Thursday, October 19, 2017

Philippine history from a Spanish perspective at Pelikula

Director Salvador Calvo being interviewed

The smashing box office success of Heneral Luna back in 2015 has heightened the interest not just for historical films but for Philippine history as well. With the film’s sequel Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral, still in works, the 16th edition of PELÍCULA-PELIKULA, Spanish Film Festival, offered the next best thing for historical film buffs: 1898. Los últimos de Filipinas/1898, Our Last Men in the Philippines.

Depicting the plight of Spanish soldiers held under siege inside a church in Baler, Aurora during the final days of the Philippine-Spanish War, the movie made its Philippine premiere was the opening film of the festival with the director himself, Salvador Calvo, in attendance.

The screening of the film during opening night was preceded by cocktail reception held at the Ayala Museum with actor John Arcilla (Heneral Luna) and director Mark Meily (Baler) among the distinguished guests. A brief chat with Arcilla over some drinks led me to discover that he once played on stage the role of Martín Cerezo, the Spanish Lieutenant who is among the main characters in the film.

1898. Los últimos de Filipinas/1898, Our Last Men in the Philippines

Narrating a pivotal moment in the shared history of the Philippines and Spain but from a Spanish perspective, 1898. Los últimos de Filipinas (2016) starts beautifully with aerial shots of the newest Spanish detachment wading chest deep through a river. Stunning the visuals may be, but the film was shot in Equatorial Guinea as having it done on location in the Philippines would’ve been too far and costly. The sweeping landscape at the start would quickly give way to the small village and the claustrophobic confines of the church once the siege starts.

Serving as the audience’s eyes is the young soldier Carlos (Álvaro Cervantes), a fictional character created for the film. An aspiring artist who only enlisted to earn a recommendation letter for art school once the war is over, Carlos is presented as an unwilling participant in the war. I felt that his character wasn’t aware of the horrors of the centuries’ long Spanish rule that has led the locals to revolt in the first place. Carlos is a direct contrast to Lt. Martín Cerezo (Luis Tosar) whose stern defense of the church is matched only by his denial that the war between the Philippines and Spain was already over.

Speaking of the locals, the villagers’ characters and personalities weren’t fleshed out with the exception of Teresa (Alexandra Masangkay), the whore who tempted the Spanish soldiers with her seductive singing. The other women were depicted as whores/temptresses like Teresa and it made me curious to see if this was how Cerezo saw the Filipinos in his memoirs El Sitio de Baler which Calvo said was one of the source material for the film.

This film is another piece of the puzzle in the bigger picture which is Philippine history. The viewer then has to figure out what was real and what was fiction or changed for dramatic effect. Interesting to note also is how history is skewed in favor of the film maker’s country of origin. And as someone who came from the other side, how I tried to nitpick and look for inaccuracies in the film. 

Salvador Calvo is all smiles before the screening of his film

But for whatever this film is worth, this screening is very timely as the Philippines is steeped in too much political intrigue of late and looking back at history is essential to make sure that the country moves forward towards the right direction. It made me want to brush up on my Philippine history like what the film Heneral Luna did for a lot of people. It also made me want to get an English translation of Cerezo's memoirs if it's available.

PELÍCULA-PELIKULA, Spanish Film Festival was presented by Instituto Cervantes, Manila.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A merry outing for Philippine Ballet Theatre's rising ballerinas

The Merry Widow's matinee cast

Two of Philippine Ballet Theatre’s young and award winning ballerinas, Kim Abrogena and Veronica Atienza were the belles of the ball at The Merry Widow, the company’s second production of its 31st season.

Adapted from Franz Lehár’s operetta Die lustige Witwe, this comic ballet restaged by PBT’s artistic director Ronilo Jaynario, is a breath of fresh air from the usual romantic, tragic, classical ballets where the lead female role ends up dying.

The Merry Widow's evening cast

So Kim and Veronica, making their principal role debuts in this production, do not die in the end. The two alternated the role of Hannah Glawari, who happens to be a widow (so it’s her husband who died off stage even before the start of the ballet). And the poor, grieving widow was thrust into the schemes of the Pontevedrian Ambassador Baron Mirko Zeta, his young wife Valencienne and French Attaché Camille, Count de Rosillon, in an attempt to make sure that her wealth will remain in financially strapped Pontevedro. And this would be made possible if she ends up marrying Count Danilo Danilovitsch, First Secretary of the Pontevedrian Embassy. In typical opera fashion, it is revealed that Count Danilo and Hannah were former lovers and what should’ve been an easy route to rekindled love has to go through complications (and an affair by Camille and Valencienne). But since this is a comedy, everything gets sorted in the end and Count Danilo and Hannah end up in each other’s arms, Baron Zeta gives Valencienne her freedom to be with Count Camille and Pontevedro is saved from financial ruin.

