Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hangad's songs for your secret, sacred time

From the inbox today came this announcement. The soon-to-be launched CD is worth listening to. Or worth the look-see when the album is launched on two days in September at different venues. I've seen these earnest kids perform five or so years ago when the mom of one of the members, Lorna Kalaw Tirol, brought in Hangad to serenade Karina Bolasco who had turned golden girl. Members of First Draft were there to celebrate the occasion with her with the usual dining, reading and sharing. That meeting remains fresh in my memory because there was live choral music for a change.

They don’t call themselves a choir or even a singing group. They are a group of young people, most of them professionals and a few college students, who sing to glorify God and to draw people closer to Him. They call themselves Hangad.

Next month, Hangad will mark its 20th anniversary with the release of a new album that explores and celebrates prayer as a deeply personal, one-on-one communication with God.

The CD, the group’s eighth, is titled This Time with You. It contains 16 songs, 15 of them original compositions by the members, that span a broad range of themes, emotions and musical styles, including a mix of a capella vocals and various instruments (piano, guitar, flute, saxophone and strings).

Renato Lucas, the celebrated principal cellist of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, performs a solo.

The album will be launched at two free concerts on Sept. 3 at 2 p.m. at the Chapel of the Eucharistic Lord, SM Megamall, Mandaluyong City, and on Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Santo Nino de Paz Chapel in Greenbelt, Ayala Center, Makati City.

Accompanying the album is a words and music book containing reflections and prayers written by Hangad members, and the complete vocal scores of the songs on the CD.

This new album recalls Hangad’s origins as a choir for Days with the Lord retreats at the Ateneo High School in 1991. Since then, the group has produced five music videos besides its eight CDs and has performed in numerous inspirational and fund-raising concerts around the country and in the United States.

In 2006, Hangad won the Awit Award for best inspirational/religious song for “Pieta: Oyayi sa Paanan ni Hesus” in the album titled Easter Journey.

This Time with You is a joint production of Hangad and the Jesuit Communications Foundation.

For more information, readers may check out Hangad on Facebook or visit its website,, or write to

Message from the original Mrs. B

Warm greetings from my family and Desaparecidos!

It has been more than four years since my son Jonas has been missing. While the Supreme Court resolved that the military produce my one based on the investigation of the Commission on Human Rights which identified one of the abductors, until now we have no clue of his whereabouts or his condition along with the other victims of enforced disappearance.

We have brought our battle to all legal remedies available. We have also taken alternative means to increase the community’s awareness on the phenomenon of enforced disappearance, which to me, is one of the gravest crimes against humanity.

One such effort is the play “Mrs. B” which depicts my life with focus on our family’s search for Jonas. The play is a one-act monologue and runs for approximately 40 minutes. It was written by award-winning playwright Joi Barrios together with Rowena Festin and Grundy Constantino of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) and directed by Soc Jose, also of CAP.

The play was first shown in 2009 with Pinky Amador playing the role of Mrs. B. With the support of The Asia Foundation, it was restaged in February 2010 which alternately starred Bibeth Orteza and Gina Alajar.

We now hope to bring the play to some universities all over the country this August, again, with the support of The Asia Foundation, with Ms. Bibeth Orteza and Ms. Malou de Guzman playing the role of Mrs. B alternately. We believe that the play will help in informing the public, especially our students, of the phenomenon of enforced disappearance in the country. We also hope to raise sufficient funds for the continued search and campaign for the freedom of our missing kin.

Confident that you are one with the victims in the search for justice, we look forward to your positive response and to the generosity of your heart.

Thank you very much.

Respectfully yours,

Mother of missing Jonas Burgos
Chairperson, Desaparecidos

Monday, August 15, 2011

Morning Poem by Mary Oliver

Maybe if you look hard enough through your sputtering laptop's files, you'll find the manuscript that wasn't in your priority search list. This is what happened early this morning. Mary Oliver came calling again before I could throw water on my face and brew coffee. What's an old girl to do but post this poem? It's a worthy companion, much loved and read over and over for comfort, and it'll be just here for ready reference when things get rocky or off kilter in the new week.

