The treat had begun even before the concert did. There, in his cool white T-shirt, was Arthur Espiritu, our world-class tenor himself, going through passages of his repertoire with his accompanist, Najib Ismail, himself in rehearsal cotton shirt. They were giving us a preview of golden moments to come.
Concerts at Ayala Museum are a free-seating affair, with only a cord separating special patrons from the regular crowd of music lovers—that’s us—(although surely many of them connoisseurs themselves), so we make a special effort to come an hour early or earlier. We also had yet to pick up our reserved tickets at the reception table and pay for them. I had two packets of soda crackers in my evening bag to stall hunger, anticipating an extension for encores, a happy foregone conclusion with Arthur.
As it happened, there was no need to worry about getting good seats, because music critic Pablo Tariman himself welcomed us and led us not to the seats we had paid for, but to two center-isle seats in the privileged section—in the last row, but we were not about to complain. In fact, never comfortable in such situations, I recalled Jesus’ parable about the humbled being exalted and the proud being asked to move from usurped seats, and began to wonder which were we.
But Pablo was so sweetly convincing that we surrendered happily and sat uneasily. When I turned apologetically to Babeth Lolarga, who observed the upgrade, she was chuckling
—she knew exactly how much our tickets cost; we had booked through her. Now she was holding up a page in the program and pointing to something. It was Pablo’s signature, under which read “Friend and Nelly Miricioiu Fansclub President, Philippine Chapter.” Who now would dare unseat us!
We settled down comfortably, although at intermission we went to the restroom separately, never leaving each other’s surreptitiously acquired seat unguarded.
It had been a while since we heard Arthur, and he never sounded better, never more polished and, oh, that distinct natural-voice quality we love so much! We try not to miss his performances whenever he comes home from performances abroad. It was, however, our first time to hear and see Nelly Miricioiu.
Ms. Miricioiu is a beautiful woman, although obviously more mature than our younger tenor, which didn’t bother me. Her young feminine ways managed to erase the years between them. But I should talk: I am myself paired—for life! —with a younger husband.
At any rate, Ms. Miricioiu has awesome credentials, which would be presently decisively validated. She has sung with the best and has performed many of the leading soprano roles in opera history. Her esteem and appreciation for Pablo’s years of friendship and her affection for our country particularly endeared her to me.
My husband marveled at her head tones. The man seated beside me, an obvious admirer, asked, “Did you hear her when she was younger?” I was suddenly deeply sorry I did not.
The man, an acquaintance thus made on the spot, happened to be a tenor in his own right, and a pianist, too: Antonio Pastor, Elkan School of Music, New York, 1963-1965; member, Collegiate Chorale of New York, under Abraham Kaplan, the choral director of Julliard. Before the show began, he was approached by the soprano Fides Cuyugan-Asencio to briefly recall their own old-time stage partnership. Vergel had, in fact, heard him play the piano at Power Plant a couple of times and stood transfixed each time, and now thanked him for that treat.
‘I practice law’
When Ms. Miricioiu sang some kundiman and at some points encouraged the audience to sing along, the two gentlemen between whom I was sandwiched sang as if they had themselves rehearsed; Tony Pastor sang melody, beautifully transcending his 89-year-old pipes; Vergel second-voiced, and I lip-synched. A head turned in front of Tony, amazed and praiseful. Without a doubt, if there was anyone who deserved to be seated among the cognoscenti, it was Antonio Acosta Pastor; he’s not only a notable practitioner of the arts, but also a patron, although a lawyer by profession (New York University), for which we forgive him. “I practice law to exist, and do music to live.”
Vergel’s great love and appreciation for good music must have earned us our seats, and Pablo in his heart knew it. Vergel and Tony Pastor struck an instant acquaintanceship and parted not without exchanging addresses, with a promise from Tony to send Vergel a disc of his piano playing. It came just in time for a 10-hour Holy Week Baguio trip that, thanks to him, had not been more pleasurable. He texted his thanks from the car.
Vergel’s love for music is contagious, and it certainly has opened a new world for me as a listener looking in, meeting performers, patrons, and fellow music lovers on both sides of the delineating cord. At any rate, the separation vanishes when the music begins.