Conjure a diva, Lea Salonga; a prima ballerina, Lisa Macuja; and a piano virtuoso, Cecile Licad, and make them share the stage together. Rather than outdoing one another, they sincerely express their individual artistic prowess, underscoring the sterling artistry of the Filipino before the world, and what do you have?
You will have “The Legends, the Classics,” presented by Ballet Manila and Manila Broadcasting Co. for two successive nights at the Cultural Center of the Philippines the other weekend.
It was easily the concert event of the year.
Lisa Macuja, producer of the concert, said the idea of gathering three international artists—herself, Lea Salonga and Cecile Licad—on one stage was suggested by Katrina Legarda a couple of years back for a fundraising.
The program was of epic proportion unfolding for 2½ hours. The audience remained glued to their seats and savored the performance with tremendous delight without the benefit of an intermission.
In the opening number, Lea admirably intoned Ryan Cayabyab’s song “Nais Ko,” (“How I Wish”), while Lisa eloquently danced with Ballet Manila as choreographed by Gerardo Francisco Jr.
Next came Cecile, who made the parlor grand piano sing exquisitely a Chopin etude (No. 1, Op. 25), with harp-like gentleness that ravished the audience, providing a sublime counterpoint to the previous earthy number expressed in song and dance.
Collectively, their rendition appeared fresh, despite the fact that it was the second straight staging that started on an early evening of a lazy Sunday.
Hearing Lea render a bouquet of songs culled from Broadway, OPM, Disney movie themes and Michel Legrand songs was refreshingly engaging.
Lea’s musicality is fantastic! Admirable was her expressiveness which came from the inner depths of her soul. Diction was clear, coloring vivid, and intonation perfect. From the first to the last song, her voice remained fresh and focused.
Untarnished by any tiredness whatsoever, Lea held command of her vocal instrument with ease in all registers—low, middle and high. She articulately etched her lines comfortably with rich dynamic colors from soft to loud.
Lea was glorious in “Memory,” (“Cats”); “For Good” (“Wicked”), and her signature song, “I’d Give My Life for You (“Miss Saigon”).
Lisa danced with aplomb. She essayed a comely and lithe Juliet in the Balcony Scene in the world premiere of Augustus F. Damian III’s “Romeo and Juliet,” set to the music of Sergei Prokofiev, opposite Rudy de Dios. She completely awed the audience, who burst into applause.
But that was nothing as she later completed those arresting 32 pirouettes in “Paquita” by Petipa as restaged by Osias Barroso Jr. and Eileen Lopez, opposite Nazer Salgado and Ballet Manila corps de ballet. Displaying her solid technique, she gave off warm virtuosity. She should not hang her pointes, as she had planned to do so in a couple of years from now. She should continue to dance.
Complementing such virtuosity was the elegance, the lyricism with which she essayed “Dying Swan” (Saint Saens’ “Le Carnaval des Animaux”), with Wilfredo Pasamba on the cello and Cecile on the piano, all of them doing a sensitively etched collaboration.
The grace with which Lisa infused her dancing hardly made the audience feel the pain the Dying Swan bore. She expressively did those supple arm movements to depict the Swan’s flopping of her wings; the gentle bodily gestures and tiny steps before the Swan gasped the last breath. It was a moving sight, a dignified execution, so sincere and soulful.
On the piano, Cecile held the audience in her hand, so to speak, which was enraptured by the poetry of Chopin’s music. Andante Spianato, and Polonaise was rendered with utmost finesse. Cecile sang a regal andante, and fired the polonaise brilliantly.
At the pit was Gerard Salonga conducting FILharmoniKA which was in tight rapport.
She brought out the refreshing salon—like music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s numbers, “Pasquinade” and “Souvenirs d’ Andalousie.” “Pasquinade” unfolded with crystal clarity, as Cecile struck her dexterous fingers on the keyboard.
The gentle appeal of Spanish rhythm and melody of the other piece engaged the attention of the audience, which afforded the pianist, like the two other previous performers with a hearty applause punctuated with crisp shouts of “Brava” and standing ovations.
Gerard Salonga, musical director and conductor of FILharmoniKA, shared with the three women the limelight. He was very much at home conducting the orchestra, which remained at the pit throughout, wielding the baton authoritatively. He also did most of those excellent arrangements of the songs.
Roxanne Lapus craftily handled the direction which allowed the pacing to flow smoothly.
Angela Ureta wrote the script and Jimmy Villanueva did the lighting design. Jonathan Janolo was production designer; and Paul Soriano, video director. They all pooled their talents to craft a visibly debonair stage.
Effective lighting was truly a visual treat. However, one felt the voice-over, which suffered from faulty inflection and enunciation, was not necessary; after all, texts were projected.
The three iconic women performers and their collaborators performed together in Willy Cruz’s “Sana’y Wala ng Wakas,” (“Hoping There Is No End”).
The audience was mesmerized and ravished and could hardly believe the show was over. Thunderous applause, standing ovations followed. “Legends” deserves a repeat!