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches ---
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead ---
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging ---

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted ---

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

Photo from the Facebook community "Blissful Quotes

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Non-rainy Mondays never fail to perk me up

The last time we had a lengthy ladies' lunch like this at the same medium-size mall in Ortigas Center was when the host Yayay's mom was about to turn another leaf in her book of life in March this year.

This time, the same mom, who like a true writer, has the gift for listening and attention, sent out an SMS summoning the usual suspects to a lunch for no reason at all, except that her daughter, a geologist who loves clouds, wants to treat her mom's friends to lunch. Ain't that sweet?

So here the waiter of Banana Leaf caught us midway through a lunch of squid, chicken, fish, veggies and rice. Someone's clutching my slumbook (I earlier asked everyone to write into that book, but catching up left no one time to identify who her favorite Eraserhead is; besides, this is not a group that would be into Eraserheads or Rivermaya, except for the young geologist who'd rather potter with Harry any old day).
We always agree to have dessert and/or coffee afterwards. We walked towards Cinnabon but a member of the group hissed below normal volume, "Somebody got our couch!" We do feel proprietary about a certain couch there where we liked to sip our after-meal hot beverages and partake of sweets to add more sweetness to our lives and do all these within the time it took us to finish our lunch (an hour and a half).

We ended up at Terry where they have a marvelous Russian tart (not the waitress) that is sans rival in another language.
Inevitably, when the bill came, senior citizen ID cards were whipped out. Only the young geologist, her mom and I are not yet entitled to discounts, but this is not to say that her mom and I are not having senior moments already.

Often, we'd catch ourselves pausing in the midst of a narration because we couldn't recall the name, the year or where something happened, and we'd turn to the seatmate to see if her memory is sharper. We'd get the name, year or place right, but days later when we can only send an SMS stating, "Eto na nga yung cast of characters dun sa kuwento ko nung makalawa."
Nothing in our plans for the rest of the afternoon prepared us for this scene that met us at another mall which is known for DVDs and music CDs. I meant to look for a recording of Sibelius, but Fred the driver (I'm beginning to believe Fred is a generic name for chauffeurs the way Rolly is for money changers or men who know how to put away money for a proverbial rainy day)couldn't find a parking slot because Scene of the Crime Officers (SOCOs)
were crawling all over the place.

No one dared get off the vehicle to find out what was going on. This was unusual considering there were at least two full-time journalists behind me, including one who was a former police reporter. I begged off from usisera duty. I reasoned, "I have a cute grand-daughter. I still have something to live for."

Somebody espied, despite the distance, an orphaned shoe at the scene unfolding before us. That someone said it might be a fashion crime: Wrong shoe, right outfit?

Mang Fred maneuvered the car out of SOCO range, we got out, found our bearings and proceeded to scour the DVD outlets. I came away empty-handed: no Sibelius. Even the polka-dotted skirt marked down to P300 (Zara brand) was too short for me. I told Yayay, "Not the length I require. My varicose veins show in that skirt. Those are the factors your mother's friends need to consider." She giggled.

Eventually, it was time to return to our respective homes. The youngest woman in the group still had a dinner date with friends in Makati later in that already long day. Her mom's friends were dying to lay their heads gently on pillows for an afternoon nap.

There was an unofficial plan to have a DVD movie marathon-watching session at the home of the lady who brought the car. She said yes immediately, but voiced an afterthought: "Give me two months to fix my house." Audible collective groan from the rest of us.

When it was my turn to be dropped and the youngest among us saw where my mom's neighborhood was, she pointed at a spot where we could have a pool to ourselves, including water massage, the works.

I shan't say "Abangan." Because these outings are rare, I'd rather ask "Matutuloy ba?"

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Baby's day out

Here is Butones on her second visit to a bookstore up in Baguio. Notice that look of anticipation on her face? It's the same expression her lola in the lowlands wears whenever she's about to enter a bookshop (or an art supply outlet).
Here she must be thinking of that quote from Borges: "What are words if not shared memories?" The blogger, her lola, is projecting, of course.
Here she tries to pay attention to the story-telling with her Mamay Kimi and older friends Iggy and Mira.
Here she gets re-acquainted with old friend Alab during the post-storytelling reception for babies and children.
Here she is, a baby carried by a grandmama who answers to the name "Baby."
And that ends baby's day out for the former babies need grownup food.

