Thursday, November 19, 2015

MSO's masterstroke

The MSO under Prof. Arturo Molina about to take a bow at last week's "Opera Vs. Broadway" at Ayala Museum.

The Manila Symphony Orchestra's masterstroke this year in attracting an ever-increasing number of followers in Metro Manila is pitting popular music fare with the classical. In its nine rush-hour concerts this year alone, we've seen them do "Bach Vs. Beatles," a concert that the MSO later brought to Baguio City along with "Soundtracks and Symphonies" as part of its Music Everywhere outreach program.

Even with a serious program like July's "Transfigured Night" (music by Schoenberg), the program never failed to engage. Always there is an educational component--a conductor or MSO official faces the audience to give the context of the music. After all, to continue to exist in this generation of millennials, the MSO has to use the media the kids are used to for social marketing (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Mailchimp) and for staging (attractive PowerPoint presentations projected in the background).

Each concert is entertainingly annotated by Jeffrey Solares, the orchestra's executive director, who knows his audience's kaliti by making references to popular figures or ideas in a manner and a language that are also pop. He banishes all notions that classical music is only for the elite and the erudite. He encourages more people to attend live performances instead of settling for YouTube or recordings because of the elements of excitement and unpredictability, saying, "Lots of things can happen--a voice can croak, strings can break..."

He defines opera as a musical art form that emulates Greek theater and formed by poets, philosophers and musicians who had studied Greek drama. To open last week's program of "Marriage of Figaro," the MSO played Mozart's "Overture to Marriage of Figaro," an opera that Solares describes as controversial during its time in the last 1700s because it dared to poke fun at the dukes, duchesses and other members of the royalty and it was from the point of view of the servants.

Michaela Fajardo, soprano with a creamy voice

What made the concert doubly special was the participation of some members of the country's premier vocal ensemble, Viva Voce. Soprano Michaela Fajardo surprised us immediately with the aria "Voi Che Sapete" or "Tell Me What Love Is." It's a textured voice--high and deep, if that were possible. Plus it had volume that could extend up to the back row of the capacity crowd. Impresario Joseph Uy, if he had been there, would've described the voice's quality as "creamy" to mean a pure lyric voice.

Carlo Mañalac may look skinny and fragile for a tenor but his voice has power.

Solares disclosed that Fajardo was his violin student for four years. When she wasn't turning up for lessons anymore, he was happily surprised to learn that she had shifted to voice as her major. Young, fresh-faced tenor Carlo Mañalac showed a nervous quiver in his voice in the initial notes and lyrics of Donizetti's romanza, "Una Furtiva Lagrima" from the opera L'elesir di amore. Solares noted how operas are all bound by one theme: love or doomed love.

Our favorite aria was sung: Musetta's aria "Quando Me En Vo" from Puccini's La Boheme with soprano Iona Ventocilla proving that she can alternate the roles of the suffering seamstress Mimi and the coquettish Musetta. (By the way, the chamber version of La Boheme will be restaged by Viva Voce on Nov. 26 at Ayala Museum after the acclaimed summer presentation of the well-loved opera at Baguio's Hill Station. Last Tuesday's museum audience had a glimpse of the dramatic dynamics and singing of Ventoncilla as Mimi and Mañalac as Rodolfo in their duet "O Soave Fanciula.")

The rush-hour concerts, meant to draw Makati's young professionals so they can skip the after-5 p.m. traffic, are short enough not to require an intermission, but the MSO instead played the sweetly melodious intermezzo from "Cavalleria Rusticana" that had the audience heave a collective sigh at the end. For this alone our evening was made.

There was, of course, the accession to popular fare: overtures from My Fair Lady and Westside Story, songs from Phantom of the Opera, Jekyll and Hyde where tenor Carlo Falcis proved he could be a belter in reality TV shows cum singing competitions, Rent and Les Miserables. For an encore, the MSO obliged with the overture from Chicago.

I confess to being biased. When the classics face off with pop, the classics win by a knockout.
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