Originally published in UniquelyPinoy.com on October 22, 2015
Opera was born in Italy in the 16th century and there was a time when Filipinos would dress up and stand in line to catch a ‘zarzuela’ or an opera. It was the time when, we, as a People have embraced such genres and considered it a part, not just of our culture, but our lifestyle. Now, the question is, how far have we gone in our appreciation of Opera as a discipline and as a genre?
UniquelyPinoy gets the chance to meet with Karla Gutierrez, president and artistic director of the PHILIPPINE OPERA COMPANY (POC). She attained her Bachelor of Music Degree, Majoring in Voice from the University of the Philippines’ College of Music, under the tutelage of Prof. Fides Cuyugan-Asensio. She pursued further studies in Opera Interpretations with the Accademia Internazionale delle Arti in Rome, Italy under the supervision of Maestra Doris Andrews.
“Way before the Cultural Center of the Philippines was constructed, there was a historical structure–The Manila Grand Opera House. It was the main venue of operas during the 19th century in Manila,” Karla narrates.
“In 1902, it was transformed by Italian impresario Balzofiore in time for a visiting Italian Opera Company. The acoustics of the opera house was so sophisticated that even a whisper of the actors could be heard by the audience. Spanish Tenor named Miguel Fleta had a major concert in the era of the 1920’s.”
According to her, The Manila Grand Opera House produced grand concerts that featured Filipinos, and foreign artists. The said grand venue became a home to new and seasoned performers. It served as the center of Philippine culture and the primary theater for the seeing of plays, vaudevilles, and zarzuelas in the 1960s. Also, “these venues not only served as an entertainment for Filipinos, but it honed Filipino musical skills, through their exposure and occasional participation as musicians in these opera productions,” Karla adds.
In the early 20th century, the Philippines was able to produce SANDUGONG PANAGUINIP, which featured LADISLAO BONUS – The Father of Philippine Opera.
Unfortunately, due to emergence of television, the popularity of the Opera House eventually declined.
Some 15 years ago, Karla had the chance to perform in Italy. Being the only Filipina in the cast, she realized that she was the only one who wasn’t affiliated with an opera company. As she pursued her studies in Rome, she developed her dream to establish her own opera company in the Philippines to pursue her passion and, at the same time, motivate Filipino talents and enthusiasts to rekindle their love for Opera.
In 2000, Karla flew back to the Philippines with the burning desire to set up her own guild of singers, actors and musicians.
Thus, the birth of The Philippine Opera Company.
“My mom didn’t talk to me for a month. It took a month to convince my mom that I’m serious with my plan of putting up a company. She wanted me to focus on my singing because I was young and had a future internationally,” Karla recalls.
“Our first production was HANSEL AND GRETEL, a co-production with Repertory Philippines. It was successful. Of course, with Tita Bibot and Tita Baby around, how can you not be ‘singing actors!’”
The POC started their opera season in 2005. In 2008, they produced their 2nd season with LA BOHEME (their first full-length opera), re-staging of MASTER CLASS, MAGIC GLUTE and OPERA-LITE.
“It was very ambitious,” says Karla. “Most especially staging an opera is super expensive!”
Of course, POC cannot go on without passing through some rough times. In this era of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; of KathNiel, and AlDub; the Opera as a form of entertainment thrives to continue to bring the same delight and education for its audiences.
“We are still in the educating stage when it comes to classical music and opera. We are not exposed to culture and arts anymore. Gone are the days wherein field trips are going to the museums,” Karla says. “That’s why I super envy the other countries where you see kindergarten kids go to the museum and they have arts appreciation kits for children.”
It is unfortunate that in our own curriculum, the study of Music was made limited. Though part of MAPE (Music, Arts and Physical Education), there are times when the lack of teachers obliges even PE teachers to teach Music.
“How can the students enjoy classical music?” Karla asks. “They (would) think listening to classical music is torture, because the one teaching them might not have the needed strategies to make teaching classical music fun.”
This year, in celebration of its 15th anniversary, The Philippine Opera Company brings back one of its most successful musical-revue in recent years: ANG BAGONG HARANA.
“Our heritage is starting to fade away,” says Karla, when asked why they’re bringing back ‘ANG BAGONG HARANA’ to the Philippine Stage.
“We Filipinos don’t anymore know how beautiful and rich our culture and music is. Instead of patronizing Western music, we need to go back to our roots to know who we really are. Children nowadays with technology of iPad and the Internet, don’t get much socialization anymore. They don’t go out and play piko, tumbang preso, or taguan. They don’t anymore sing ‘SI FILIMON’ or ‘LERON, LERON, SINTA!’ It’s sad that our folk songs will eventually fade away. So in our small way, we would like to contribute something to our society, to bring back awareness and educate our children of the beauty of our culture and of course to bring back the pride of being Pinoy.”
Directed by Floy Quintos, ‘ANG BAGONG HARANA’ features Filipino talents and takes us back to the days when culture and music was still purely Filipino.
“And it’s hard to cast artists for HARANA, simply because, they need to be classically trained,” adds Karla.
“In ‘ANG BAGONG HARANA’, we need the stamina to sing and dance for more than one hour; hitting those high notes with emotions. Not to mention the 30-second quick changes!”
From children’s songs to tribal chants, from planting songs to courtship ditties, from stirring kundiman to the delightful showstoppers by Sylvia la Torre, ‘ANG BAGONG HARANA’ will showcase the best of all the Filipino composers from different music genres — Nicanor Abelardo, Ryan Cayabyab, Willy Cruz, Francisco Santiago, Antonio Molina, Resti Umali, George Canseco, Ernani Cuenco, Levi Celerio, Jose Estrella, Constancio De Guzman and Felipe de Leon, to name a few.
Catch the closing weekend on October 23, 24 and 25 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza Makati. Come see and feel the richness of our culture and heritage. Join the Philippine Opera Company as they travel back in time to remind us how great our music is, and how talented our contemporary classical singers are in this production. For ticket sales, call Philippine Opera Company at (632) 8229609 or +639175272880 or TicketWorld at (632) 891-9999 or Like its Facebook page.
“It’s just a simple show. No sets. No frills. Just pure talent, and Direk Floy’s script is…grabeng tagos sa puso. Manhid ka na kung hindi ka lumabas ng teatro na hindi tinamaan,” Karla tells me as we wrap up.
“As actors/singers we need to tell a story… relay a message of how beautiful our country is. In ANG BAGONG HARANA, we always remind our audiences to LOVE OUR OWN AND SUPPORT OUR OWN.”
Now that’s uniquely Pinoy!