Monday, January 25, 2016


Tenor Arthur Espiritu was called by the audience to also render a song after the final ovation for his students. Accompanying him in "La donna è mobile" from the opera Rigoletto is Najib Ismail. Photos by Babeth Lolarga

Trust Espiritu to bring out nothing but the best from his 12 disciples. I missed observing his three-day masterclasses the other weekend, but I made sure that I would be back in Manila for "A Night at the Opera" at the Ayala Museum wherein the 12 showed the subtle or obvious changes in their singing and acting after being coached, or to use his own word, "hammered" by their Sir Arthur.

He shared how his workshop concentrated on character, what the young vocal artists were singing about. He was pleased that they responded well. Of this batch, he described them as "among the most beautiful voices I've worked with." Each time he returns to the home country leads to the discovery of "so much talent" here. He lamented at the same time how a lot of these talents do not get the support they need when it is time for important auditions within the country or abroad. Despite their talents, there is not enough support for music artists so they could grab that possibility of making singing their life's passion and commitment.

To the capacity crowd at the museum lobby (a positive sign for classical music events this new year), Espiritu hurled the challenge of continuing to support these artists. Congratulations to the Cultural Arts Events Organizer for taking a big gamble by giving the 12 the opportunity to learn from and closely interact with Espiritu.

Myramae Meneses and Iona Ventocilla play the already affianced but still flirtatious girls Dorabella and Fiodiligi in the aria "Prendero quel brunettino" from Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte.

Mia Ana Tanciongco looks the part in the aria "Porgi Amor" from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro. Her song runs: "O Love, give me some remedy!/ For my sorrow, for my sighs! / Either give me back my darling / or at least let me die."

Guildhall London-bound soprano Renee Michaela Fajardo, the only female performer in trousers that evening, stays true to her character Cherubino, a lovesick page boy who sings "Voi che sapete," again from Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro. In Italian, the song mocks love "a feeling, full of desire, / Which is by turns delightful and miserable. / I freeze and then feel my soul go up in flames, / Then in a moment I turn to ice." In the third photo, Teacher Arthur is seen at right watching his student closely. After each workshop participant exited, he greeted him or her with a bear hug, fist bump, high five or firm handshake.

Nomher Nival is a properly emotional Nemorino in Donizetti's "Una furtiva lagrima" from the Italian opera L'elisir d'amore when he sees that a love potion for his snobbish beloved works. An audience member who had heard Nival sing the same aria a year ago said this second time around, he wasn't just hitting the notes, he was feeling each one.

From the top: Carlo Bunyi, Jan Brianne Astom, who sang a beautiful Shakespeare poem "Come away, come away death"
set to music by R. Quilter and Mheco Magalit (in red gown) were the fresh voices we heard for the first time and hope to see and hear more of.

Sexy Roxy Aldiosa socks it to the audience with her coloratura Rosina singing while twirling a cloth flower and purse "Una voce poco fa" from Rossini's The Barber of Seville.

Madness, thy face is Stephanie Quintin who brought the house down with her "Ombre Legere" from Meyerbeer's opera Dinorah. The wonderful thing about a concert of opera highlights is one doesn't have to sit through a three-act, hours-long opera just to hear a famous aria of a woman who loses her husband-to-be on the day of the wedding and is driven mad by the loss.

Nomher (playing Rodolfo) and Anna Migallos as Mimi exit dramatically as they sing their love for each other in "O Soave Fanciulla" from Puccini's well-loved La Boheme.

The faces and the future of Philippine musical theater and opera. Hello world! See you in a few! From left: Carlo Bunyi, pianist Gabby Paguirigan, Jan Briane Astom, Carlo Mañalac, Mheco Magalit, Mia Tanciongco, Stephanie Quintin, Anna Migallos, Myramae Meneses, Roxy Aldiosa, Marielle Tuason, Renee Michaela Fajardo and Iona Ventocilla.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Four and a day forever

Before she grows too fast (and she is doing so each day), I'm posting photos of Ms. Curly Tops Kai during the summer of her fourth year. What I like about her is she never complains of boredom or maybe hasn't felt what ennui is. There is always something to be done either with her toys or with her immediate world. She can observe her shadow or watch a bee buzzing close to a flower or balance herself on the walkway around the community pond. In a few months she will be five and will move on to other activities. For as long as these pictures are here, she is four in my eyes.

