President Raul Sunico of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) is not daunted by the challenges of mounting a rare production in the country of Giuseppe Verdi’s later-life masterpiece, “Rigoletto.”
The challenges amount to a curse that has bedevilled attempts at grand productions of full-length operas. They include lack of financing and lack of audience.
Perhaps this twin curse explains why CCP will stage “Rigoletto” for only two dates— Aug. 22 at 7 p.m. and Aug. 24 at 3 p.m., at the CCP Main Theater.
Originally called “La Maledizione” (The Curse), “Rigoletto” is an opera in four acts, about the debauched Duke of Mantua, his hunchback court jester Rigoletto, and Rigoletto’s beautiful daughter, Gilda.
Its story revolves around a curse placed on both the Duke and Rigoletto by a courtier whose daughter has been seduced by the Duke with Rigoletto’s encouragement. The curse takes full effect when Gilda likewise falls in love with the Duke and eventually sacrifices her life to save him from the assassins hired by her father.
The Italian libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave based on the play “Le Roi S’amuse” by Victor Hugo.
Not as popular
Although “Rigoletto” has been staged in the Philippines, it is not as popular as other warhorses, said Sunico.
“The reason why I chose ‘Rigoletto’ is that I believe I have not seen any production like this in the Philippines,” Sunico said. “We have seen a lot of ‘La Bohème,’ ‘Carmen,’ ‘Madame Butterfly’ and ‘La Traviata.’ I wanted a classic opera that was popular and yet not as commonly produced.”
Sunico said he wanted the production of “Rigoletto” to be as authentic as possible.
He added he wanted to produce Rigoletto in its original form because he wanted the Filipino audience to see the opera as it was originally conceived by Verdi.
As a result, Sunico refused to have the opera tweaked or contemporized. This means he wanted a full-length opera production despite the financial constraints.
Sunico said stage director Floy Quintos had asked to advance the time period of the opera a few decades forward.
“I told him [it was okay] as long as it’s not modernized into a blue-jeans, T-shirt kind of costume, and as long as it’s not Filipinized,” Sunico said. “I would like opera productions to be as authentic as possible. We want to give the Filipino audience a semblance of how an opera production should be.”
Baritone in lead role
The title role will be played by Korean baritone Daeson No, alongside soprano Yun Kyoung Yi and tenor Jae Wook Lee.
Musical director is Jae Joon Lee; he will conduct the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra.
In “Rigoletto,” the lead role is played by a baritone, something which Sunico said was difficult to find because operas were usually performed by a soprano or a tenor.
Daeson No, the internationally acclaimed baritone from Seoul, South Korea who will play Rigoletto, has a long list of awards under his belt: the prestigious Lieder Prize in the 1999 Cardiff Singer of the World Competition; First Prizes in the Marilyn Horne Voice Competition, Mario Lanza International Competition, Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation International Voice Competition, Liederkranz Foundation International Voice Competition, James Parkinson Italian Opera Competition, and Jeunesses Musicales International Competition in Canada 2002.
Other performers include Filipino classical vocalists from the Conservatory of Music of University of Santo Tomas (UST)—Ronan Ferrer, Nenen Espina, Thea Perez, Jun Francis Jaranilla and Noel Azcona.
The chorus will be composed of male members of the Coro Tomasino, also from UST.
Sunico noted that an opera production was too expensive to produce that only a few got mounted in the country.
“Operas in the Philippines are few and far between,” he said. “But we are hoping that our audiences will continue to increase. It does not really matter who produced it, as long as there was an opera [in the country].”
“Rigoletto” is presented by the CCP in cooperation with the Filipino Opera Society Foundation Inc., Bohol Restoration Group and Rustan’s Group of Companies.
Part of the proceeds will go to the Bohol Restoration Group, which helps in the rehabilitation of heritage sites ravaged by the earthquake in 2013.
Ticket prices for the Aug. 22 Gala (7 p.m.) are P2000, P1500, P800, P500. Tickets for the Aug. 24 matinee (3 p.m.) are P1200, P800, P500, P300. Discounts are 50 percent for students and 20 percent for senior citizens, government and military employees.