Philippine Daily Inquirer
A grand Verdi Requiem by PPO
AMID THE agony of Japan, Verdi’s Requiem was a timely offering by the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra.
Like it or not, the Verdi masterpiece could help humankind come to terms with death and destruction. It’s music that could bring about temporal and spiritual renewal.
The grand choir—composed of the UP Madrigal Singers; the Adventist University of the Philippines Ambassadors Choral Arts Society; and the Ateneo Chamber Singers—provided astounding musical backdrop on which the audience could judge the soloists: soprano Helen Lyons, mezzo soprano Nicole Birkland, baritone Andrew Fernando and tenor Gary del Rosario.
The concert opened with Verdi’s Overture to “Nabucco,” after which the audience was treated to a premature 10minute intermission. Then the Requiem was performed without break, whichwas good decision since it afforded the audience the chance to appreciate better the colossal musical structure of the piece.
With the “Nabucco” Overture, it was obvious the PPO was in good shape. Conductor Olivier Ochanine made sure it would be a memorable evening.
Some trumpeters were positioned in the theater’s lower box; the result was that it looked like Judgment Day, especially in the tuba mirum passage. Music analysts call this the resulting combination of brass and choral quadruple-fortissimo markings resulting in some of the loudest unamplified music ever written.
One must say the opening “Introit” and “Kyrie” with soloists was a poignant call to prayer with a magnificent chorus unleashing its mighty sound in “Dies Irae,” tuba mirum sections. On this part, Fernando made a solemn, powerful entrance matched by Birkland’s revealing presence in “Liber scriptus” section.
Fernando was again a formidable vocal force to reckon with in the “Confutatis” part.
In the “Ingemisco” part, Del Rosario was given the chance to show off the quality of his tenor sound. It was on the whole a piercing, solid projection, but with palpable volume that didn’t quite match the chorus and the other soloists.
Birkland, Del Rosario and Fernando were soloists to behold in the “ Lux aeterna” part.
Lyons, though not an astounding Verdi soloist, managed to match the chorus and sing above it with flying colors. It made “ Libera me” an apocalyptic and highly dramatic finale.
To this writer, it was the PPO at one of its best and Ochanine at his most-inspired moments. They deserved that rousing ovation.
Originally a musical setting for a Roman Catholic funeral Mass, Verdi’s Requiem was chosen as a fitting event to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Italy’s unification.
Italian Ambassador Luca Fornari said Verdi was the most influential Italian composer of the 19th century. He said the music of Verdi’s “Nabucco” and Requiem was shared by Italian patriots during the reunification movement. Proof of this was that a favorite among supporters of Italian reunification was the “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” from the opera “ Nabucco” (1842).
Nedy Tantoco of Rustan’s, president of the Philippine-Italian Association, noted that the Italian National Day coincided with the 150th anniversary of José Rizal’s birthday.
To be sure, the PhilippineItalian cultural connection didn’t start with the founding of the Philippine-Italian Association
First operatic divas
The country’s first operatic divas—Isang Tapales and Jovita Fuentes (the latter declared a National Artist for Music)— their first international debuts in Italy in 1924 as Cio Cio San in the Puccini opera “Madama Butterfly.”
In 1932, a Filipino bass baritone named José Mossesgeld Santiago-Font made his La Scala debut as Sparafucile in the Verdi opera “Rigoletto.” He was the first Filipino to sing in that revered Milan theater.
The second Filipino singer to make it to La Scala was tenor Arthur Espiritu from Tanay, Rizal, who sang Ferrando in theMozart opera “Cosi Fan Tutte” in 2007.
Tapales’ international career started in Italy, in Milan and Florence.
Tapales had sung 1,047 performances of “Madama Butterfly” (as Cio Cio San), over 200 “Bohemes” (as Mimi) and “Pagliacci” (as Nedda) and over 100 “Iris,” the composer of which, Pietro Mascagni, also composed “Cavalleria Rusticana.”
Tapales was the first Filipino soprano to sing with such world-famous Italian tenors as Giacomo Lauri-Volpi and Beniamino Gigli, who inherited the crown of Enrico Caruso.
Tapales was also the first Filipina to sing in Pavarotti’s hometown in Modena, where she sang Mascagni’s “Iris” with Pavarotti’s opera idol, Gigli.
Tapales met Gigli in the Royal Opera House of Cairo in Egypt, where the latter sang Kioto (in the opera “Iris”). They met again at the Opera Comique in Paris, where she sang Butterfly with the Italian tenor as her Pinkerton (he was the first tenor to sing the lead role in Giordano’s “Andrea Chenier” on March 7, 1920). When Gigli died in 1957, Tapales said she “died a little.”
Italy’s operatic star of the 1920s and ’30s, soprano Amelita Gulli-Curci, also sang at the Manila Metropolitan Theater and appeared in several operatic productions in Milan with the Philippines’ foremost bass baritone, José Mossesgeld Santiago-Font.
Milan of the Orient
Renata Tebaldi, supposedly Maria Callas’ fierce rival, sang in Manila in the ’70s with Franco Corelli, another idol of Pavarotti.
The goddess of opera that she was, Tebaldi proved she was human, too, when she cracked in a “Manon Lescaut” aria at Philamlife Theater. After that unfortunate incident, she massaged her throat with her hands, genuflected and bowed to ask for apology. She was greeted with a grand applause.
Manila was also referred to as the “Milan of the Orient” because of the proliferation of opera productions and the emergence of world-class Filipino operatic talents.
Recalled baritone Nomer Son, who had witnessed the Golden Age of opera in the Philippines : The exchange rate in the ‘ 50s was P2 to $1. That waswhy when Iwas studying in the United States in the late ‘50s I could buy a box ticket to watch Zinka [Milanov], [Renata] Tebaldi, Rise Steven, Jan Peerce, Mario del Monaco and many others at the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York for P15 [$7.50]. However, it cost only P5 to watch at 10 a.m. after my Sunday ROTC at UST to walk over to Morayta to see all of Arrigo Pola’s performances, at FEU theater. There, on another Sunday, I also saw the only opera starred in and produced by José Mossesgeld Santiago Font’s Faust—also for 5 bucks. At about the same time, a thirdrun movie house along Echague repeatedly showed the movie ‘Faust’ starring Ferrucio Tagliavini with Italo Tajo as Mephistopheles. I saw all the reruns, which at P.50 was a steal. Italo was in RP in 1979 as the sacristan in ‘Tosca’ at the CCP.”
Indeed, the Filipino-Italian musical ties go back a long way, even before the advent of Armani suits and Prada bags.