Photos by Babeth Lolarga

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Breathing and blogging again

From a blog I often visit comes this reminder:

"A blog is like a fog of breath on a mirror: yesterday’s brilliant utterance cannot make up for today’s sudden silence. If you want to stay alive, you have to keep breathing, and if you want to keep blogging, you have to keep writing. There is no resting on your laurels in this business: as a blogger, you’re only as good as your last post just as a body is only as alive as its most recent breath." Those are the words of Lorianne DiSabato.

Her entry for Jan. 11 this year marks her 12th anniversary in blogging. The figure "12" was enough to shake me awake from my temporary stupor. Yes, I did take a quick, three-day break from blogging so I could simplify and breathe. "Simplify and Breathe" is another blog by Rhissa Garcellano that I follow, primarily because I have an incurable sweet tooth and so has she.

With my breathing space I had time to review the photos that I haven't shared here. I found some from last year's Kasibulan anniversary art exhibit at the Ateneo Library of Women's Writings (ALIWW). Kasibulan is the acronym for the women's art collective called in full Kababaihan Sa Sining at Bagong Sibol Na Kamalayan. I count feminist artists I look up to like my former teacher in modern art Brenda Fajardo and Imelda Cajipe Endaya as among the founding members.

This exercise makes me feel like a teabag getting infused and coming alive in the warm water of women's art.

Ces Nuñez's soft marionettes that depict a Panay Bukidnon epic

"Jose Garcia Villa," terracotta sculpture by Julie Lluch

Sandra B. Torrijos' "Third Eye," acrylic on wood

"Green Orchid" by Anna Fer, watercolor on paper

Brenda V. Fajardo's acrylic work "Karapatang Pantado ng Kababaihan"

"Babae," oil on paper by Imelda Cajipe Endaya

"More Beautiful Now with Gold," oil on canvas by Yasmin Almonte

"The Living, Growing Circle of Women" by Lia Torralba, acrylic on canvas

"Kasibulan" by Brenda Fajardo, ink on paper Photos by Babeth Lolarga

Sunday, January 10, 2016

No excuse

I wanted to take a day off from my blog, but I read of another blogger who is firmly resolved to maintain different journals for her different projects. I thought that I had no reason to stay away from this space even if the spirit refuses to move.

I went through my picture files and found "selfies" of granddaughter and grandmother feet. They remind me that I have many promises to keep before I sleep, and among them is to keep blogging for as long as my fingers can dance on the keyboard. If Curly Tops Kai can attack each day with enthusiasm, I don't see why her 60-year-old buddy can't even on the day God rested.

Photos by Babeth Lolarga and Kai Fernandez

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Mae remains gentle on our minds

Photos by Babeth Lolarga

Two noontimes ago, I enjoyed a long, lingering lunch with Men Sta. Ana and Geraldine Maayo. Men is an economist and BusinessWorld columnist, Geraldine a retired university professor and writer of fiction. What binds us is the spirit of Mae Manalang, Men's wife who passed on in August last year.

I confessed to not having properly mourned for Mae. Going through my files yesterday, I found some still lifes I shot at the Manalang-Sta. Ana household in Kamias, Quezon City, where I visited her after one of her several hospitalizations back in 2014.

When you're with a force of life like Mae, it's hard to believe her body is weakening because she is an animated story-teller and can make her discomforts sound like the most exciting thing in the world to have. Why? Because they confirmed she was still alive. See? I'm having difficulty in being consistent with my tenses when referring to her.

Although the decorative wall pieces and those on the side table were, according to her then, selected and bought by Men on his out-of-town trips, they make me think of Mae, especially the color of the wall. I can still imagine her face set against it, she telling me of her work in the NGO world, of why there are multicolor pairs of Crocs in their house (to protect the soles of her feet from sharp objects), etc.

At yesterday's lunch, Mae hovered over our conversations. It felt like at any moment, she'd slide out of a corner of Cafe Via Mare at the UP Diliman campus and sing some Carole King or Carly Simon song. I suppose in a heart that's in denial like mine, she never really left...yet.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Gentle Bruno

Photo by Babeth Lolarga

I am so homesick for my Baguio family that tonight I am counting my blessings instead and focusing on the living creatures here in in lowland Pasig. My eyes are on our quiet pug Bruno who shows his needs (mainly for food and water) by grunting or through hoarse barks.