I’ve seen Kim dance a handful of times already and her previous roles as the Dew Drop Fairy, Odette and Nikiya paved the way for her to do a more rounded portrayal of Hannah, showing both elegance and vulnerability. Veronica, on the other hand, displayed clean technique and impeccable extension. Still only in her late teens, Veronica’s youth and that aura of innocence just made it hard for me to be fully convinced of her portrayal of Hannah. But she still remains as one of the most exciting ballerinas who burst into the scene last season and I’ve been a huge fan since then.

Martin Buczko and Kim Abrogena

I’ve actually had the same view about Kim some years ago, that she still felt like a girl, when I first saw her dance the role of the Dew Drop Fairy at The Nutcracker. With her Hannah, I finally saw her as a young woman who can confidently pull off principal roles.

Both Kim and Veronica had the chance to be partnered by guest danseur Martin Buczko, who danced the role of Count Danilo. The towering Martin made quite an impression with his first appearance on stage that had him turning and leaping as if he was drunk. He showed enough looseness to be in character but still in control exhibiting unconventional technique. And to see a tall, lean danseur on stage who is secure with his pirouettes and has superb extension with his high kicks was a sight to behold.

Martin Buczko and Veronica Atienza

PBT veterans Lobreza Pimentel and Regina Magbitang weren’t left in the dust as both alternated the role of Valencienne. The role gave both the chance to be spunky, naughty, and flirty while still showing their signature bravura technique like doing effortless fouettés while wearing a ball gown. Another veteran, Peter San Juan danced the role of Camille with reckless abandon as if there’s no more tomorrow but still maintaining that comic timing which is second nature for him.

This production of The Merry Widow showed the formidable strength of Philippine Ballet Theatre’s lead ballerinas with the fast rising Kim and Veronica now joining the ever reliable duo Lobreza and Regina. I have no doubts that all four could dance lead roles for the company now and it’s just a matter of rotating them to give each her own share of the spotlight. The male members of the company do not have the same depth and it’s up for them to step up and be at par with their female counterparts.

The wait is on for Philippine Ballet Theatre’s third and final production of the season with the all-time favorite The Nutcracker happening this November 18-19, 2017. But right now, I need to acquaint myself to the operetta in which the ballet The Merry Widow was adapted from.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The joy of a string quartet with the Mandelring Quartett

Mandelring Quartett
Sebastian Schmidt, Nanette Schmidt, Andreas Willwohl, and Bernhard Schmidt

The Berlin based Mandelring Quartett treated Manila audiences to the joy of hearing a string quartet performance characterized by an extremely balanced, tight, precise, and cohesive playing rarely seen on the local stage.

Composed of violinists Sebastian Schmidt and Nanette Schmidt, violist Andreas Willwohl, and cellist Bernhard Schmidt, the quartet presented a program that was thematically linked by the String Quartet No. 19 in C major, K.465 “Dissonanzen-Quartett” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The Mozart piece, with its purity and transparency, served as a great introduction to the Mandelring’s sound. I am typically drawn to the middle tones (2nd violin and viola) rather than the outer ones and the quartet’s balanced playing made it easy for me to pick out those tones that add texture and depth to the overall sound. It was amazing to hear a quartet produce such resonating tones with just four musicians on stage.

This was soon followed by the world premiere of Jeffrey Ching’s Quartett-Dissonanzen. Meant to be a sequel to Mozart’s Dissonanzen-Quartett, this piece was composed for and dedicated to the Mandelring Quartett. Strains of the preceding Mozart that was still fresh in my mind made this more palatable than other Jeffrey Ching works that I’ve seen and heard before. The most interesting parts for me were the two fugues, the first had all four instruments muted as if the music was contained and itching to go out. At the second fugue, the mutes were off but the music was an inversion of the previous one. It was as if the music crossed to a mirror dimension and got transformed. There were some parts in the piece when the quartet did some bowing and plucking action without making contact with the strings. I know that these were notated on the score but I won’t pretend that I understood what those meant.

