French composer Georges Bizet is Manila’s flavor of the month, judging by the simultaneous staging of “Carmen” by the Lyric Opera of the Philippines and its ballet version by Ballet Manila.
Last week saw three Bizet heroines—Camille Lopez Molina, Ana Feleo, Lisa Macuja—“dying” from the fatal knife of Don José played with varying intensity by Abdul Candao, Randy Gilongo and danseur Rudy de Dios (for the ballet version).
Hewing closely to Bizet’s realism, director Laurice Guillen had the Carmen of Feleo doing honest-to-goodness kissing scenes with the Bizet heroine even managing to unzip the pants of Don Jose in the seduction scene.
While the staging was stylized, Guillen got to the bottom of realism with the characters intensely driven, indeed, evocative of the opera’s atmosphere, theme and environment.
The superb directorial touch of Guillen was evident in the three nights of the Bizet opera, complemented by a well-conceived choreography by her daughter, actress-dancer Ina Feleo.
Rehearsal master Peter Porticos said Guillen’s direction brought out the verismo of “Carmen’s” music and libretto.
At first look, the Carmen of Feleo was young and irrepressible and her acting was a standout. The Don José of Gilongo was a beleaguered one, at once tender and violent, but, indeed, full of longing in the “Flower” aria.
The Micaela of Karina Gay Manlutac Balajadia-Liggayu was at once repressed and demure, with a voice that didn’t soar as it should. Moreover, it was a lovely voice, perfect for the part.
It was a class act on the last night of “Carmen,” with subdued acting blending with excellent singing in the Carmen of Lopez-Molina, the Don José of Candao and the genuinely moving Act III aria (“Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante”) of the Micaela of Margarita Gomez Giannelli.
Lopez-Molina’s “Habanera” was fresh and disarming, and flirting had a touch of class in her “Seguidilla.” The tenor sound of Candao soared as the evening progressed and made his “Flower Song” haunting and inexplicably touching.
In the four successive performances, beginning with the media preview, the Escamillo of baritone Noel Azcona singing the “Toreador Song” was solid and consistent, his exquisite ringing tone close to making his Act II aria the centerpiece of the opera.
The Zuñiga of Jun Jaranilla was at once commendable.
The ensemble chorus under Gideon Bendicion and the children’s choir under Christopher Boreia brought out the choral magic of the Bizet score.
In the technical department, the set design of Gino Gonzales made the most of what the theater could offer; the lighting of Monino Duque perfectly enhanced the dramatic intensity of the opera, especially in the last act when circles of blood-red designs swamped the stage in the tragic finale.
The star of the opera is, of course, Bizet’s music, and the Manila Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Molina made the score come alive with precise and pulsating beat. The orchestra was one with the singers and that made a lot of difference.
True enough—in the words of John Glenn Gaerlan, president of Lyric Opera of the Philippines—the road to “Carmen” did not end in the three performances but actually opened new roads that brought the company and the performers to new heights.
Tight and compact ballet
The ballet version, with additional music and arrangement by Rodion/Schedrin, was tight and compact, featuring the Carmen of Lisa Macuja; Don José of Rudy de Dios; Escamillo of Francis Cascano; and Micaela of Sofia Sangco Peralta.
The Carmen of Macuja had marked earthiness and commendable spunk. It was a total contrast to her Giselle and several notches the opposite of the playfulness of her Kitri in “Don Quixote.” Superb dancing and acting resulted in a highly appealing Carmen without the character’s tawdry elements.
The big bonus in Ballet Manila’s “Carmen” was Rudy de Dios as Don José, whose transformation from loyal soldier to deserter and forlorn suitor added more drama in the ballet version. His acting was real, his solo variations jaw-dropping and yet he was also a gem of a partner in the series of pas de deux.
Of the Don José during the weekend, De Dios was the most intense and the most brilliant actor, and to think that he had no lines to deliver as his medium was dance.
In the ballet version, the “Habanera,” “Seguidilla,” “Flower” aria and “Toreador Song” became dazzling solo variations and breath-taking pas de deux in this ballet favorite choreographed by Eric Cruz, the first artistic director of Ballet Manila.
If Lyric Opera had a fantastic chorus, the corps de ballet of Ballet Manila lived up to the part as good dancing ensemble as they did in “Giselle” and “Don Quixote.”
And so it happened that three Filipina Carmens died during the weekend in the same Bizet masterpiece.
Noted Macuja: “Undeniably sexy, ‘Carmen’ is an adult ballet with a PG rating. My own kids loved the part when Mama gets stabbed. I have ‘died’ many times onstage in many different roles, but Carmen is the best because she goes down laughing at the irony of it all.”