Monday, August 8, 2011

On Cloud 9

In business terms, Mt. Cloud, the bookshop inside the century-old Casa Vallejo in Baguio City, is meeting its monthly overhead.

"And then some," adds one of the partners, Padmapani L. Perez (the other half of the partnership is her kid sister Feliz). While the profit is not yet spectacular, the older Perez happily reports that "the Cloud is keeping afloat. We sometimes have concerned customers (new ones as well as regulars) asking, 'How is the business?', or, more bluntly, 'Are you making enough to survive?' When we say yes, we're okay, we're not drowning and we're not in the red, they look relieved and happy, and some exclaim, 'Good!' If anything, this tells us that people want us to stick around."
She is aware that in an era of e-books and big bookstore chains, "the general expectation seems to be that a small independent bookshop in Baguio is doomed to failure. Every day we are open is evidence to the contrary. We aim to satisfy discerning clients who grasp and appreciate what Mt. Cloud is all about: a love of books, above all. This may not be quantifiable in business terms. It may be naïve, but we believe this sets us apart from others in the book-selling business in the country. This is not to say that other booksellers don't love their books. We let our respect for the written word suffuse the way we do things in Mt. Cloud--from the selections we make and the events we hold to the look and feel of the shop."

The eight-month-old Mt. Cloud, and by extension, the year-old Hill Station and its space, including the walls and corridors, have become a hip, happening place in the laidback city where it is common for residents to feel some seasonal affective disorder set in when the monsoon rains pour. That's when they'd rather stay indoors and read and read under layers of clothing.
Perez says, "We've only been open eight months. We feel everything we do is new. We often make decisions on the fly, so it's hard to speak of innovation. We keep the Cloud bustling with warm bodies by lifting the written word off the page and bringing it to life in the shop. We invite authors to talk about and sign their books in our intimate space. Authors we've had the pleasure of hosting have remarked at the depth and quality of the dialogues they hold with the Baguio community members that meet them."

The Cloud (fond name for the shop) organizes art exhibits that complement the books it carries. Perez says, "Ah, this is an innovation! It wasn't part of our original plans, but local artist Chris Yñiguez approached to ask if he could use our hallway as an exhibit space. That got us started. Since then, we've been approached by other Baguio artists, and we've actively invited people to hold exhibits in our hallway or on our walls, among the bookshelves."

The authors whom the Cloud invites to speak were part of the plan from the very start. Perez, who is an anthropologist, poet and essayist, says, "We knew that it wouldn't work to sit and wait for books to be picked off our shelves so we have made Mt. Cloud dynamic, a place that aspires to the life of the mind and approaches it in a respectful, sometimes playful, way. In the poetry slams, aspiring and established poets come together in thrilling battles of spoken word. We've had two so far and intend to make the slam a regular event."
Mt. Cloud has reached out to the local writers, making it known to them that their works have a special place in the shop's heart. Perez says, "We carry books published independently by writers from around the Cordilleras, and we promote their work every chance we get."

Feliz, who teaches at the Laren Alternative School in Makati City while her Manang Padma is based in Baguio, takes charge of acquisitions. She is in touch with publishing houses in Metro Manila and ensures the Cloud has a steady stream of new titles.

The older Perez handles the shop's daily operations. She used to teach graduate classes at the University of the Philippines Baguio, organize field school for Laren, do anthropological research, and freelance writing.

She confesses, "I've resigned from the post of Delusional Superwoman Aspirant. I've narrowed down my occupations to motherhood and the shop. It's like having a baby. I still do the occasional, small writing assignment. To keep sane, I bike. Someday, I'd like to teach again."

Mt. Cloud has a Facebook page and Twitter account to keep people abreast on events there and the arrival of new stock (books or stationery items). In the not-too-distant future, it will launch an online store.

