Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Pure, unplugged

Prof. Arturo Molina leading the 90-year-old Manila Symphony Orchestra, the oldest in the country and in Asia

The new performing arts venue at the Circuit Makati (formerly the Sta. Ana racetrack) allows for instrumentalists and vocalists to perform without anything to enhance the sound. "Pure, unplugged" was how Jeffrey Solares, executive director of the Manila Symphony Orchestra (MSO), described the sound when the MSO played its final run-through this Saturday before the concert "Love in the Time of Opera" started.

Billed as a pre-Valentine concert, the event came to be within less than a month when an MSO concert was postponed and something had to replace it since some musicians are full-time salaried people and had to be involved in something. Solares sounded out Camille Lopez Molina, artistic director and vocal coach of Viva Voce, because he believed that an opera-based concert was the easiest to sell.

She was game, and the team-up with the orchestra was set in place. It was also an opportunity to help raise funds for the travel and living expenses of the two Viva Voce members, sopranos Myramae Meneses and Renee Michaela Fajardo, when they fly to London in August as scholars of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. (Incidentally, MSO bassoonist Ariel Perez is a Guildhall alumnus and full scholar, too.)

Also in Viva Voce's favor was the availability of tenor Arthur Espiritu and baritone Noel Azcona. The same went for stage actors Nonie Buencamino and Teenee Chan who waived their fees and gave their all for love of music. The universe was conspiring for this show to succeed.

The audience was treated to steamy love duets, all the more amazing because the singers-actors could twist and turn their bodies while not losing a beat, not affecting their voices' volume. There were physically unusual pairings like the one between the towering hulk of a tenor in Mark Bautista and the sweet and petite Iona Ventocilla, who has the role of Mimi down pat, in the timeless "O Soave Fanciulla" from La Boheme. But then opera is where suspension of belief is called for. The role of tubercular Mimi is more often than not sung by a robust soprano.

As Hanna Glawari in The Merry Widow, Lopez Molina had the build and dignity of age to match Azcona's Count Danilo. Theirs was a subtle battle of the sexes that ended with love triumphant.

Glenda Liao (in orange gown) is Monica and Raymond Yadao is Lukas in their duet "Makikiliti Kang Totoo" from the Severino Reyes zarzuela Walang Sugat.

But the duet that blew my head away was not between a man and a woman in the throes of passionate love but the obvious affection between two girls walking by a river and gathering flowers: Lakmé, daughter of a Brahmin priest and played by Meneses, and servant Mallika, played by Fajardo, from Delibes' French opera Lakme. This famous flower duet has been sung by superstar pairings from Korea's gift to the world Sumi Jo and Ah-Kyung Lee to Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca to grand dames of opera Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne. Now we have a Meneses and Fajardo to hold a candle to them.

It was the MSO's and Viva Voce's first time to perform at the ProMac Spotlight Center. Surely, this is a sign of more enchanted evenings to come. Kudos to everyone involved in this production!

A choral rendition of Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" served as the encore after the concert closed with Bernstein's "Tonight" and balcony scene. Among those in the picture are Meneses, Chan and Anna Migallos. Photos by Pinky Lolarga Susi

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