Nothing fazes him. He's the epitome of coolness, the perfect foil to his easily agitated "brother" Bogart, a mini pin who's a guard dog par excellence. He can intimidate anyone with his fierce barking. Now and then he's been known to attack visitors (he nips at their shins) to the mortification of his owner, my sister Gigi.

But Bruno will have none of that "violence." He just gives you a look through those eyes that remind me of the philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, then moves away. Non-confrontational.

Those who care for him--bathe and groom him daily--lovingly call him "Bruns."

Good night, Bruns. May this love letter assuage the pinch in my heart.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

I scream for Poco Deli

In my 50s I turned lactose intolerant. But that doesn't mean total abstinence from dairy products, especially ice cream. I give in to an occasional temptation. The latest came in the form of Poco Deli's handcrafted ice cream. Poco Deli is the neighborhood deli along East Capitol Drive, Barangay Kapitolyo, that, my sources say, President Aquino Jr. likes to visit now and then for its sausages and steaks. Apparently, he's a meat and potatoes person.

I wonder if PNoy has tried the Rum Raisin, Vanilla Bean, Pistachio or (my fave) Gorgonzola and Cheese. The staff should recommend them to His Excellency--it is worth the trip across the Pasig, lemme tell ya!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

He makes all things new

Of all the public art I managed to see last year, it's Leeroy New's installation of a multi-color fly at the fountain of the Ayala Museum that struck me as most interesting, most inexpensive and most environmentally friendly. Look closely and find out why. May we see more such works this year. Leeroy's the boy for that. We're heavily counting on him and his wild mind.

Photos by Babeth Lolarga

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Mary Grace-ing once too often

It seems Mary Grace is the bakery-restaurant of choice among friends who agree to meet at either Greenbelt Makati or Trinoma, the Ayala mall in Quezon City. When I'm early and waiting for my lunch companions, I like reading the little handwritten stuff under the glass-topped tables. I've often wondered if those are real notes addressed to real persons or they were just made up to add to the place's homey ambience.

While looking at these photos, the first taken sometime August, the other just at the close of this past month, I noticed how I ballooned and grew in heft. Well, you caught me there--enjoying once too often Mary Grace's deceitfully lightweight ensaymada and cheese roll!

With Pablo Tariman, Vergel Santos and Chit Roces Santos

Even Althea Sarmenta seems to say of Mary Grace, "I love you this much!" Others in picture are former colleagues and lifetime friends Bob Navarro, Amadis Ma. Guerrero, Cynthia Alberto Diaz and Althea's dad Joel.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Small beginnings

I like receiving blank notebooks. I get them on all occasions, sometimes more than I need so I feel a need to dole them out in order not to feel overwhelmed at the prospect of words that must be composed to fill them up. I received a lime green leatherette notebook from Melen Araos early last year, and I envisioned it to be my doodle book (that's still apart from a diary). But guess who took to it naturally? Kai alias Curly tops curled her lines this way and that using her markers with a freedom a creative mind enjoys. I don't know the story behind the biblical verse that I wrote underneath, but the words are worth repeating.

"Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin..." - Zechariah 4:10

There are oodles of Kai's doodles, and I'm thinking, with my interest in all manner of journaling, of keeping one for the Scripture. Here's to small beginnings while 2016 is fresh.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Fill in my blanks

"You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page." - Jodi Picoult

You know how I get around the "write every day" discipline? I post pictures! I have hundreds of them in my hard drive that need to be backed up soon. The four-year-old laptop is showing signs of wear and tear.

I reviewed some pics and found myself acutely missing Kai, the Curly Tops of our lives. She left to catch the last day of "Disney on Ice" at the Araneta Coliseum (decades ago, it was my Dad who set the annual tradition of taking us children to "Holiday on Ice"). After this last full show, Kai returns to her Baguio home. She left wearing an aquamarine Elsa (from the movie Frozen) dress, a Mickey Mouse hairband complete with Mouseketeer ears and her trusty Nike sandals. I wasn't prepared with my point and shoot so I ended up looking for past pictures of her.

The first photo shows her boarding the back of the neck and shoulders of her Papay (her term for her father) so she can be taller than anyone at the Manila International Book Fair and easily spot the head of white of her Grumpa Tats. In the second photo I think she's holding a box of puzzles that her Mamay got for her.

I may not be writing well today, Kai, sweet granddaughter of mine, but you are filling up my mind and easing the blank space in my arms where I held you during your afternoon nap today and yesterday.