First published in the summer 2011 issue of Prime magazine. Photos by Laarni Ilagan

High on a hill, there's a resto with a diff

In the city that is home to many a Filipino's heart, there stands a building wearing Baguio's old colonial colors of olive green with a touch of white. Casa Vallejo, the chartered city's oldest building at more than 100 years, houses ghosts of eras past on its upper Session Road location.

Apart from these harmless other-worldly presences that go bump in the night, there is also inside Casa Vallejo 24 rooms, the year-old Hill Station restaurant-bar of Mitos Benitez Yñiguez, Mt. Cloud Bookshop of the Perez sisters (Padmapani and Feliz) and North Haven, a spa that offers, among others, scrubs and massage using indigenous techniques and materials (e.g., coffee beans and strawberries).

Coming soon: a cinematheque with limited seating for Baguio-based or visiting cineastes who wish to watch and appreciate Filipino and international film classics.

Yñiguez says, "Both the restaurant and Casa Vallejo have been doing well since we opened. In the beginning, it took some time for us to get known but at least in our graphs, we have been going steadily up since the day our doors opened."

For Hill Station's first anniversary in March this year, it invited jazz singer Jacqui Magno, whose last visit to the city was in 2007 for the Baguio Writers Group's fund-raising concert "Jazz for Tonight" at the Baguio Country Club (one of the beneficiaries then was the group's founding member Napoleon Javier, a broadcast media journalist who was then confined at a local hospital's intensive care unit after a major stroke; the rest of the proceeds from the fund-raiser underwrote the group's community outreach writing workshops for the youth, for mid-lifers and for senior citizens).

Ms. Magno was backed up by local musicians Jason Sta. Maria on the acoustic guitar and Ira Publico on the keyboard. The response to Ms. Magno's hour and a half performance was so electric that Yñiguez, overjoyed by the sellout crowd and the ovations for the performer, was overheard as saying to her hard-working crew and marketing staff, "What the fuck do we do in year two?"

She told this writer, "About six to a dozen friends from Manila came up for this anniversary. The rest are all honest-to-goodness Baguio residents."

Before the concert, she and her staff prepared a buffet of Cajun-Creole food inspired by the hot cuisine of Louisiana in the US. Yñiguez explains, "Hot and jazz, bagay!"

So there was a spread of Mediterranean roasted vegetables with evoo and balsamico, Creole friend catfish with hush puppies, squid in saffron-champagne sauce, croquetas de bacalao with aioli, smoked sausages with potatoes, Cajun spare riblets, double dark chocolates, chocolate chunk cookies and lemon meringue bars.

Yñiguez, whose paternal side of the family is responsible for Mario's, another eating landmark in the city, ventured on her own with her immediate family's blessings.

She says, "In Hill Station, we have made it a point to hold an interesting event with music, entertainment and all new tapas buffets at least every quarter at reasonable prices. It's our way of saying 'Thank you' to loyal patrons and followers of our restaurant."

In September last year, the restaurant had a Chilean wine and tapas festival with acoustic guitar music by Aya Yuson and Gou de Jesus doing the vocals. The one-night event cost the patron under P1,000. What was surprising was the house was packed yet it happened in the middle of the rainy season.

In November 2010, Hill Station had a Sangria and tapas night, this time with music from local artists Sta. Maria on the guitar, Publico on the piano and Mabel Tolentino, vocals. For New Year’s Eve, the place featured a Baguio rock and roll band, The Edralins, and tapas again. Yñiguez feared then that the wooden floor would not be able to withstand the all-night dancing. But it did.

She rues, "With events like these, I hope to make this a place to go to and remember. Every month, we put out new specials; the best-sellers go into our menu and out with the old. Constant renovation in our menu has become a standard, and many guests come back because of this. This summer I am trying to make the specials as fresh and refreshing as possible. We have lots of salads, fresh organic greens as sidings of our main courses, new desserts and savories for our chiller as we have a good coffee crowd that lingers in the afternoons, reading books from Mt. Cloud or just browsing on their laptops as free WiFi is available to all."

