Latest Stories

Thirty Christmases ago, Sarah Caldwell mounted ‘Magic Flute’ in Manila


CALDWELL’S autobiography

A curious chapter in the autobiography of National Artist for Music Lucrecia Kasilag revealed the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ best-kept opera-production figure.

In her own words, the late National Artist, who was then CCP president, noted that a “hefty $250,000 [roughly P10-million today] was paid to the equally hefty Sarah Caldwell of the Boston Opera to produce the English version of Mozart’s ‘Magic Flute.’”

Exactly 30 Christmases ago, the CCP had a cultural tie-up with the Opera Company of Boston headed by the eminent Caldwell, who was hailed as “one of America’s best-known and most adventurous conductors and opera directors.”

It was the year tenor Noel Velasco won the Pavarotti International Voice Competition in Philadelphia. A number of Filipino artists and cultural workers were hauled off to Boston to train under the aegis of Caldwell’s opera company.

Among those who undertook training and opera exposure in Boston were singers Gamaliel Viray and Dodo Crisol; promising mezzos Luz Galvez and Amy Bonnevie; and cultural workers Ma Guevara and Ed Manalo, who recently passed away.

Expensive package

The expensive opera package didn’t escape the eye of the anti-Marcos activists who picketed the opening night of one production in Boston. They claimed the tie-up was more in favor of the Boston ensemble than Filipino artists, and that the production was an insult to a country in deep economic crisis.

Reasoned out Caldwell to this writer in 1981 at the height of the “Magic Flute” controversy: “I don’t think we have to apologize for the economic problems of the entire world and the fact that they affect us. This [opera] company will stay alive, and I am very proud of the cast that we have been able to assemble. The pressure to present the great stars is always there, but, generally, by the time they become great stars, they can’t sing anymore anyway. You will hear that there are not that many Sarah Reeses and Noel Velascos that come along; we are going to make our own stars and that will be fun.”

Sarah Caldwell as she appears on the cover of Time

The tie-up didn’t sit well with other opera cliques which could hardly raise a million for their productions.

Kicked out

When they heard of the gargantuan opera subsidy given to Caldwell’s Boston company, not a few protested, among them soprano Fides Cuyugan Asencio.

In one workshop conducted by Caldwell in Manila, Asencio butted in and was bodily brought out of the forum.

Noted Kasilag in her memoir, recalling that incident: “The stentorian Ms Caldwell did not make many friends here, least of all with a friend, Fides Cuyugan Asencio, whom she threw out of her seminar for butting in. You listened to Caldwell, you didn’t ask, you didn’t comment.”

What resulted in that tie-up was the formation of the Opera Company of the Philippines, which mounted Mozart’s “Magic Flute” as its inaugural presentation on Jan. 14, 1982. In the opera were Velasco as Tamino; Viray as Papageno, alternating with Robert Orth; and Lilia Reyes and Jovita Castro alternating as Pamina.

Leading the Philippine Philharmonic in that 1982 CCP production was Caldwell herself, who is described by Time magazine as America’s “Music’s Wonder Woman,” and the first woman conductor to be seen at the Metropolitan Opera starring her best friend, soprano Beverly Sills, a one-time Manila visitor.

When Caldwell died in 2006 at age 82, American diva Sills—who sang at the Meralco Theater in 1969—recalled: “Some of the most creative work that many of us artists have done has been with Sarah. Some of the most aggravating, as well. She had a million different ways to do one thing and was never satisfied until she had tried them all.”

An American opera observer noted that while Caldwell was, no doubt, “brilliant as she was in presenting operatic spectacles, she was also equally erratic and impetuous away from music, particularly in business affairs.”

Tainted reputation

The cultural exchange Caldwell tried in Manila in 1981 did not work well with Soviet arts groups in 1988. It resulted in a financial disaster that tainted her reputation.

LUCRECIA Kasilag, Sarah Caldwell and ImeldaMarcos during the signing of agreement on the formation of theOpera Company of the Philippines

Caldwell was the subject of two memoirs: “Challenges: A Memoir of My Life in Opera,” by Caldwell with Rebecca Matlock (Wesleyan University Press, 2008); and “Sarah Caldwell: The First Woman of Opera,” by Daniel Kessler (Scarecrow Press, 2008).

The books are ideal companions for opera-lovers who want to relive her productions from “Boris Gudonov” to “Tosca.”

The review has an ironic summation of Caldwell’s life thus: “In the end, Caldwell had amassed three-dozen honorary degrees; the National Medal of Honor from Bill Clinton; and $8.5-million in unpaid bills of her opera company.”

One will remember Sarah Caldwell as opera’s tireless warrior with her words during that Manila encounter of 1981: “Every country should strive to bring music to all people regardless of social backgrounds. And, by saying that, one does not say that opera is any less precious or any less special. It just means that our people are entitled to experience the precious special things in life.”

