Remembering the country’s finest ‘Madama Butterfly’ | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

DANTE Alcalá
DANTE Alcalá

Opera is getting big-time exposure at the CCP this year, thanks to the indefatigable efforts of the CCP president, Raul Sunico, who is succeeding in networking with people and institutions that are opera-friendly.

Staging opera is a noteworthy endeavor, but getting the resources to be able to finance it is another story.

After CCP’s successful team-up with a Korean opera group for “La Traviata,” “Madama Butterfly” is up at the CCP Main Theater next month (June 22-23), this time in association with MusicArtes Inc.

This new Puccini revival features Japanese soprano Mako Nishimoto; Mexican tenor Dante Alcalá; Filipino soprano Camille Lopez Molina and international baritone Andrew Fernando; with Gerard Salonga conducting the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra.

In the early ’80s, “Madama Butterfly” was seen at the CCP, with Israeli soprano Atarah  Hazzan (a last-minute replacement for the indisposed Japanese soprano Yasuko Hayashi) playing Cio Cio San;   Vincenzo Manno as Pinkerton; and Joann Grillo as Susuki.

I don’t recall any exceptional singer in that production, but I do remember the ravishing performance of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Henry Lewis, ex-husband of mezzo icon Marlyn Horne and both close friends of the late Pavarotti.

In 1994, the Art and Music group of Joseph Uy presented a gem of a Cio Cio San in the person of Japanese soprano Yoko Watanabe, who later passed away because of cancer. At that time, she was the best Butterfly in the US and European circuit. When I finally heard her, I thought she was the main highlight of that production.

Puccini heroine

As I look forward to this new “Butterfly,” it’s just proper that we recall the country’s finest Puccini heroine.

For the record, the first Filipino to sing the title role of “Madama Butterfly” was no other than Maestra Isang Tapales, who sang the part not in Manila but in Teatro Donizetti in Bergamo, Italy, in April 1924.

In 1925, it was the turn of Maestra Jovita Fuentes (a National Artist for Music), who sang Cio Cio San in a municipal theater in Piacenza, Italy.

In the late ’40s, Maestra Dalisay Aldaba debuted in the same role at the New York City Opera.

MAKO Nishimoto

I have not seen a distinguished Filipino “Madama Butterfly” in recent times, but I did know that soprano Eleanor Calbes sang it in Canada when she was already in her 50s.

Maestra Tapales would have been 112 this year. Among her students were tenor Noel Velasco; baritone Gamaliel Viray; singer-actress Joy Virata;  and Jay Glorioso, now president of MusicArtes Inc.,  one of the co-presentors of “Butterfly” next month.

Tapales’ opera credentials include a 1947 performance of  “Madama Butterfly,” more than 300 performances of “La Boheme” (as Mimi), “Pagliacci” (as Nedda), and over a hundred engagements of the little known opera “Iris” by Pietro Mascagni.

Opera company

La Tapales was the first Filipino to sing at Opera Comique in Paris, followed by her student Noel Velasco several decades later. She was also the first Filipino soprano to sing with such opera icons as Giacomo Lauri-Volpi and Beniamino Gigli, who inherited the crown of Caruso before the electronic age of Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti.

The country’s first Butterfly is one of 24 children of Silvestre Tapales, a composer and music teacher and a friend of former First Lady Imelda Marcos’ uncle, Justice Norberto Romualdez, who also dabbled in composition.

She put up a short-lived opera company in Manila in the ’50s with Charito Planas as president and the soprano as music director. Under Tapales, operas  such as “Il Trovatore,” “Cavaleria Rusticana” and “Pagliacci” were staged in Manila with no less than Italian tenor Arrigo Pola (Pavarotti’s first teacher in Modena, Italy) in the lead roles.

When  Nishimoto and  Alcalá appear in “Madama Butterfly” on June 22-23, I will be recalling Maestra Isang Tapales’ opera conquests of Milan, Paris, The Hague, and the 100 doves set loose on her farewell performance in Milan’s Teatro del Verme.

For tickets to the June 22-23 performances of “Madama Butterfly,” call the CCP Box Office at (02) 8323704; or MusicArtes Inc. at (02) 8958098, 0918-9085088; and TicketWorld, tel. 8919999.