Yñiguez has her own favorite among the restaurant's summer specials: Cha Ca, a Vietnamese salad made of turmeric-flavored catfish fillets on a bed of greens and boiled sotanghon noodles flavored with patis, lemon juice, honey, fresh mint, dill, Thai basil and chilies. She guarantees that "it is soooooo refreshing!"

During the Lenten season, she made seafood specials like Bacalao ala Vizcaina, based on an old family favorite since her grandmother's time, bangus flakes and malunggay on top of spaghetti with olive oil and garlic and a Thai red curry with shrimp and halibut (locally known as dapa), fresh basil and tamarind.

Like that other Baguio classic, Café by the Ruins on Chuntug street, across from the Baguio City Hall, Hill Station follows the wisdom of slow cooking and buying what's in season at the public market.

Hill Station's new, seasonal desserts are crème brulee with fresh strawberries, and lemon meringue bars. Also available are Malva Pudding, a South African recipe, and Kahlua panna cotta.

Asked what personal and professional fulfillment she derives from running a space like Hill Station, Yñiguez whoops it up, declaring, "I love love love Hill Station and what I’m doing today! I have always liked entertaining at home, and Hill Station has just provided me with a space I can call home. I love the oldness of it, the feel of the wood, the French windows with trees outside jumping right at you. Not just a few have said the place reminds them of my house which looks similar as it’s all pinewood, wood floors and French windows, too. One day I have to add on a verandah like mine, and it’ll be perfect."

She continues, "Professionally, I have grown so much, having my own place to run, then cooking and creating dishes that I feel like making. My staff is highly motivated as many of the things we do are a first for them. I am so happy and so are they. I think it shows."

Visit, tel. no. (074)442-3397 or book through Also visit or call tel. nos. (074)424-2737 or (074)423-9100. Email at for reservations and events.

Published in the summer 2011 issue of Prime magazine. Photos, except for the dish cha ca (from Hill Station's Facebook page), by LAARNI ILAGAN

Thursday, August 4, 2011

FIDU ON A ROOF: La Fides gets well-earned tribute

This blogger is ceding this space to friend Pablo Tariman who gives a comprehensive tribute to a real grand dame.

My own encounters with Mr. Tariman's subject began in the mid to the late'60s when I was glued to black and white TV on Sunday mornings. That was a happy hour for me, better than going to church, for I'd hear opera, kundiman and other vocal forms emoted by this classy-looking lady. In college, I finally saw her in person at Abelardo Hall where she was one of the featured singers in a farewell program for the outgoing American ambassador. She sang an aria from The Telephone, but I can no longer recall the other highlights of the program because I was mesmerized by her long slender legs.

Finally, I got to see her up close and personal when my boss and her gang undertook this mad adventure of producing a dinner theater musical, Pippin, where she played, yes, Pippin's mother. My instructions were to interview her while she was resting. She was lying on her back on a hard bench during a rehearsal break.

I've lost that souvenir program where that profile of hers was published. But I've not forgotten the sing-song quality of her voice. When the interview ended, she said, "Now that was nice and relaxing. It's as though I was talking to a psychiatrist." Hmmmm. I must've missed my real calling.



FIDES Cuyugan Asensio, the first Filipino voice scholar accepted at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, turned a year older on the first day of August and a celebration is in order.

That Philadelphia school has connections with leading Filipino artists who made good: Nena Villanueva del Rosario. the first Filipino piano prodigy; Cecile Licad, without a doubt the star pupil of Curtis and the country’s most celebrated pianist, tenors Noel Velasco and Otoniel Gonzaga.

Asensio recalls the music school she knew in the ’50s: “Curtis Institute of Music was, during my time, the most exclusive music school in the world. The finest teachers of every instrument and voice taught at Curtis. There were only 120 students housed in a huge mansion of the high-end main line Philadelphia. No taped auditions were acceptable. Aspiring scholars of voice and instruments had to audition in person. If you come from as far away a country as Nena del Rosario and I did, too bad if you failed the audition. One had to spend for one’s fare to get to Philadelphia.”

