Monday, March 05, 2012

A Night at the Opera

They say that opera is an unknown, if not unappreciated, art form in the Philippines, so in an attempt to rectify this situation and introduce this classical medium to the public, the Cultural Center of the Philippines in cooperation with equally minded organizations such as the Opera Guild Foundation of the Philippines, Music Artes of Jay Glorioso and the Rustan’s Philippine Italian Association have decided to produce three operas that will be presented at the CCP main theater this year.

First up would be Guissepe Verdi's La Traviata as scheduled this March, followed by Giacomo Puccini's Madame Butterfly this coming June and finally Rossini's The Barber of Seville in July.
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To cut to the chase, I'm no art or theater afficcionado but I was willing to give this long-standing tradition a try---even if I had trouble finding someone to come with me that I ended up dragging bringing my mother along  and  was eventually accosted by the smell of expensive perfume and liniment (think BenGay and Tiger balm) wafting along our balcony seats just to see La Traviata as performed by artists from the Daejeon Opera Company.

I always wondered who came to these events, not realizing that aside from the usual suspects who were composed of patrons in old lace, long gowns, pearls and had coiffed hair, you also have family members who support young, aspiring artists who pursue a career in dance or music, not because it's a lucrative career but mainly for the sheer love of it. Seated to my right was the proud family of one of the chorale singers from the University of Santo Tomas and to my left were the friends of someone who I assume was part of the philharmonic orchestra that provided the musical accompaniment.

They played the national anthem, flashed a short synopsis of the first act; the curtain was drawn and we were off witnessing an ostentatious party held at Violeta's Paris salon.

I had a vague notion of what the story was about so even though it was sung in a foreign tongue by artists in frilly outfits amidst a soporific backdrop of billowing curtains, candelabras and a chandelier, I was prepared to sit through this tragic tale of a courtesan who gave up everything when she fell in love only to be needlessly rejected and humiliated by the man she loves.

So after three acts and about four intermissions, I can proudly say that I survived my very first opera without falling asleep, thanks in part to the offhand yet entertaining comments of a little boy who kept asking his father the following questions while the rest of us were waiting for the courtesan to die already---Is Violeta going to die? What is she going to die of? How come people are applauding her when she's dying? 

As for me, the question on my mind at the time was, "Is La Traviata the source material for Greta Garbo's Camille and is Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge! a loose adaptation of it?"For surely, not all courtesans end up dying of consumption nor do all spurned lovers end up throwing a wad of money at at the said courtesan insisting, "I owe you nothing" in public.

Turns out I was wrong on both counts as a quick search on wikipedia revealed the above two productions as mere adaptations of an Alexandre Dumas novel called The Lady of the Camellias Apparently it was first turned into a stage play in 1852 and was later put to music by Verdi, then  made into a film by George Cukor in 1936 and finally became an inspiration for the 2001 musical that starred Nicole Kidman as the ailing courtesan who fell in love with a penniless writer. I guess what I'm getting at is that a good story really does stand the test of time and while people might not immediately take to the opera, it should at least be conceded that these type of productions do tell familiar tales covering universal subjects that would appeal to anyone... if only given a chance.


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