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Food and Leisure

Love in the time of opera

John A. Magsaysay - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - And then there is love: love for a special person who is our inspiration, for our art, for our nation’s history. Love for detail so that we can articulate each signal and turn them into symbols, love for remembering us, our love song, our love for justice, and our loves, our many many loves.” In the words of acclaimed director, playwright, and twice-knighted French chevalier Dr. Anton Juan, love is that what “La Boheme” means.

Translating Giacomo Puccini’s venerated opera for an audience captivated by telenovelas, the epic romance of Rodolfo and Mimi could take on a totally new tone under Juan’s direction, something that may upstage the fundamentals of 19th-century French café culture or even today’s emerging fixation on performance art and musical showcases. La Boheme once again proves how timeless and transcendent the masterpiece really is, this time at SM Aura’s Samsung Hall in a limited run on Oct. 18 and 19. 

La Boheme is the ultimate love story,” noted Nonoy Baang, who will play the philosopher Colline. Mirroring the character’s view on romance, Baang went on to say, “Loving is not about the accumulation of things but of letting go of the hardest thing for the one you love.” He then broke into a stunning rendition of Vecchia zimarra senti, that scene-stealing sentimental song enshrined to be the “Colline coat aria.” His bone-chilling baritone sets the perfect pitch for that wintry paradox of trading your coat for a loved one that’s burning out.

“This is the first live opera I have seen, ever,” shared Margarita Giannelli, headlining the opus as the besotted seamstress Mimi. “It was the Rolando Tinio rendition when it was at the CCP. Since then, I’ve always wanted to sing Mimi because I’ve always felt like I know her. And the music has always tugged at my heartstrings, no matter what,” explained the Rosa Ponselle-awarded soprano.

“It’s up to people’s opinions if I do a good job or not, but it’s my personal feelings about the music that has always made me want to sing her. I’ve loved it for so long,” added Giannelli.

Completing the stellar cast are blossoming soprano Myramae Meneses, who will play the vainglorious Musseta; Italian-Brazilian baritone Fernando Araujo touted as Marcello; Michael Bulaong as Benoit; Raymond Yadao as Alcindoro; Greg de Leon as Schaunard; and American tenor Scott Ramsay, who will play the enamored poet Rodolfo. They will be joined by Viva Voce as the chorale ensemble, and the Manila Symphony Orchestra under the baton of maestro Jonathan Velasco.

“It’s a sure thing that we have the voices,” said Velasco. “We really have the voices! I don’t want to compare this with the other productions of La Boheme because we have our own operatic traditions here in the Philippines. But yet, how we express ourselves through song is very Pucciniesque, I must say.”

Having been immortalized in a myriad of ways having Luciano Pavarotti as Rodolfo, or Maria Callas as Mimi, Baz Luhrmann’s post-modernist rendition, to Jonathan Larson’s flattering imitation Rent, it seems like La Boheme has been reimagined in every way possible, which leaves purists to ask, how will the Philippine staging be any different?

“I don’t want to single it out for its difference, but the fact is, when was the last time we saw La Boheme in its entirety here in Manila?” Velasco said. “And the fact that it is being directed by Anton Juan, and I, coming from a singer-conductor background, do expect a better rapport between the singers. That’s what I would say that will possibly be different.”

Having worked together on another Puccini opera two years ago, with Musicartes’ laudable staging of Madame Butterfly, it seems like Juan and Velasco are a match made in heaven. “It is really our passion and our mission, even though it proves to be difficult, to be able to share our love for the opera with as many people as possible,” enthused Musicartes chairman Josie Tan. “Even though each production has been very challenging, we have not given up. It is our mission to be able to come up with at least one opera per year.”

Musicartes’ main mission of making opera accessible to the regular Juan or Juana has stemmed from Tan’s rather personal penchants. “We hope that you will help us achieve our mission of promoting classical music, particularly the opera, to many people, so I won’t have to go to New York and line up for tickets,” Tan said, laughing.

For La Boheme, set and production designer Otto Fernandez and lighting designer Joseph Matheu provide a modernist tableau juxtaposing the opera’s period costumes. And, for the benefit of the local audience, the lines of “one of the best love stories of all time” will be subtitled.  

Yet for Musicartes’ Jay Glorioso Valencia, the story is powerful enough to defy language by speaking to the heart. “The themes are so Filipino, actually,” she said. “It’s conquering a lot of things, conflicts, in our daily lives. And what’s the most important? Love. Love for your family, the most special person in your life. The love of a grandmother for her grandson, mother to a son. It’s all about love. Without love, how can we go on?”

“That’s what opera is, it should be universal,” she continued. “It should never be elitist. And it should be cherished and appreciated alongside other performing arts, Broadway, and even contemporary music. It should be a part of one’s life.”

A lot like love.

* * *

La Boheme premieres at the Samsung Hall of SM Aura on Oct. 18 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at all SM Ticket outlets. For more information, contact Musicartes at 895-8098 / 519-3603 / 0918-908-5088 or A-Team at 0918-921-6835.

ANTON JUAN

BAZ LUHRMANN

BOHEME

LA BOHEME

LOVE

MIMI

MUSICARTES

OPERA

SAMSUNG HALL

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