A celebrated friend and classmate of Asensio in Curtis was Anna Moffo, Italian-American diva. She died away in 2006.

The surviving friend says, “Anna was a dear friend. We shared a lot of good memories. Because of financial constraints, she would bring home-cooked lunch to school where we would eat together in the basement at Curtis. She hardly ate out which my more affluent schoolmates did. In those intimate lunches (read: over baon box), there were confidences exchanged. She was madaldal, speaking with a distinct Philadelphia accent. We talked about family and boyfriends. When the boyfriend at Curtis dumped Anna, she was sadly quiet. She talked about it in low tones interspersed with tears. We had quite an operatic session. After she made it in the professional world of opera, movies and television, her personal life was not one envisioned with her school boyfriend who was a tall, good-looking piano major. Anna married a succession of older wealthy men who left her the way an opera heroine is abandoned. They died and left her with substantial finances, but she had little of the starry-eyed passion I had seen during those years at Curtis.”

In that school, Asensio performed Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Telephone and the composer told her after the performance that the Filipina sang the part so well many thought the opera was composed for her.

That Menotti piece was the first opera I saw in Albay when Asensio sang it at the Bicol College Gym in an outreach tour in the mid-’70s. She was as engrossing as the coquette telebabad gossip that I wrote my first rave review for opera in The Bicol Chronicle.

A few years later, I would bump into her at the Cultural Center watching Placido Domingo and Eva Marton in the San Francisco Opera production of Tosca.

Fidu, as friends fondly call her, was born in Lucena, Quzon, but her physician father, Dr. Gervasio Santos Cuyugan (personal physician-surgeon of President Quezon) was from San Fernando, Pampanga. She got her Bicol connections from her mother, Jacinta Belza, a beauty from Buhi, Camarines Sur. Buhi town is a paradise where her family spent wonder-filled vacations next to mountain and the lake.

She was born into a music-loving family.

“My mother was always playing the piano – simplified excerpts or piano from grand opera. I guess that is where I first had an aural glimpse into the exciting world of opera. My sister, Ceres was the star pupil of Maestra Marcela Agoncillo. My brother, Ruben, was the star pupil of Maestro Ernesto Vallejo (the country’s first violin prodigy).”

She herself is a mother of two and a grandmother of five. Nicole, daughter of her son Noli and Iwi Laurel, sings. The remaining four grandkids are children of her son Dennis, a physician, and his American wife Rebekah Colby: Michael, bio-engineering student; Ryan, an environmental engineering student; Kirsten, also a singer, and Marielle, still in middle school.

The lola says, “I have a small family, but what it lacks in quantity is evenly balanced with quality.”

Noli, her son Manuel III’s nickname, was taken from Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere.

Recalls the grandma: “I was singing Sisa when Noli was five months inside me.”

Tomorrow at seven, Asensio will be honored with a birthday musical tribute at the UP Abelardo Hall which will resound with the music of the contemporary operas she has written as librettist over the years.

In this presentation aptly called “Applause,” excerpts from various operas she is associated with will be mounted, among them, Amy (work in progress), Larawan at Kababaihan: Mukha at Maskara (music by Lucrecia Kasilag), “Mayo-Bisperas ng Liwanag” (inspired by Nick Joaquin “May Day Eve”) with music by Rey Paguio; Spoliarium, an opera on the life of Juan Luna with music by Ryan Cayabyab; “Why Flowers Bloom in May”( Kasilag); Song of Joseph, a musical on the life, love and death of St. Joseph (music by Raymond Roldan) and La Loba Negra composed by Francisco Feliciano and mounted at the CCP in the mid-’80s with her singing one of the lead roles in the distinguished company of Noel Velasco and Eleanor Calbes.

At this late stage of her life, Asensio is given credit as opera singer, librettist, impresario and music teacher. As performing artist, she was the coloratura to reckon with the ’50s and the ’60s.

She made her professional debut as Adele in Die Fledermaus at the Far Eastern University Auditorium. Two years later, she sang the role of Sisa in the world premiere of De Leon’s Noli Me Tangere with the Manila Symphony Orchestra.