Photos by Babeth Lolarga

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Mainly Mozart

Pianist Carmencita Sipin Aspiras conducting a masterclass on interpreting the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at the Steinway Boutique in Makati

Ma'am Chita, as I've taught myself to call the piano virtuoso, was a revelation as a teacher at a masterclass she held in November last year with four lads participating (Hansel Ang, Franz Christian Tanuwijaya, Denzel Abarquez and Nathan Samuel Gemina).

Gentle but firm, she reminded them that their role as musicians is akin to a detective's. "We are like spies out to detect criminal spots. Our job as musicians is to detect those spots where we can make meaningful and beautiful music," she said.

She brought in a bit of music history, mentioning how Chopin admired Mozart so much that the former wanted his music to be played like his idol's which is simply.

She encouraged the young pianists to aim "not just for a crisp piano sound but a singing sound, not just to sing the music but to also imagine a conductor leading you and an orchestra."

I never thought that a master musician would be so scrupulous about details--I always thought this applied to editors who pushed us to put God or the Devil in the details of our reports. "Pay attention to the minutest details," Ma'am Chita exhorted. "Imagine the Austrians dancing (to Mozart's music). Keep experimenting on the sound produced, on the melodic line with the inflections, the rise and fall of the voice. This sounds simple, but it is difficult to produce."

She pointed out that what matters is "not how fast or how loud we play with our fingers running down the piano. The test for a musician in playing Mozart is to play him beautifully until you reach the point that is most sublime." It's a lifetime's work and requires maturity. Time is on the young musicians' side.

Congratulating Hansel Ang, the baby of the group, after handing him his certificate of participation

Smile! Mozart is watching. Photos by Babeth Lolarga

Friday, January 1, 2016

The dreams that he inspired

Jerry Araos and those dreams are alive and growing healthily in The Garden of Two Dragons in Antipolo even as the urn containing his ashes was lowered last Sunday in a corner of The Mandala. The Mandala, the central section of his garden, has always been sacred space. There his immediate family led by widow Melen Araos and participants formed a semi-circle during a short commemorative, celebratory program. After his death on Dec. 23, 2012, and the homecoming of two overseas-based daughters and their families over the holidays, he finally got his send-off party. Yes, there were lumps in some of our throats, a few tears when the music swelled and words of remembrance were spoken. But all in all, like the white butterfly and breeze that passed by, there was Jerry's lightness of being all over the place. Godspeed once more!

For three years, the ashes were stored here on the balcony overlooking the garden. When we'd visit, we'd mentally talk to Jerry as if he were still there.

View from the balcony on a sunny morning

A reproduction of the Jerry who's still written large in our hearts and minds

Violinist Coke Bolipata plays "Amazing Grace" with what we can only call a Southern drawl to the arrangement.

Princess Nemenzo reads Louis Untermeyer's "The Prayer" part of which runs thus: "Ever insurgent let me be, / Make me more daring than devout; / From sleek contentment keep me free, / And fill me with a buoyant doubt."
Jerry handwrote these lines on a piece of paper. At first the family thought that they were his composition until the lines were entered into a Google search. A family member surmised that he may have encountered them while he was a political prisoner.

Waya Araos Wijangco, Jerry's eldest daughter, on the five things she and her siblings learned from their father's example: Live life with courage; live life with purpose; live a life of work; live life generously; and live life in love.

Apart from "The Lord's Prayer," young tenor Nomher Nival sang two of Jerry's favorite Mario Lanza songs: Nicholas Brodszky's "Be My Love" and and Irish tune "Danny Boy." Jerry used to waken his then young children by belting out these songs even if he was a little tone deaf from a childhood accident (he fell off a tree).

Although Pastor Noel Suministrado didn't have the pleasure and privilege of meeting Jerry when he still walked this earth, he could tell that the departed's life was one "lived in passion, a life lived to the fullest." With him inside The Mandala are Mira Araos Mariano, Kulas Besa, Nina Araos, Waya, Ernie and Sam Wijangco, and Dodo Defeo. Dodo recalled in his remarks a "Jerry-ism" that he picked up: how art at its basest is prostitution and how art at its loftiest is philanthropy.

Jerry's lust for life is encoded in the DNA of the next generations: his daughters Liwa and Waya and granddaughters Nina, Sophia Espanola and Amara Encabo. Photos by Babeth Lolarga