We watched the latest remake of the operetta “Noli Me Tangere,” adapted from the novel by Jose Rizal, set to music by Felipe de Leon Jr., poetic libretto in Filipino by, surprisingly, the sculptor Guillermo Tolentino, the cast all competent, in fact impressive singers who did justice to both the songs and the historical memory.
The audience of mixed ages was visibly and audibly moved by the familiar story from Hispanized times. Sisa was, in her moments onstage, predictably, by the nature of the character, the show-stopper. It was a role immortalized by Fides Asensio, and every Sisa will have to measure up to her. I understand Fides helped create the arias for the deranged Sisa.
That night, Kelly Peralejo stood toe-to-toe in beauty and voice, holding her own magnificently. On our way out of the theater, shouts of “Sisa, Sisa, Sisa!” were heard as the actors made their appearance at the top of the theater stairs.
Proud look at the past
It was a nostalgic and proud look at the past. I was saddened that the producers, due to budget constraints, could only afford to mount two shows. We had watched the second and last one, in fact. I wonder why there’s no money for cultural shows that not only showcase our local talents, but also educate and engage the younger generation in our history?
Looking at us now, it’s hard to imagine we were once a noble people, respectful and respectable, with strong family ties. We knew how to be happy and enjoy the pleasures of our rich and bountiful land. Many of us were highly educated and cultured, and even those short on both resources and academic learning and money did not lack for character.
Kapitan Tiago’s grand home, described by Rizal in “Noli,” was one that borders on the excesses of the nouveau riche—harps, pianos, chandeliers and other amenities from Europe. One niece describes it so appropriately: “It’s so Versailles!”
I mention it because it’s close to a familiar reality: such was the house of a rich offshoot from the union of Chinese and Indio of Binondo, Balbino Mauricio, whose daughter Severa would marry the first Alejandro Roces, a peninsular from Asturias. From this union would be born another Alejandro, the father of my grandfather, Rafael, who, by a twist of fate, would be born in Barcelona to become another peninsular.
To back our claim, my grandparents kept a large painting of the house, showing all the rooms, done in the genre of the times—instead of having portraits, it showed the interior of their home exactly as Rizal describes Kapitan Tiago’s, preserved for all time. In fact, written decoratively across the painting was the name of its owner, Balbino Mauricio.
Alejandro was a former member of the king’s honor guard, but he arrived in the Philippines as an alferez real, flag bearer for the special unit that would comprise the personal bodyguards of the governor general. It does sound impressive and, indeed, may have reinforced the impression on the rich Chinese mestizo Mauricio that the Spaniard would “improve the race.” Alejandro, as luck would have it, hit the jackpot—married rich.
My uncle Ding Roces, in his book “Looking for Liling,” now the official source of family history, portrays him as a humble character—“second lieutenant, just a little above the rank of sergeant.” His family had, in a guerrilla war, backed the losing side, the Carlistas, against the Spanish Queen Regent Cristina, but somehow he became one those Carlistas allowed to integrate into the queen’s army stationed in Manila and retain his rank and salary.
When in recent Philippine history our family found itself on the opposite side to Ferdinand Marcos, it didn’t have the first Alejandro’s luck: it lost, among other things, its newspaper, the preeminent one at the time—The Manila Times—and with it the freedom of its publisher, Chino Roces, a first cousin of my father’s.
If I digress, and do so rather self-indulgently, from Rizal’s novel, it’s not only because of its link to my own family’s history but because I find it hugely instructive in these tragic times.