We’re all familiar with Noli Me Tangere, the Jose Rizal novel that dealt with the social cancer that plagued the Philippines during the Spanish occupation. I sure am. I read the novel in my junior year in high school, and its sequel El Filibusterismo, the following year. Now, I’m seeing the scathing satire and undying patriotism through fresh eyes, as Noli Me Tangere: The Opera is celebrating its 60th anniversary with a limited-performance run. And what a moving interpretation it is.
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, and a new direction by Jerry Sibal, a sought-after event designer in New York who also designed the sets and costumes.
I watched the dress rehearsals a few days ago, but that didn’t compare to seeing the full production during the gala night. As I mentioned in my post about the rehearsal visit, the first thing you see is the dramatic set, which changes 16 times. I still marveled at the beautiful scenery during the gala night, and this was complemented by a digital screen, which enhanced the mood in key scenes like Ibarra’s courtship with his beloved Maria Clara and Sisa’s iconic scene in the forest. Each shift of the set transformed the mood, allowing the viewer to get inside each character’s head.
For those who aren’t 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. Its characters have become symbols in their own right: Ibarra portraying patriotism, Maria Clara symbolizing innocence, Padre Damaso characterizing the greed of the Spanish clergy, and Sisa illustrating the abuse the motherland experienced during the occupation.
Noli Me Tangere: The Opera elegantly presents these symbolisms, in large part because of its stellar cast. The role of Ibarra was essayed by Ronan Ferrer, who sung with such conviction that he can wake the patriotism of every audience member. Jade Rubis Riccio as Maria Clara was sweet and vulnerable without being cloying. I already saw John-Andrew Fernandez as Padre Damaso and Greg de Leon as Elias in the rehearsal, but their depiction of their characters still moved me. But the biggest revelation was Stephanie Anne Aguilar, whose portrayal of Sisa was both touching and electrifying. She had complete mastery of her vocals, and she proved how you can express different emotions through the different lilts and pitches of the human voice.
J&S Productions and CCP pay respect to this timeless story by pulling out all the stops in its production. The opera 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.
Noli Me Tangere: The Opera is a production that needs to be watched, not only because it’s celebrating a milestone. It’s there to remind us to always be vigilant, to never allow our loyalty to be beholden to one specific person, but to our motherland, and to everyone who inhabits it.
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.
All photos by Aldwin Ku