With the Dissonanzen pieces done and over with, it was time for me to relish Antonín Dvořák’s String Quartet No. 12 in F major, Op. 96 "American" which I consider as the little brother to his New World Symphony. No offense to Mozart, but I find this piece more appealing and charming as it has more character in it which the Mandelring was able to fully showcase. I also savored watching the quartet in action give the minutest of cues to each other. It was almost that each has a sixth sense of the others. Glorious also were the crescendos done with such balance that it brought me goosebumps. Sadly that this piece didn’t last that long. But they indulged the audience with more Dvořák with their encore of his Waltz in A major, Op. 54 No. 1.

RAd with the Mandelring Quartett

I am extremely pleased to have seen the Mandelring Quartett perform in here since it’s rare to see chamber music performances, especially by string quartets, by those who perform regularly and exclusively as such. Typically, musicians in here just form groups for a specific concert and then go their separate ways soon after. This often results in performances by a not so cohesive group and it shows that they’re individuals who just gathered to play this certain piece. But it wasn’t the case with the Mandelring Quartett’s performance. They may be four musicians, but they played as one. I wish that I was able to attend their masterclass the morning after but the early time didn’t allow me to catch it.

Lastly, it was unfortunate that Jeffrey Ching wasn’t present to witness the world premiere of his work. That meant also missing the chance to discuss the work with him over drinks right after the concert which we had done before a few times.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

L’Elisir d’amore to premiere in Manila

That intoxicating feeling of love is in the air as one of the world’s most beloved operas, Gaetano Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore, finally gets its Manila premiere with a limited two performance run this October 7 & 8, 2017 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

For years, small, abridged concert stagings have been performed in here but a full production of this opera has never been done. Now, thanks to the Rustan Commercial Corporation, Cultural Center of the Philippines, and The Peninsula Manila, in cooperation with the Philippine-Italian Association under the auspices of the Italian Embassy that this is seeing the light of day.

Nemorino (David Astorga) hangs on to Adina's (Elena Monti) every word

This production boasts of an international cast led by Italian soprano Elena Monti (Adina), Costa Rican tenor David Astorga (Nemorino), and Italian bass Francesco Vultaggio (Dulcamara). Korean baritone Byeong-In Park (Belcore) and our very own Rachelle Gerodias-Park (Gianetta) round up the cast. They will be joined by Coro Tomasino under Ronan Ferrer and Philippine Ballet Theatre under Anatoly Panasyukov.

Providing live music is the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of former principal conductor/music director Ruggiero Barbieri.

Dulcamara (Francesco Vultaggio) making outrageous claims

I had the opportunity to take a sneak peek and watch the technical dress rehearsal. It is so tempting to describe what I saw and heard in detail and also to post a lot more photos in here but that would be  telling. I want others to see the opera for themselves. All I can say is that David’s Una furtiva lagrima was so exquisite that there were shouts of bravo from the small number of audience present and those at the wings after he finished the famous aria.

This may sound trivial but for me it’s extremely vital: thank goodness that there will be a real harp in this, or else, Una furtiva… will be ruined.

Belcore (Byeong-In Park) proposes a toast at his wedding

Director Vincenzo Grisostomi Travaglini leads the artistic and production team along with Direction Consultant Sisowath Ravivaddhana Monipong. Completing the team are Maurizio Varamo (Set Design), Flavio Monti (Set Project Assistant), Otello Camponeschi (Costume Design), and Giovanni Pirandello (Lighting Design).  

Gianetta (Rachelle Gerodias-Park) spreading gossip

This production of L’Elisir d’amore is in celebration of the 70th Anniversary of the diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Italy as well at the 65th Sapphire Anniversary of the Rustan Group of Companies. This project is made possible through the sponsorship of Royal Duty Free Shops, Hermes, Debenhams, Rustan Marketing Corporation, Rustan Supercenters, Inc., Megaworld, and Bergamo.

This opera fundraiser is produced by Zenaida R. Tantoco with Nestor O. Jardin and Dr. Raul M. Sunico as Executive Producers. Proceeds from this will benefit the construction of the San Pablo Apostol Parish Church in Tondo, Manila.

Nemorino (David Astorga) sings Una furtiva lagrima

Gala Night performance of L’Elisir d’amore is on October 7, 2017, 8:00 PM and the matinee performance is on October 8, 2017, 3:00 PM at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo.
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