Love at first opera together

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
Love at first opera together
Pinay soprano Rachelle Gerodias and Korean baritone Byeong-in Park are a match made in musical heaven. The husband-and-wife opera duo recently headlined Ngayon Na, Kabataan, a fundraising concert to benefit the youth projects of Knights of Rizal, including for today’s commemoration of the 123rd year of Dr. Jose Rizal’s martyrdom.

Filipino soprano Rachelle Gerodias first met Korean baritone Byeong-in Park when they were both cast in the Singapore Lyric Opera staging of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte five years ago. They played the lovers Guglielmo and Fiordiligi in the comedy opera, but little did they know that the “romance” on stage would spill over to real life.

At that time, the Pinay opera star was already 42 and no longer thinking of getting married. Byeong-in, himself an accomplished opera singer who was based in Europe for more than a decade, had never worked with or let alone been romantically involved with a Filipina.

“She’s my first-ever Filipina colleague. My first impression was wow, pretty girl, very charming, very good,” shared Byeong-in, who trained under the great tenor Francisco Araiza at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Stuttgart, Germany, and was a guest soloist several times at the famous 17th-century-old Graz Opera House in Austria.

That fateful March 2014, he not only debuted in the Singapore opera scene, but also met (and matched) with Rachelle.

“We were invited to be lead singers, both of us. It was an international production. We stayed there for a month. We rehearsed every day and towards the end of that, he started courting me na,” Rachelle, the country’s premier soprano, recalled.

But Rachelle never knew the Korean singer was interested in her until he asked her to hang out, minus their usual group.

With Ngayon Na, Kabataan concert’s guest performers — former senator and Manila Hotel president, lawyer Joey Lina (leftmost) and lawyer Mike Toledo.

She said, “He asked, ‘You’ve never been up there in the Marina Bay Sands?’ I said, ’No, but I really wanna go.’ ‘You wanna see after the rehearsals?’ Sure. ‘Okay, I will treat you.’ We were like six soloists, we would always go out. I thought it was gonna be all of us, tapos biglang balik siya, don’t tell the others, I just invited you. So, I said, ‘Oh, it’s a date,’ and then he said, ‘It’s a first date,’ hahaha, loko to ah.”

After the production finished, they returned to their “home base,” Rachelle here in Manila and Byeong-in back to Europe. “So we had, of course, long distance (communication), and he wanted to visit the Philippines in May. I thought he was joking, until he was here, so (I realized) he was serious.”

During his first visit, he wanted to meet her parents already. “But you did not allow,” Byeong-in jokingly reminded Rachelle.

Rachelle said, “First visit, he already asked the question (on marriage). He just said, ‘What’s your decision?’ (I said) ‘What decision?’ You have to decide, and I thought, I have to decide. Alright, I have my non-negotiables. First, I want to live in the Philippines. I want to raise a family in the Philippines. I want to get married in the Philippines. I want a proper engagement with ring and everything and a proposal. He said yes. He did everything.”

For Byeong-in, “Rachelle is my first Filipina girlfriend. I’ve had foreigner girlfriends, not many, just a few, because I was based in Europe for 11 years.”

“So he gave up that for this,” Rachelle mused.

Three months after, or within six months of meeting each other, they tied the knot.

“We could not waste time,” the couple, who are now parents to two boys, said.

They’ve been making beautiful music together for five years now. The STAR experienced their onstage chemistry when they were tapped to headline the Ngayon Na, Kabataan concert at the Manila Hotel last Dec. 15.

The concert served as fundraising dinner for future youth-focused projects of the Knights of Rizal, including for today’s commemoration of the 123rd year of Rizal Martyrdom such as the awarding of Jose Rizal Model Students and Jose Rizal and Josephine Bracken Lookalike contest.

During the Ngayon Na, Kabataan show, they also shared the stage with special guests — former senator, past supreme commander of the Knights of Rizal and Manila Hotel president, lawyer Joey Lina, and lawyer Mike Toledo. The Bayanihan National Folk Dance Company and  Gino Padilla also performed.

The couple, who also runs a music school, felt honored to headline the concert for the Knights of Rizal, an order created to honor and uphold the ideals of Philippine National Hero Jose Rizal.

Byeong-in revealed that their firstborn is actually named after the National Hero. “Rachelle was doing a production of Noli Me Tangere by Jose Rizal. I fell in love with the Ibarra character (the fictional hero created by Rizal). Then she found herself pregnant. Three months into the pregnancy, I was already thinking about a name.

“One day, I said to her, maybe if I get a boy, I will name him after Ibarra or Jose Rizal. I like the National Hero, and she said OK. But the next day or a few days after, she said no, no, no, it cannot be Jose Rizal because your family name is Park. Everybody will bully him,” Byeong-in laughed in recollection.

“You cannot name him Jose Rizal Park, I had to explain,” Rachelle added. “Anyway, we kept the Jose and removed the Rizal. We named him (instead) Jose Victorino.”

Byeong-in said that he hopes his second son would also go into music, so they named him Franco Theodore after the famous Italian tenor Franco Correlli and Theodore because it means God-given. “A gift of God to us,” he added.

Rachelle also said, “I didn’t expect to get married and even more so, have kids. We were already so happy to have one. But He gave us one more. God is really good!”

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