‘Noli Me Tangere The Opera’ Touches the Audience
The Philippines’ national hero Jose Rizal’s opus ‘Noli Me Tangere’ translated in English means “Touch Me Not”—which is the sub-title in fact of the Noli Me Tangere The Opera on its closing weekend here in Manila at the Newport Performing Arts Theater, Resorts World Manila. Oh, but how the soul-stirring opera touched and moved audience from all walks of life in all its 21 performances.
The same way it touched philanthropist Loida Nicolas Lewis, the woman behind the bringing of the opera here in Manila, when she watched the opera in Chicago. “It moved me to tears,” said Lewis. So ‘moved’ was she that she decided to bring the opera to New York, where it ran for three days in sold-out performances, and was even reviewed by the New York Times no less. As the song goes, if it could make it there (in New York), it’d make it anywhere! It also had a successful run at Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. in August.
There is no place like home, though. After 27 years, Filipinos were able to see a Noli Me Tangere opera once again in full orchestra accompaniment. The last one, according to Lewis, was performed in 1987 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). And what a homecoming it has been for Noli Me Tangere Opera! After all, who could appreciate Rizal’s obra maestra more than us Filipinos ourselves. The story is as relevant today as it was in the 19th century when it was written in 1887. Undying romance, bravery, betrayal, hypocrisy, heresy, poverty and patriotism are clearly timeless issues.
“Now is the best time to have the literature of Jose Rizal…to guide us again and show the whole world the Filipinos’ extraordinary talents,” Lewis quipped in her remarks before the performance. The Manila run of Noli Me Tangere The Opera, presented by J&S Productions, is from September 12 to September 28.
Tour de force performance by the cast of 80 world-class Filipino artists alternating for various roles in at total of 21 performance in the Manila run of the opera. Photo: Bituin Aquino
After its Manila run, there are plans to bring Noli Me Tangere, The Opera to Europe, particularly Austria (the hometown of Jose Rizal’s friend Ferdinand Blumentritt), Germany (where the book Noli Me Tangere” was published in 1887) ; and Spain (the Spanish occupation of the Philippines for three centuries was after all the setting of the book).
The cast of Noli Me Tangere, The Opera is certainly some of the finest in the world of opera. It includes Sal Malaki and Ivan Nery (alternating as Crisostomo Ibarra); Rachelle Gerodias and Myramae Meneses (alternating as Maria Clara); Andrew Fernando and Jonathan Velasco (alternating as Padre Damaso); Antoni Mendezona and Jean Judith Javier (alternating as Sisa); Noel Azcona and Greg de Leon (alternating as Elias); Ronnie Abarquez (as Kapitan Tiago); Nomher Nival (as Padre Salvi); Camille Molina (as Tita Isabel)— who are among the 80 world-class Filipino artists who are part of the opera.
Lovesick Maria Clara (played by Myramae Meneses) cries out in prayer for Crisostomo Ibarra. Photo: Bituin Aquino
During the September 26 (Friday) performance, Meneses and Nery played the lead roles of sweethearts Maria Clara and Crisostomo Ibarra. Meneses’s praying scene was utterly moving. She sang Marian prayers (Aba Ginoong Maria etc.) in a very emotion-filled manner as her character prays and pines for Ibarra who was then ex-communicated and jailed, after attacking Padre Damaso in a fit of anger.
But the most moving scene in the opera was that of Sisa (in a tour de force portrayal by Jean Judith Javier) by her lonesome in the forest, alternately dancing, crying and wailing for her estranged sons Basilio and Crispin. Javier’s aria is easily the highlight of the entire opera, where she was singing her heart out in a songbird-like manner— it was both eerie and hauntingly sad. So much so that the audience could take their eyes away from her and her performance even elicited tears from not a few members of the audience. The forest backdrop (albeit digital) added to the beauty of the scene.
Jean Judith Javier’s hauntingly sad aria (as Sisa) was the most moving scene of the opera.
During the September 26 (Friday) performance, students from O.B. Montessori, St. Scholastica’s College and San Sebastian College were enthusiastically applauding scenes. As Lewis, noted after the show, the ‘energy’ of the audience was really something else. It was perhaps, a bit noisier than the usual subdued theater crowd. It was great move on the part of the organizers to bring the opera to the younger set. With the generous help of San Miguel Corporation, students were able to watch the show at a much lower price, for only PhP500.
Students from various schools were able to watch the opera at a much lower discounted price of Php500. Photo: Bituin Aquino
“Noli Me Tangere: The Opera” was composed by National Artist for music Felipe de Leon and the libretto was written by National Artist for visual arts Guillermo Tolentino—a feat in itself for two great artists to be part of one project. It was directed by Freddie Santos and the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra led by Maestro Rodel Colmenar performed the music. Behind the scenes were stage/costume designer Jerry Sibal, and lighting designer Shax Siasoco.
Part of the proceeds of the Noli Me Tangere The Opera will be donated to preserve the original copy of “Noli Me Tangere” in the National Library, to help typhoon Yolanda victims and to provide scholarship grants for opera singers.