The lyrics and their translations, flashed upon the screen and written in the program, were beautiful enough to move the audience, but what made them so powerful was the theatricality of their performance. True to his operatic background, Mr. Espiritu did not just sing, he acted the songs, sometimes to an almost exaggerated effect (customary for the opera). Quick shifts of emotion were underscored by grand gestures, and at one point, when singing a particularly heartbreaking phrase–part of the fifth in the Schumann cycle, if my memory serves–he literally started staggering backwards, as if he was physically in pain. He paused to compose himself, his body shaking and his face ashen, before belting out an angry cry along the lines of of “I’m forgetting her!”, made even more dramatic by the fact that it was sung in German.
Collaborative pianist Najib Ismail in deep concentration over a piece. According to him, the challenge of collaborative piano-playing is the need for empathy–an ability to connect with the singer, the piece, and the audience in the playing.
The piano, too, seemed to “act” as much as the singer, ducking and bobbing over the vocal line and punctuating emotion. In the angrier songs, such as “Warte, warte, wilder Schiffman” (Wait, wait, wild ferryman), it ducked, bobbed, and weaved over the vocal line, the notes coming swift and sure and almost half-mad in a controlled display of rage. In sweeter, sadder songs, on the other hand, the notes were more subtle, gentle, echoing instead of “banging” out into the air. At one point, the piano even managed to convey the feeling of love that had turned to pain, while, with a slight countermelody, conjured the undercurrent of hope. It is this expressive quality that, I discovered, characterizes Mr. Ismail’s perfomances. In the words of Mr. Bert Robledo, host of Bravo Filipino on DZFE The Master’s Touch (98.7), “He makes the singer sing,” almost as if the body of the tenor and the pianist were one.
Bert Robledo, host of DZFE The Master’s Touch (98.7) show Bravo Filipino converses with my mom during the intermission.