Until the late ’60s, she appeared in Filipino operas, including Santos’s Mapulang Bituin, Pajaro’s Binhi ng Kalayaan and Kasilag’s Dularawan. Her repertoire included roles from conventional opera, including Gretel in Hansel und Gretel, Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor, Susanna in Il Segreto di Susanna and Konstanze in Die Entfrung aus dem Serail.

On this day that she will be given tribute as singer and music teacher, several arias from various works come to mind like “Huirizilippochtli” and “Napakahaba na ng Gabi” sung by Dona Luisa from La Loba Negra. Another favorite aria is “Mayo, Mayo…” and “Madilim” sung by Anastacia from her work Mayo…Bisperas ng Liwanag with music by the late Rey Paguio.

Why are these her favorite arias? She answers, “They are special to me because they are all challenging and dark. As a singer, I wish I had a larger dramatic voice to deliver those arias but with my histrionic ability and vocal technique, I manage to color my light voice to convey the lives of acid red bitter yellow, black, brown and grey into the palette of the arias I mentioned.”

Another favorite is Verdi’s La Triaviata, especially the second act’s extended duet with Germont, father of the love of Violettas’s life. Asensio recalls, “I sang ‘Addio del Passato’ live in the latest foray into the cinema, in Niño, which although accompanied only by piano, I did no more than ten takes because Loy Arcenas, director par exemplar, was meticulous to the point of exhaustion. Those takes were physically and vocally equivalent for a singer at my age to singing with full orchestra in the full-length opera version.”

She continued, “Violetta’s character is so woven into Verdi’s music. There is no way a singer who is vocally equipped can lose her way. The moment I researched on Dumas’s play and learned the music, I was hooked. Every woman who has truly loved a man can relate to Violetta’s farewell scene from Alfredo, rejected by the man himself or his family. Every scene in Traviata resonates very well to women in love. Even the death scene is how I think I would like to go. Ha ha ha! With a burst of joy in the opera it is Alfredo who brings forth from Violetta the last line ‘O Gioia!’ Oh joy! I think for me it would be God welcoming me to his kingdom.”

She also remembers Die Fledermaus because it’s a fun opera. “It didn’t pose a vocal difficulty for me at my age. I had great co- singers, director, conductor and choreographer. They were Austrian Herbert Zipper and Trudl Dubsky Zipper who mounted an authentically correct staging.”

She would not exchange her roles as singer and librettist for any other role in the arts “I still have three completed un-staged works waiting in the wing for sponsors. One is a work in progress. All three are on Philippine themes as I’ve always tried to write on topics about my country.”

Asked to describe this latest phase of her personal and musical life, she says, “I am still sailing on smooth waters with wavelets of problems every now and then which are rare. My late husband, Manuel Asensio, kept me ‘well protected’ and financially funded to pursue my music-theater life. That life is hysterically, excitingly and deliciously chaotic as anybody in the producing, creative and performing magical world of theater knows. I have two sons, now middle aged, five grandchildren and myriads of cousins, uncles, aunts, nephews and nieces who are all into the arts, creative and performing in one way or another.”

Asensio’s other children, her graduates and students, who choose to be identified with her, keep the line of her passion for music and theater unbroken into the future.

This business of mounting and marketing opera has been overblown by misconceptions one of which is that it is for the elite. She says, “I want to dispute that and have a real debate on what opera is about. I want to demystify it. Operas are mostly stories which even barrio children can relate to. The killings, murders, love affairs, incest and so forth can actually be headlines of tabloids read by the masses. It’s a matter of how to present it in the language Filipinos understand and market it the way they do foreign shows.”

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fable of the porcupine

This came in the mail on this rainy Tuesday. Given the gloomy news, the gloomier weather, not to forget the gloom-and-doom dispositions of people we live with, this is a good reminder on peaceful, fruitful co-existence. Thank you, E, for this.

It was the coldest winter ever. Many animals died because of the cold.

The porcupines, realizing the situation, decided to group together to keep warm.

This way they covered and protected themselves, but the quills of each one wounded their closest companions.

