Live concerts are back! They’re mostly inspiring but, sadly, a few disappoint.
This concert mounted on Sept. 15 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo or Main Theater lobby by the Friends for Cultural Concerns of the Philippines (FCCP) under Martin Lopez had many things going for it.
It had an intimate venue (with the bunting used in the conferment of this year’s National Artists hanging just above the stage area). It offered free antigen tests for the (masked) audience, which made the event relatively virus-free. And one got a preview of the quality of the FCCP’s music scholars.
The concert also had a unique format, with annotation written and delivered by the New York-based tenor Rogelio Penaverde Jr.
It made for a little enlightenment on the nature of Filipino art songs as they relate to the works of the new batch of National Artists, namely Agnes Locsin for dance; Salvacion Lim-Higgins for design (fashion); Nora Villamayor, aka Nora Aunor, for film; Ricardo “Ricky” Lee and Marilou Diaz-Abaya for film and broadcast arts; Gemino Abad for literature; Fides Cuyugan-Asencio for music; and Antonio “Tony” Mabesa for theater.
One song number in the program—“Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa” from Felipe Padila de Leon’s opera “Noli Me Tangere”—is closely identified with Cuyugan-Asencio, who played Sisa in past productions.
Dose of kindness needed
When Penaverde opened the concert with Mike Velarde’s “Minamahal Kita,” accompanied by pianist Madeline Jane Mabanta, one realized that one needed a dose of kindness to appreciate his brand of singing.
In contrast, his co-artists did fairly well. More than that, they saved the day for the annotator-singer.
Marsha Macatangay’s natural voice, which has the makings of a good coloratura, was lovely to hear.
De Leon’s “Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa” was indeed the warhorse the audience needed to balance the art songs. Myramae Meneses started on a dramatic note, but the amplification was no match to her vocal power. Her voice (with the bad sound system) literally shook the Main Theater lobby. But there was no doubt about her vocal artistry in the lyrical aria.
Cellist Giuseppi Andre Diestro and classical guitarist Lance Capitan were for the most part engaging. But the arrangement of those Filipino pieces was not musically inspired. They were not imaginatively transcribed to do justice to their specific instruments.
As for Penaverde, he remained stoic even in the duets with sopranos Meneses and Macatangay (“Maalaala Mo Kaya” and “Makikiliti Ka”). Sadly, there was no trace of the “sweet-voiced” tenor who graduated from the Manhattan School of Music.
Truly inspiring moment
But if there was a degree of letdown, there was one truly inspiring moment in the song numbers of baritone Kris Gonzales.
When he intoned Nicanor Abelardo’s “Bituing Marikit,” one realized at once that one was in the presence of someone special. The deeply lyrical baritone got better with every phrase and line. The singing, along with natural acting, made his performance truly memorable.
Gonzales had the audience eating out of his hand even in his last solo number (“Bato Sa Buhangin”). One has not heard a good baritone of his kind in a long, long time. It is not surprising that he was one of the top prize-winners in the first International Youth Opera Festival and Competition in Singapore a few months back.
The concert ended with an OPM medley, with all the guest artists participating.
The assisting pianists, Mabanta and Nathan Gemina, were hampered by being so far away from the performers. Mabanta didn’t sound collaborative, but Gemina, in Gonzales’ last song number, certainly knew how to breathe with the singer.
In this concert directed by Manolet Garcia, one won some and lost some.
On another point, it is also time to screen scholars worth the FCCP’s support. It’s one thing to encourage talent and another thing to acquire taste; they should go together in the screening of future scholars.
As the CCP president, Margie Moran Floirendo, pointed out in her message, “The Philippines has an inexhaustible resource of raw, untapped talents. Through consolidated efforts, we can look forward to the next generation of talents worthy of everyone’s support.”