You can’t graduate high school without reading Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and its sequel El Filibusterismo. The two novels, written in 1887 and 1891, survived survived the decades, exposing the inequities, corruption, and greed of the government and the Spanish Catholic priests. The novel was so influential that it indirectly influenced the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish colonizers. Even if you have forgotten the story, its themes and characters remain etched in your memory. But have you seen it in opera form?
Noli Me Tangere was adapted into an opera in 1957 at the Far Eastern University, and is billed as the first Filipino full-length opera and orchestration composed in the western operatic tradition. It was composed by two National Artists: the libretto was created by Guillermo Tolentino, a sculptor and University of the Philippines (UP) professor who created the UP Oblation and the seal of the Republic of the Philippines; and the music was written by Felipe Padilla de Leon, a Philippine composer known for translating the lyrics of the Philippine national anthem from Spanish to Filipino.
Following its premiere in 1957, it was staged at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) in 1987, New York in 2013, and Washington DC and Resorts World Manila in 2014. Now, it is back to celebrate its 60th year with a limited six-performance run. This rare treat is done in partnership with CCP and J&S Productions.
If you’re not familiar with the story, Noli Me Tangere follows Crisostomo Ibarra, a scholar who returns home after studying in Europe for seven years. He is disgusted with the abuses the indios suffer at the hands of Spanish tyrants. The novel details the “social cancer” the Philippines experiences through the oppressive system of governance, the corrupt church, and the elitism in society.
This limited run will be an impressive feat, as it will be brought to life by more than 200 production crew, opera singers, actors, and dancers, with a 53-piece orchestra led by Maestro Hermie Ranera of the University of Santo Tomas Conservatory of Music. There will also be 16 scene changes, and new direction by Jerry Sibal, a sought-after event designer in New York who will also design the sets and costumes.
I was able to catch dress rehearsal before the show opened, and was blown away at the production. The first thing I noticed was the magnificent set, which was flexible enough to be transformed in only a few seconds. The background lighting (done by the brilliant John Batalla) also enhanced the opera, which allowed the mood to shift while creating cinematic scenes.
Of course, the opera singers delivered on all counts. Nomher Nival ably leads as Ibarra, his confident voice towering over everyone, including the set. He is matched by John Andrew Fernandez as Padre Damaso and Greg de Leon as Elias. Meanwhile, Bianca Camille Lopez balances strength and vulnerability as Maria Clara, her powerful voice hinting at the sorrow and despair she’s feeling.
I only saw snippets of what audiences will watch, but I saw enough to know that this will be a stellar performance.
To celebrate 60 years is no easy task, but the themes of oppression, corruption, and love still echo to this day, which explains the appeal of both the novel and the opera. And anytime we’re on the topic of the Filipino identity and consciousness, the story of Ibarra will live on, through the words of the written page and the arias sung on stage.
Noli Me Tangere: The Opera will be staged at the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, on January 28 and 29, and February 1 to 3, 2017. There will be 2PM shows on January 29 and February 3, and 8PM shows on January 28 and February 1 to 3.
For tickets, inquiries, and discounts, contact J&S Productions, Inc. at 0926 0380548, 0921 8903816, or 998 2356. You may also call the CCP Box Office at 832 3704 and 06, or visit www.ticketworld.com.ph. For more information, visit www.nolimetangeretheopera.com or the Facebook page.