The libretto as attributed to two National Artists, Guillermo Tolentino in Sculpture and Felipe Padilla de Leon in Music, is indeed ingenious even if there is the living source of a novel—“Noli Me Tangere” by Dr. Jose P. Rizal. The way the whole story is woven into an exact, solid stage version is innovative and daring in its Filipino richness in language and its English translation easily identified in a projected atop the curtain. Obviously, non-verbatim elaboration of the dialogues, they are easily understood even by a non-Filipino speaker.
Given the de Leon music and whatever Tolentino’s contributions to the libretto, the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO) is confident of its rendition to add spice to the already well-cooked serving of the full-length material no matter the direction’s revision or alteration. According to the press briefs of the production company, “Noli Me Tangere, The Opera” was first presented in 1957 the musical theater effects are therefore still intact sixty two years hence (even if the original meaning of an opera is different from a musical theater).
As is, even if a zarzuela is defined as a Spanish theater set to music with a comic element in it, “Noli Me Tangere, The Opera” is also seen as its type not strictly speaking, so what? There are scenes here which are laughter or guffaw-inducing like the two social climber madams Consolacion or Victorina’s antics however minor or Maria Clara purposely dropping her hankie in her excitement or ecstasy to be noticed and picked up by her newly arrived lover, Crisostomo Ibarra.
The point is clear. Every production, including this J & S Productions Inc.’s offering, has the qualities of the two genres. Aren’t we proud we can create a whole gamut of stage presentation, interpretation and representation in a new light?
Jerry Sibal’s direction together with an able assistance of his directorial partner Jose Jeffrey Camañas is gargantuan. It is yet simple but big and complicated especially to create tension among characters and situations in a given time and place. It isn’t easy to flaunt the dialectic between Ibarra and Padre Damaso in a song or the revolutionary ideas between Elias and Ibarra in a tenor pitch.
What makes the theater piece more memorable and intense is the contrast between the images projected in an LED like the dark skies, rains and lightning during the cemetery scene where Ibarra is looking for the tomb of his father and the actual props of graveyard gate; the bayside where the young men and women of Maria Clara and Ibarra gen gather in romantic yet casual interlude and the waters that bear a crocodile no matter the abrupt fade out after Maria Clara was frightened by it and the makeshift nipa hut standing in one corner of the stage; the inner house of Kapitan Tiago and Maria Clara’s literal bed and a perched figure of a saint on a table etc.
Although most of them are understudies or main actors of each character, Nerissa de Juan as Maria Clara on this special preview delivers her songs and actions in riveting style albeit her shape; Nhomer Nival as Juan Crisostomo Ibarra is indeed a tenor to mismatch the high ideals of his role as an actor in this audience oriented by matinee idol looks; and the rest of the cast are incredible in their portrayals both as thespians and musicians.
Ace fashion designer Albert Figueras’s costumes are fascinating and also gigantic task but for a haute couture nothing is really impossible.