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Arts & Books , Classical Music , Cultural Center of the Philippines , Lucrecia Kasilag , Opera Company of the Philippines , Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra , Sarah Caldwell , Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , “Magic Flute”

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PM6JHCFR2KT2AURMWRDUXBNLQY Darwin

    Insert your dirty joke based on the title.

  • joboni96

    ‘a “hefty $250,000 [roughly P10-million today] was paid to the equally hefty Sarah Caldwell’

    kolonisadong utak at work

    ilang konsyerto ng mga gawang pilipino
    tulad ni maestro san pedro
    ng mga lokal na orchestra
    sa iba’t ibang bayan
    sa buong kapuluan

    ang nasuportahan sana niyan

    yon tinangay pera ng pilipino
    mga mayayaman lang ang nakinabang

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. Noli Yamsuan, Cardinal Sin’s ‘official’ photographer: ‘I could smell the aftershave lotion of the Pope’
  3. Palawan favorite getaway of show biz celebrities
  4. Fashionistas flock to designer’s wedding
  5. Joe de Venecia visits the Queen Mother of Cambodia
  6. President Quezon was born here–and so was Philippine surfing
  7. A tale of two Priscillas: my mother Prissy and Chona Recto Kasten
  8. This is not just a farm
  9. ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  10. Levine designs womenswear with help from fiancee
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. Are your favorite malls open this Holy Week break?
  3. How Vitamin B can be a remedy for ‘manhid’ and neuropathy
  4. Sarah Geronimo and Matteo Giudicelli sing ‘All of Me’–and we all swoon
  5. 90 percent of Filipino households don’t practice proper toilet hygiene, sanitation
  6. Why is the lifestyle set now afraid to wear jewelry–before Kim Henares?
  7. ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  8. This is not just a farm
  9. 12 other things you can do at Pico de Loro Cove
  10. Marcos grandson to wed beautiful Rocha scion
  1. Mary Jean Lastimosa is new Miss Universe Philippines
  2. Did Angara ruin Pia Wurtzbach’s chances at Bb. Pilipinas?
  3. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  4. Dominique–Gretchen and Tonyboy Cojuangco’s daughter–now an endorser
  5. Manila in shock over model Helena Belmonte’s death
  6. Vinegar test helpful vs cervical cancer
  7. From Jeannie to mom of suicide victim
  8. San Vicente beaches hidden but not for long
  9. Borgy and Georgina are back; others are off–again
  10. Why is the lifestyle set now afraid to wear jewelry–before Kim Henares?


  • Former solon, 2 others sanctioned for unfair labor practice
  • Let us pray for the nation, healing priest asks leaders
  • AFTA to kill PH agri industry in 2015, says neophyte senator
  • Blame game on as Edsa repairs miss deadline
  • Baptist church ransacked; even spoons, forks stolen
  • Sports

  • Boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter dies at 76
  • Wawrinka beats Federer to win Monte Carlo Masters
  • Rain or Shine grabs No.4, sends Ginebra to 8th
  • Red-hot Alaska rips injury-depleted San Mig Coffee
  • Pacquiao courtesy call to Aquino set for Monday
  • Lifestyle

  • Transitions and resurrection in the performing arts
  • ‘Archaeology tour’ of Cebu’s heritage of faith
  • Historic Fort Bonifacio tunnel converted into a septic tank
  • ‘Imports’ from London, and play of the year
  • Korean animation comes of age
  • Entertainment

  • Easter musings
  • Solenn in shorts
  • Unmerry mix of attention-calling moves on ‘Mini-Me’ TV tilts
  • Persistence pays off for The 1975
  • Special section in LA fest for Filipino films
  • Business

  • BDO seen keen on bidding for Cocobank
  • Bataan freeport investment pledges up 1,302%
  • Golden Week
  • Bourse to woo Cebu stock mart investors
  • Supper power
  • Technology

  • Nasa’s moon-orbiting robot crashes down
  • Netizens pay respects to Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Nokia recalls 30,000 chargers for Lumia 2520 tablet
  • Facebook rolls out ‘nearby friends’ feature
  • Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message
  • Opinion

  • Gigi’s home
  • Palace stonewalls on MRT inquiry
  • Couple of things too
  • There is plenty of water behind Wawa Dam
  • Triduum thoughts of a young boy
  • Global Nation

  • Japan presents $57-B ‘dream plan’ to solve Metro congestion
  • Tim Tebow’s charity hospital in Davao seen to open in 7 months
  • OFW died of Mers-CoV in Saudi Arabia, says family
  • Aquino, Obama to tackle US pivot to Asia during state visit
  • Asia seeks Obama’s assurance in territorial spats