45-year-old virgin opera; tribute to Fides Cuyugan Asensio | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

An original Filipino opera has finally been staged 45 years after it was written.

The University of the Philippines’ College of Music recently presented the world premiere of Ramon Santos’ “Ang Mahiwagang Hardin” at the college’s Abelardo Hall.

And at the heels of presenting new work, the college takes a look back via a concert featuring excerpts of lyrics/libretti written by its professor emeritus, coloratura soprano Fides Cuyugan Asensio.

Asensio’s own Music Theater Foundation Philippines, in cooperation with the UP College of Music, presents “Applause: A Musicale Retrospect” on Aug. 4-5, also at Abelardo Hall.

Santos’ virgin opera was finally deflowered, thanks to Christopher Borela’s search for material to fulfill the thesis of his Master in Choral Conducting degree.

“My journey began more than two years ago with the search for an opera, sarswela or musical composed by a Filipino,” said Borela. “The composition should be meaty and the composer should be of merit.

“Santos submitted ‘Mahiwagang Hardin’ as a requirement for his Bachelor of Music Composition degree in the UP Conservatory (now College) of Music.” The opera piano-vocal score was finished on May 15, 1965.

Also a professor emeritus of the college, Santos is a world-renowned composer whose works have been performed in major music festivals around the world. He has done extensive studies in Philippine traditional music and Southeast Asian and Southern China music.

The arts community and music aficionados were in an uproar in 2009 when Santos was elected for National Artist of the Philippines but was removed by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Extremely challenging

“I admit that I had not been aware of this opera,” said Borela. “Santos composed the music and wrote the libretto himself. I found the music extremely challenging.”

The opera is described as a “musical journey that crosses the real and surreal to illustrate that truth, love and beauty transcends time, place and form.” Nine-year-old blind orphan Ligaya lives with her flower friends in the enchanted garden and becomes endeared to Binata. Dama de Noche foretells the impending doom of Ligaya.

“I found the music for the chorus very interesting and powerful,” said Borela. “The melody is very tonal. The dances sound like Stravinsky. The vocal lines for Dama de Noche and Binata are complex and atonal. The musical style for these characters stresses intense emotions and harsh dissonance. The accompaniment seems not to aid the singing. The overture begins with an ever-changing motif of minor, major and even modal forms.”

He noted several other technical elements of the composition that rendered the opera as “different and challenging,” but graciously gave way to oversimplifying the description to aid non-opera experts as “definitely even more dissonant than Sondheim.”

Director was Roselle Pineda, a professor for the Department of Art Studies, College of Arts and Letters; and choreographer was Angel Lawenko-Baguilat, artistic director of UP Dance Company.

For the cast, Borela recruited two-time European Gran Prix winner UP Madrigal Singers, as well as Jesper Mercado, Mary Jane Egloso, Biance Camille Lopez, Kitbielle Pagui and Ervin Lumauag.

“Applause: A Musicale Retrospect” is Asensio’s “gesture of thanking the artists, supporters and friends who have been supporting her through the years.” Her foundation gives scholarships to young classical performers.

Asensio was the first Filipina to receive a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. She established her career upon returning to Manila and eventually became chair of the Voice and Music Theater Department at the college from the late 1980s to the late ’90s.

The concert lineup includes “Amy” (work in progress); “Larawan at Kababaihan: Mukha at Maskara,” music by Lucrecia Kasilag; “Mayo—Bisperas ng Liwanag” (inspired by “Mayday Eve” of Nick Joaquin), music by Rey Paguio; “Spoliarium,” an opera on the life of Juan Luna, music by Ryan Cayabyab; “Why Flowers Bloom in May,” music by Kasilag; “Song of Joseph,” a musical on the life, love and death of St. Joseph,” music by Raymond Roldan; and “La Loba Negra,” music by Francisco Feliciano.

Directors for the concert include Behn Cervantes, Alex Cortez, Nazer Salcedo, Henry Tejero, Noel Cabazor, Tony Mabesa and Alegria Ferrer.

“Applause: A Musicale Retrospect” runs Aug. 4-3 p.m., and Aug. 5, 7 p.m., Abelardo Hall, UP College of Music. Proceeds will fund ongoing scholarships in the field of arts, music and music theater. Contact 4121575, 9296963, 0919-6577961, or [email protected].

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