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Nedy Tantoco’s dream: An opera season in Manila, and the appreciation of the Filipino sarswela |

Sunday Lifestyle

Nedy Tantoco’s dream: An opera season in Manila, and the appreciation of the Filipino sarswela

LIFE & STYLE - Millet M. Mananquil - The Philippine Star
Nedy Tantocoâs dream: An opera season in Manila, and the appreciation of the Filipino sarswela

Cultural tastemaker, art patron and stalwart Nedy Tantoco: All her concerts are for a cause. Elixir will raise funds for the San Pablo Apostol Church in Tondo.

A retail maven’s world is not just about Valentino and Pucci. In the case of Nedy Tantoco, it is also about Verdi and Puccini.

All these years that I’ve been covering Nedy’s events for the Rustan’s Group of Companies where she is president, I realized I was at the same time enjoying a front seat to several world-class concerts and operas. And meeting artists and singers up-close, knowing them better, and pleasantly realizing that they are also real people.

Living and loving culture is something Nedy has been doing all her life.

“As a romantic teenager, I remember really enjoying the ballet Romeo and Juliet at the Metropolitan Opera in New York,” Nedy says. “My father (Ambassador Bienvenido Tantoco) would buy seasonal tickets so we would be assured of chances to see the best cultural shows.”

Her mother, Glecy Tantoco, was a patron to many Filipino artists and concert performers. The baton was just naturally passed to Nedy. And she has been carrying on with so much love and grace.

Many of Nedy’s amusing travel memories are those about attending concerts. “I will never forget the time when my family went to Verona during opera season to watch Aida. Rachelle Gerodias, her parents and a student of hers went with us. After the concert, we walked home leisurely that crisp spring evening. We passed through a piazza where we decided to sit and take a drink. Suddenly, Rachelle got carried away and started doing opera, followed by her student. Applause from the people around the piazza came as a surprise. Rachelle sang her heart out and I was so fascinated. Her student, Ferry Medina, became a famous soprano doing concerts abroad until she settled down in Macau with her Portuguese husband.”

For Cecile Licad’s “Encore with the PPO” in  2016  under the baton of Olivier Ochanine at the CCP, Nedy recalls that Licad arrived with an American businessman renting out pianos worldwide. “He brought with him a beautiful nine-foot Hamburg Steinway piano, and the sound was magical! It was truly Cecile’s best performance ever. And my personal experience to realize that not all pianos are created equal!”

After Licad’s concert, we proceeded to the dinner hosted by Nedy. One of the guests was actor John Lloyd Cruz who came with Virgie Ramos, and he boldly approached the self-confessed anti-social Licad to sign his souvenir program short of saying, “I’m a fan of yours.”

To which Licad said: “I watch your movies, especially your kissing scenes!” John Lloyd was simply flattered and stunned.

Byeong-in Park, Rachelle Gerodias, Nedy Tantoco, Elena Monti, David Astorga and Francesco Vultaggio: All set to serve Elixir

Last Friday, Nedy hosted a lunch  for the stars of L’Elisir d’Amore (The Elixir of Love), the opera fundraiser which she is producing with Nes Jardin and Raul Sunico as executive producers at the CCP on Oct. 7 and 8.

The opera was born in Italy in the 16th century.  So how do you make operas more attractive today’s millennials, we asked?

The good-looking tenor David Astorga laughed: “I guess we have to give it some sex appeal!” And we noticed he wasn’t touching his rice bowl even as he said he loved rice.

His co-stars Elena Monti, Francesco Vultaggio and the husband-and-wife team of Byeong-in Park and Rachelle Gerodias all agreed that while most opera singers have to look robust and powerfully huge onstage, they still wish to follow their diets and exercise regimens.

The lively cast say they have a blast interacting with each other, especially for Elixir which is actually a comic opera and a melodrama. “I chose Elixir because, unlike most operas, it has a happy ending,” explains Nedy. “It is also the first time it will be seen in the Philippines. She is dedicating this project to Rustan’s founders Benny and Glecy Tantoco. It is also in celebration of the 55th anniversary of the Philippine-Italian Association, the 65th anniversary of Rustan’s, and the 70th year of Philippine-Italian diplomatic relations. 

Nedy has become a cultural tastemaker, an art patron, a stalwart of the Philippine art and culture scene. As president of the Philippine Italian Association and a trustee at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, she has made it possible for Manila music lovers to watch the likes of Cecile Licad, Luciano Bellini, Gian Luca Pasolini, Alvaro Lozano, Christian Leotta and Francois Chaplin. 

Every project is meant to boost PIA’s endowment fund and to help Filipino artists perform here and abroad. Nedy made possible the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra’s historic friendship tour to the US in 2012, and a more recent one in 2016.

Though she has more projects coming, Nedy has a wish: “My dream is for the Philippine cultural scene to have an opera season like Milan and New York have. I would also like to have an appreciation of the Philippine sarswela.” Perhaps she can join hands with kundiman and sarswela revivalist Danny Dolor.

To Nedy’s list of cultural legends, add Leon Ignacio and Atang de la Rama.

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Follow the author on Instagram and Facebook@milletmartinezmananquil. Email her at

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