Filipino performing artists mourn the passing of tenor Otoniel Gonzaga, 75 | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Julian Quirit , Lea Salonga, Otoniel Gonzaga in 2006
Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Julian Quirit , Lea Salonga, Otoniel Gonzaga in 2006

Filipino artists mourn the passing away of tenor Otoniel Gonzaga who died in a Vienna hospital last Jan. 14.

He was 75.

Tenor Arthur Espiritu said Gonzaga was a steady hand and someone he looked up to. “I’m very saddened by his passing.”

Tenor Gary del Rosario said Gonzaga was his inspiration when he started singing opera. “Your glorious voice will be missed.”

Lea Salonga: “Rest in peace Otoniel Gonzaga. Sing with the angels now.”

Singer Dulce: “My condolences to the Gonzaga family. It was a big honor to share the stage with this great Filipino tenor.”

Gonzaga was last heard in the Philippines in 2006 when he came back for a visit and performed as soloist of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra under Julian Quirit with guest artist Lea Salonga, and with the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra with Dulce and soprano Camille Lopez Molina.

Gonzaga appeared in more than 45 opera houses in Germany including Berlin, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Hannover, Munich and Stuttgart.

Like pianist Cecile Licad, the tenor received his training at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania under the tutelage of English tenor Richard Lewis and American soprano Margaret Harshaw and later, John Lester. While in Curtis, he won first prize in the Marian Anderson International Singing Competition in Philadelphia.

Licad’s mentor, Rudolf Serkin, heard Gonzaga in a rehearsal of “Cosi fan tutte” and commented, “Most singers sing loudly but I like the way Gonzaga sing because he sings musically.”

Serkin’s admiration for Gonzaga later translated into an endorsement for him to be the one of the soloists in Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy with Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Gonzaga had also concertized in Israel and sang the role of Manrico in Verdi’s II Trovatore in the concert version with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haiva.

Legendary conductor Herbert von Karajan found the Filipino tenor good enough as substitute for tenor Luis Lima who backed out due to vocal indisposition.

Special place

Gonzaga has   special place in the country’s opera history as the first and the last Filipino tenor to sing Verdi’s “Otello” in which he logged more than 40 performances in Prague and additional performances in Yokohama, Japan.

One week before the Philippine debut of Luciano Pavarotti in 1994, in an opera concert, Gonzaga gave his countrymen a sampling of what it took to be able to sing Act I of Otello. After the initial chorus opener, Gonzaga let out a piercing opening aria, Esultate, which stunned the audience.

Of his last Manila concert in 2006 with the Manila Philharmonic, Jullie Yap Daza wrote: “I am tongue-tied, dumbstruck. I can only say that the Christmas concert that starred Otoniel Gonzaga with Camille Molina and Dulce should have been watched by 10,000 or 20,000 people.”

Gonzaga is survived by his wife Christina, son Rolando and daughters Isabelle and Louise.–CONTRIBUTED

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