The cast numbers 30 actors. The pit houses 35-piece orchestra musicians. On sheer numbers alone, the Noli Me Tangere Opera is a large-scale production. The opera is based on an epic novel: the 1887 historical classic by Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippines’ National Hero.
The ambition is huge as well: the East Coast premiere of the Philippines’ first full-length grand opera — the first Filipino-language opera composed in the European opera format.
The limited run of Noli Me Tangere Opera, featuring music by Felipe de Leon and a libretto by Guillermo Tolentino (both Philippine National Artists), runs at The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College from Friday, October 4 through Sunday, October 6, 2013.
Although it is considered the most performed Filipino opera, the entire work has rarely been completely realized on any stage with a full orchestra since it first debuted in 1957.
“Filipino Americans are not known to produce a full-scale opera because it’s very expensive to produce one,” said Michael Dadap, the show’s conductor and musical director at a recent rehearsal in New York. “At the same time, Filipino American investors are more attracted to shows that are not ours; they’re very skeptical.”
He continued, “However, both Filipino American and American audiences shouldn’t miss this rare musical experience. Noli Me Tangere Opera is every Filipino’s story set to Felipe de Leon’s finest score. This operatic masterpiece by de Leon and Guillermo has great sense of nationalism. The lyrics are in Tagalog (supertitles in English will be provided), which make it even more powerful for the Filipino Americans in the audience.”
De Leon and Guillermo were obsessed with Rizal’s landmark novel; they finished the opera in 1957. It was, however, not the first Filipino opera ever written. That honor belongs to Sandugong Panaginip, a 1902 work with a libretto by Pedro Paterno and music by Ladislao Bonus. The difference is that Sandugong Panaginip was a one-act Tagalog opera made up of five scenes, while De Leon’s Noli opera was written with three acts, making it the country’s first full-length grand opera.
Loida Nicolas Lewis, New York-based businesswoman, philanthropist and this production’s chairperson, led the opera’s New York debut after she first saw a performance in Chicago in June 2012. It was the opera’s American premiere, performed by a diverse cast.
“The music of de Leon is world-class in that vein of Puccini and Verdi,” said Lewis. “Filipinos should be proud. This is our own.”
The musical presentation follows the story of Juan Crisostomo Ibarra who returns to the Philippines after pursuing scholarly studies in Europe. He plans to open up a school and marry Maria Clara, his bethrothed. However, parish priest Padre Damaso, the archenemy of the Ibarras, is out to hinder Crisostomo’s plans, which creates “a dramatic storyline of forbidden love, betrayal and revenge.”
This New York event is culturally significant in many larger aspects as well. It comes at the heels of the 100th anniversary year of the birth of the opera’s fiercely nationalistic composer Felipe Padilla de Leon. It also marks a small triumph for the Foundation for Filipino Artists, which has given new life to the Noli opera by making it the centerpiece of the foundation’s 25th anniversary year of promoting Philippine arts and culture in the United States.
The Noli opera stars world-renowned Filipino opera singers Sal Malaki (Juan Crisostomo Ibarra), Antoni Mendezona (Maria Clara), Andrew Fernando (Padre Damaso), Robert Perlas Gomez (Elias) and Maria Christina Navarro (Sisa) and young singer Kirby Asunto (Basilio). It also features a diverse ensemble cast: Brad Arreglado, Jonathan Estabrooks, Rosemarie Flores, May Hackett, William Lim, Brittany Palmer, Allan Samonte, Rina Saporantos, Elijah Sirilan, Zion Sirilan, Ulises Solano, Sherwin Su, Lisa Villamaria and Resty Yongco.
Besides Dadap (artistic and musical direction), creative and production team members also include May Pamana (direction), Rene Dalandan (assistant stage direction), Kristin Jackson (choreography), Jeff Davis (lighting design), Jerry Sibal (set and costume design), Natalie Qing Zhang (stage management) and Clare Chujie Xu (assistant stage management).
For tickets ($60-$150), call 646-415-1853, email email@example.com or visit nolimetangereoperanyc.org