The city traffic welcomed me like an old friend last Saturday when I arrived in Manila from Tuguegarao. The cold, unexpected chills from the North vanished quite quickly after I stepped out of the plane. It was already 4pm and I have been up since 3 that morning. My eyes were heavy from the last day of the Luzonwide Press Conference, and I was just glad that I’m back home. But hitting the sack was still out of the question. I was scheduled to catch a show in Diliman, and I will have to crawl the weekend rush hour so I could be in Abelardo Hall just in time for dinner before the show.
Without a car, I luckily got a cab to bring me to Diliman. Much as I wanted to cancel, I promised Tito Toots that I’d be joining him to watch this Saturday show. It’s an Opera. Oh, God! Just thinking that I’d be sitting in a 2-hour show of arias and classical music, made me sleepy all the more. This was just what I needed. A long stream of lullabies and songs I don’t even understand to, at least, calm my nerves and hopefully bring me for a time to dreamland.
I arrived at the UP College of Music just in time to have a quick dinner. I was given a press kit and voila! it really was an Opera show. After overloading myself with carbs (rice, pasta, and more rice), I felt the slight tingling at my back and my eyelids slowly got heavier. I can’t wait for the cool air inside the auditorium, and the lullabies that would come with it.
The show was SEASONS OF DESIRE. Produced by Elaine Lee and directed for the stage by Nazer Salcedo, it featured music from Mozart and Verdi. Before the show started, Ms. Lee’s brother went up the stage to thank the audience and congratulate the cast and crew of the production. Apparently, this is a new material. Written for the stage by Vladimeir Gonzalez, it comes with a new story and script while using familiar pieces by Verdi and Mozart.
“One night only lang ito,” my friend Arnie whispered.
“Ay, talaga? Sana overnight only,” I whispered back. “Antok na antok ako, mare. Tamang tama ito sa pag-meme.”
And then curtains rose. Two female narrators entered the stage and started to tell a story.
Just so you know, I was up until the curtain call. I did not wink, nor did I step out. Different and daring, it was. SEASONS OF DESIRE is an Opera that surprised and entertained me the way Operas amazed audiences from decades ago.
Act 1 opens with a love story between a farmer and a baker. They met, and immediately fell in love. All was quick, contrived and structured. They married and eventually the baker bears a child. The baker died during childbirth, but gives life to sweet little Angela. However motherless, she is left with a loving father, and Angela grows up to be a fine, beautiful lady. Now that she’s a grown up, Angela, like her mother, loves baking and has started working for the Hopia de Leche Factory, owned by a vicious, bewitching man. He seduces Angela and abducts her. Now, it is his old father’s task to look for her and save her only daughter from an inevitable tragedy.
Soprano Elaine Lee plays the Baker and Angela. She extemporizes both roles with tireless gusto and raw enchantment. Though Ms. Lee still has limitations on physical flexibility on stage, her unmilled naturalness perfectly captures the innocence of her character. As Angela, she is the carefree and fancy girl, whose innocence is a lovely treat, and her tragedy — a grievous end. Lee’s interpretations of Signor ne Principe and Addio del Passato is enough to make it worth one’s time. Baritone Lawrence Jatayna, as the Father and Farmer, is boxed, calculated and guarded. No one can blame him, though. He is the father from old. The archetypal patriarch constrained by past misgivings. Jatayna gives off just the right energy in his songs. Tenor Ivan Nery, who plays the Evil Villain and Owner of the Hopia de Leche Factory, portrays the dangerous villain of the tales that we know. But here, Gonzalez experiments playfully around the character by injecting a pound of humor and wit, which Nery obliges to quite wonderfully. He is strong, cunning, self-absorbed, and yet we love him.
It is a shame if I don’t mention our storytellers. You see, the Narrators bring in a new look and feel for Opera. Jacqui Amper and Ruth Alferez are high-spirited tellers of the story’s narrative. While Amper talks to the audience in English, Alferez incredibly delivers a vernacular commentary. Yes, she talks in Filipino! She even translates some of the songs for her audience.
That’s what I’m talking about. That’s what makes the difference!
This production offers a new form for Opera. It comes with a familiar language for something we normally brush off as boring, unnecessary, overly cultured, limiting, and not to mention sleep-inducing. Lee’s production presents a clear path for an alternative future for the genre. It still comes with the same sound and taste; and yet it is crisp, contemporary and surprisingly accessible.
Further, what also hit me is how the story deconstructs the formula for doleful ends. Unlike the usual stories that we know, tragedies end softly, denying redemption and transformation. Here, however, Gonzalez’ characters deliver an unconventional absolution. The Villain’s silent decision to take the better path suggests that, in life, there is still purpose and beauty in misfortunes.
SEASONS OF DESIRE makes use of the usual plot structure one expects from Operas. It is contrived, melodramatic, overly theatrical and at some point exaggerated. It faithfully follows the rising drama we are all so familiar with, and its telenovelic conflicts are anything but rare. Like other Operas, SEASONS plays with the conventional structure of the genre. I somehow felt that Salcedo deliberately satirizes Opera and its structure, but still glorifies it in the process. Unlike other productions, SEASONS doesn’t try to be great. It simply wants to tell a story and entertain until its end. Through its simplicity, it amazingly hit the mark. Like the addicting telenovelas of our Primetime Bida and Dramarama sa Hapon, SEASONS proves itself as captivating, tear-jerking, entertaining and close to home.
Because I left the car in Laguna, and it was already past 10pm, there were no more UP-PHILCOA jeepneys around when we stepped out of the Abelardo Hall. So, Arnie and I decided to brave the dark University Avenue to walk to Philcoa. I didn’t complain. SEASONS OF DESIRE’s bravery to challenge form and structure was enough to keep me up all night.
I just hope that we get to see more musicals like these in the future.
This is the kind of Opera that we need!
Special thanks to my walking companion Arnie Alesna for the banner photo. Love you, mare!