After awhile, they decided to distance themselves one from the other and they began to die, alone and frozen.

So they had to make a choice: either accept the quills of their companions or disappear from the Earth.

Wisely, they decided to go back to being together. They learned to live with the little wounds caused by the close relationship with their companions in order to receive the warmth that came from the others.

This way they were able to survive.

Moral of the story: The best relationship is not the one that brings together perfect people. It's when each individual learns to live with the imperfections of others and can admire the other person's good qualities.

The real moral of the story: LEARN TO LIVE WITH THE PRICKS IN YOUR LIFE!

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Monday surprise from Roland Rabang of Baguio

By Roland P. Rabang
Visually written

Skimming through the pages of Babeth Lolarga’s brand new book, “Catholic and Emancipated”- a collection of “personal chronicles” it says in the cover - I was drawn to a particular essay with the title, “The Marriage of Text and Images.”
It warranted a second glance because I have read the material before. Of course some of us who follow Babeth in her blog or in publications, might have read not only this essay, but also other essays that comprise the entire compilation which are either blog entries or published articles.

But my encounter with this particular essay was neither. Babeth emailed this to me in 2008 when I was working with a paper, and struggling on the topic of photography and photographers. She good-naturedly provided me with this gem of a material which talks about the relationship between the visual and language, and concludes that images are formed within our consciousness whenever we appropriate language.

So we call an object “table” not because it exists as a table but because we all agree that it is a table. This is what Babeth meant when she quoted Braque as saying, “Meaning arises through agreed-upon convention, not through likeness.”

It was when I got here - which is not even halfway through the essay - that my nose started to bleed. It brought me back to that period when I had to look at photography beyond the creative pleasure that the medium gives to an enthusiast.

If Babeth talked about photography in her piece, it was only a fleeting reference to a multi-media exhibit that also involved the written word. No doubt, Babeth is not only a writer, she is also a painter which explains her enduring romance with the visual as well as the written form.

As I structured her piece into my work, I thought about painting and photography and how both exist as media that represents the world around us. With photography as reference, I tried to look at the work of the painter and realized that in a way, the process is like photography except that the painter has all the time to bring the image from his consciousness on to the canvass, and that is when the vision of the painter becomes apparent. On the other hand, the photographer works with exposures of one second up to the fastest shutter speed of less than a second without suffering reciprocity failure.

This is not a discussion of who does a better job, the painter or the photographer, but a look into that “time” in which images are created. Painting and photography are both interpretative media and there is no denying the vision of the artist once a painting is completed. But Chuck Close says this about photography: “Here’s the dilemma and the strength of photography. It is the easiest medium in which to be competent, but it is the hardest medium in which to have a personal vision.”

With painting, there is a purposeful physicality: the movement of the artist’s hand from brush to canvass. A photographer works only with fleeting time, perhaps 1/125th of a second on the street, and a latent image in the case of film. Thus, everything must unravel in the photographer’s head because the physical act of tripping the shutter is merely fleeting; but at that instant before the shutter is pressed, the vision must already exist in the photographer’s head.

But this process is not well-defined prompting arguments, among them Walter Benjamin’s, that photography is merely “mechanical reproduction.” Not by accident though, this concept gave birth to one of photography’s enduring mission: documentary. It found its place in journalism, and was called photojournalism.

That said, however, here’s another nosebleed thought. There is “built-in” interpretation even in “objective” written reports. Photojournalism inevitably follows this principle. Worse, it is mute, which is why it is, as Babeth would say, “married” into the written word. Simply put, in journalism, the photograph has a caption.

Interpretation is subjective, thus encounters with photography since the exciting century of its invention will always carry with it the question: does documentary trump art, or does art trump documentary?

There is no shortage of words used to respond to this question which makes this marriage between text and images exciting, confounding, infuriating and yes, sensual. This is, I heard it once said, “textual erotica” at its best.

Reprinted from Baguio Chronicle where the author writes a column

Photo of book cover "grabbed" from RUDI TABORA's Facebook photo collection

The book Catholic and Emancipated is published by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House as part of its Personal Chronicles series.