign tongue.Â In fact, only 6 of the 60 opera singers are Filipinos.
With a libretto by Guillermo Tolentino, De Leonâ€™s 1957 operaÂ Noli Me Tangere is not the first Filipino opera ever written. (That honor belongs to Sandugong Panaginip, a 1902 work with aÂ 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 theÂ 150th birth anniversary of Rizal.
(Update: After posting this story, I learned that Dulaang UPâ€™sÂ Alexander C. CortezÂ recently directed the same opera in Manila. Manila Bulletin Online had an article about this Manila production. Click here. So didÂ Philippine Star here. )
DaCorneto Operaâ€™s Chicago rings the bells of other significant timelines.Â May 2012 is the 100th birth anniversary of composer de Leon. And 125 years ago, Noli Me Tangere was first published in Berlin (it was written in Spanish). AndÂ May is Asian American Heritage month.
Steven Wallace, an African America singer, portrays Noli‘s lead role ofÂ Juan CrisĂłstomo Ibarra y Magsalin, who returns to the Philippines after seven years of academic studies in Europe. He plans to wed his betrothed Maria Clara, sung by Mila Koleva (who is originally from Bulgaria) and to fulfill his fatherâ€™s dream of opening a school.
CrisĂłstomo Ibarraâ€™s archenemyÂ Father DĂˇmaso â€“ sung by Alvaro Ramiezer, a native of MexicoÂ â€“ is the notorious and imperious priest who has a vendetta against the Ibarra clan. Damaso is Rizalâ€™s symbol of the Spanish clergy who covertly fathered illegitimate children.
The eveningâ€™s conductor? Her name is Lucia Matos. Sheâ€™s Brazilian.
Karrel G. Bernardo, a Fil-Am performer and the mainÂ producer of this Noli opera, tackles the supporting role of Elias. “Out of 60 opera singers, only 6 are Filipinos, staged with full orchestra,” Bernardo says in an interview. “Itâ€™s so heart warming to listen to them sing Tagalog. This is the first time our musical heritage will be performed and offered to the diverse crowd in Chicago.Â The most important is for the second generation Filipino Americans who were born here and have no idea who Rizal was, and what this novel is about.”
The Noli performances culminate a series of Asian American Heritage-related events. All of which were programmed under the banner of “Diversity Through the Arts; Bridging Cultures”Â www.DiversityThroughTheArts.org.
Noli Me TangereÂ 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. HisÂ NoliÂ played an instrumental role in creating the sense of a unified Filipino national identity and consciousness, but it was Rizalâ€™s execution that was one of the causes of the Philippine Revolution. AlthoughÂ the Americans eventually followed the Spaniards as the countryâ€™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, theÂ Congress of the PhilippinesÂ passed theÂ Republic Act 1425, more popularly known as theÂ Rizal Law, which requires all levels of Philippine schools to teach the novel as part of their curriculum.Â Noli Me TangereÂ is taught to third-year secondary school students, while its sequelÂ El filibusterismoÂ 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 Rizalâ€™s El filibusterismo into an opera as well. Â He also wrote numerousÂ zarzuelas, overtures, suites, symphonic poems, chamber works, choral music, concertos, piano solos, band music, film music, childrenâ€™s songs and Christmas carols. He foundedÂ 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 â€śBagong Lipunan.â€ťÂ 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.
DaCorneto Opera of Chicago
Chicagoâ€™s Asian American Heritage Month
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- What is a Filipino?: A reaction on the question of race (maribetholiver.info)
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