Dondi Ong on ‘Phantom of the Opera’

FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas - The Philippine Star

Perhaps people consider Conrado “Dondi” Calnea Ong III’s  greatest performance as a tenor  his having been picked by international musical director Guy Simpson to join the touring cast of “Phantom of the Opera,”  essaying  various ensemble roles and understudying the role of Piangi, the principle tenor in the production.

Only people  in the music world appreciate his talent as beyond singing in “Phantom of the Opera.” His performances in local productions have led to his receiving of the University of the Philippines Presidential Distinguished Alumni Service Award. Last December, he was elevated to the Aliw Awards Hall of Fame for winning the Best Male Classical Performer of the Year award for  the third time.

Dondo is a graduate of the UP College of Music, with a BS degree major in voice, magna cum laude. He studied under the late Prof. Elmo Makil and Prof. Cecilia “Bechie” Ongsiako-Valena. He was an amateur chorister until he was discovered and developed as an opera singer, training with the UP Singing Ambassadors, the Kasarinlan Philippine Music Ensemble, the Philippine Chamber Choir and the Philippine Madrigal Singers. He has sung at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Concert at the Park in Luneta, the Paco Park Presents, and other notable venues all over the country. With Kasarinlan, he has traveled to the United States and several European countries, performing for both Filipino and foreign audiences.

Dondi started playing the piano at age six, but never took up singing except during family gatherings or friendly “sing-alongs.” His mother is an educator, and his father, an engineer, was “a hopeless crooner.”

Since graduating from UP, he has been performing with various groups, among them the Power Voice Three.  This group consists of  Upsilonians Dondi, Thad Lliamson and Joseph Olfindo. The powerful trio has sung in various venues, including private parties, singing classical and Broadway hits before appreciable audiences. The three are scheduled to perform for a Philippine Red Cross fund-raising concert in June. Except for Dondi, the group members have non-music-related professions. Thad is a realtor, and Joseph, a broadcast network executive.

Dondi, 48 but looking like 30, has been featured as vocal soloist for varied programs, including for the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, the Manila Chamber Orchestra and the Clarion Chamber Orchestra, and taken on the role of King Rayo in the world premiere of Lucresia Kasilag’s opera, “Why Flowers Bloom in May,” and the role of Rodolfo in Puccini’s “Le Boheme” under the joint production of the Philippine Opera Company and the CCP.        

Dondi’s selection by Guy Simpson was the first time a Filipino was accepted as a member of the  “Phantom of the Opera” cast in 26 years of continuous run. Dondi says the honor was “overwhelming, and the pressure sometimes unbearable, but I believe God had a reason for me to play this part. After Manila, it was four  months in Seoul, and then three months in Bangkok and another three months in Singapore.  We barely had a month as breaks in between countries.  When the schedule for Shanghai and Daegu came up, I decided to excuse myself.  It had  been more than a year and I felt there was no artistic growth doing the same thing over and over, eight  times a week, for about three months at a time. 

“As a performer, it was a dream job.  Great pay, high-end accommodations, travels, and the prestige of a great brand – The Phantom of the Opera!  But as an artist I felt I was slowly dying inside.  A lot of people back home couldn’t believe how I could give it up, but God has a reason – always has.

“Back home I had to cope with the ‘familiarity’ (wouldn’t call it popularity) as people would just approach me and ask for pictures or autographs. I never felt comfortable with people, being an introvert from early on. I even tried to downplay the Phantom brand and refused to sing any songs from the musical.  I rejoined the local music scene and productions, but the Phantom persona haunted me wherever I go. I took up painting again to ease my transition but no such luck as people continue to associate me with the popular show.

“I recouped by being part of several groups, the Harana ng Kasarinlan that specializes in purely Filipino melodies, the Philippine Tenors that specializes in classical music, and Power Voice Three, made up of  Upsilon fellows, that specializes in standards, among others.”

At the moment Dondi finds himself  at a “crossroad as a musician.  After garnering the hall of fame award, winning three times as Male Classical Performer of the Year at the Aliw Awards, there seems to be no more musical mountains to conquer, figuratively.  The latest interesting development would be my thwarted academic pursuit of a masters in music therapy, being offered for the first time here in the Philippines at St. Paul’s Manila.’’

Dondi plays the guitar, teaches in schools and private students, will return to painting again – another talent that could win him awards.

*      *      *

Lent, for majority of Roman Catholics, means setting aside meat dishes and going instead for fish and seafood dishes. It’s a form of penitence, or rifice, although getting meat dishes (pork, beef and chicken) out of sight at least for Holy Thursday and Good Friday – and everyday, we’re told – is good for one’s  health. But meatless does not mean tasteless.

I had dinner at Bangus Specialty Restaurant  at the Greenhills Shopping Center  (the other outlet is at the ground floor of  North Parking Building, SM Mall of Asia)  with visiting friends from Baltimore, Maryland.  We decided to go meatless. We settled for bangus pancit molo, pinaputukan bangus (the fish stuffed with tomatoes and onions), pinalutong na bangus (crispy fried fish cubes which I loved, ang sarap kasi!) served with a great ensaladang manga, rellenong bangus,  and sariwang lumpia. We had shrimps smothered in sinful aligue. For dessert we had halo-halo, tibok-tibok (or maja blanca) and reyna blanca (jello with pinipig and coconut milk).  We will reserve for our Lenten visit such specialties as  paksiw na bangus, grilled belly with sampalok candy sauce and  ginataang squash and string beans, and sizzling pusit.

For hopeless carnivores, the restaurant’s meat dishes are tops:  bulalo, kare-kare, chicken relleno (with pork stuffing), crispy tadyang ng baka.      

Bangus Specialty Restaurant is  A-1 when it comes to Philippine dishes. Small wonder it’s my favorite eating place.

*      *      *

Liongoren Gallery kicks off  its annual show “Walong Filipina: Alay sa Manghahabi Tribute to the Weaver”  at 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 28, at 111 New York Ave., cor. Stanford Sts., Cubao, Quezon City.

Walong Filipina is an annual show of the gallery since 1990,  which celebrates the lives and works of Filipinas. This year’s show focuses on Philippine indigenous weavers. According to gallery owner/curator  Norma Liongoren, the exhibit “is in line with the gallery’s objective to promote environmental  concerns and Filipino cultural heritage through the visual arts.”

This year’s  show is  a collaborative art project between four visual artists and four weavers. Collaborative works are those of UP Fine Arts faculty member and painter Ninel Constantino and Tingguian retired school teacher and weaver Nora Agaid Mina from Penarubia, Abra; renowned visual artist Joy  Mallari and  Kalinga weaver entrepreneur Irene  Bawer  Bimuyag from Kalinga, Apayao; graphic designer and needle crafter Gabie Osorio  and  Bangar, La Union master weaver Flordelita Guileb, crochet wizard Aze Ong with co-founder of Rurungan sa Tubod Foundation and warrior-weaver Adelaida Lim of Baguio City.

For  inquiries, contact 912439, 4393962 and 0917-8874319 or email [email protected].

*      *      *

Email: [email protected]










  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with