By Terence Repelente
Celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Philippine-Italian diplomatic relations and the grand 65th Sapphire anniversary of the Rustan Group of Companies, the Rustan Commercial Corporation (RCC), Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), and The Peninsula Manila, in cooperation with the Philippine-Italian Association (PIA), present the classic opera L’Elisir d’Amore (The Elixir of Love) by the classical Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti.
The opera, first performed in Milan at the Teatro della Canobbiana in 1832, is set in 18th-century Spain. It’s the story of poor peasant Nemorino, who falls madly in love with Adina, an attractive landowner. At first, Nemorino’s love is unreciprocated. Worse yet, another character, Belcore, a military man, also seeks Adina’s hand. Dulcamara to the rescue, a merchant and con artist, who sells him cheap wine masquerading as a “love potion.” It is a classic love triangle, which involves numerous plot twists with interesting elements, compelling character development, engaging humor, and of course, good theatrical music.
Over lunch at China Blue at Conrad Manila, tenor David Astroga, who plays the role Nemorino, shared his excitement for the show. “It’s an honor and a big responsibility,” the Canary Islands-based Puerto Rican singer said. “Since this is the first showing of L’Elisir d’Amore in the Philippines, the Nemorino they’ll hear first will be my Nemorino.” The jetlagged singer who just arrived from Spain the night before even gave a little glimpse of what his Nemorino would sound like by singing an excerpt.
David, who came from a family of musicians, also shared his undying love for music and how it has pulled him to it. “Music chose me,” he said. “In this career, it isn’t about the profit or the money. I just eat to survive but I sing to live. It’s my passion.”
The much-admired soprano Elena Monti agreed with David’s notion. “It’s my life, it’s our (singers’) life,” she said. “I cannot imagine my life without music, without opera. I agree with David. When you do work like this, you cannot think only about the money because the primary thing that you want is the pleasure of communicating your feelings to the audience.”
According to the Milan-based singer, the most beautiful thing to hear, as a performer, is when people tell you that you made them feel a lot of emotions through your voice.
To Elena, who has played the character of Adina three times, Elixir of Love is an opera that’s really easy for the audience to digest because of its simple plot. “It’s especially perfect for young people because it’s about relationships and feelings,” she said. “My role is a young lady who likes to play with the feelings of men. In the end, she understands the real meaning of love.”
Adina is very honored to perform in front of a Filipino audience. She has promised to do her best. Her favorite part of the show is the grand duet between Nemorino and Adino: “When she speaks to him and she understands his real feelings.”
The comic bass Francesco Vultaggio said it’s a pleasure to play as the self-proclaimed “Dr. Encyclopedia,” Dulcamara, here in the Philippines. “I love Dulcamara because he’s crazy,” said the Sicily-based singer. “He’s a joker and it gives life to the story. He’s a merchant who’s trying to convince all the people to buy his elixir as a cure to every pain or problem. He’s the most interesting character.” Francesco has played the role 50 times. If that’s any indication, he is sure to deliver an unforgettable performance.
Belcore, the nemesis of Nemorino, will be played by baritone Byeong In Park. The South Korean singer is thrilled to perform because his character brings in the tension to the story as “the man in uniform, the military man.” Also, he will be performing with his wife, Rachelle Gerodias.
The soprano singer will feel very much at home performing at the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo at CCP, as she is the only Filipina among the cast. She has done L’Elisir d’Amore before in Hong Kong but in the role of Adina. This time, she plays the role of Gianetta, the gossiping best friend of Adina. “It’s exciting to be with these international talents,” she said. “And it’s even more exciting to show this comic love story to Filipinos. Even if it’s Italian, there will be an English translation anyway. I’m sure everybody will enjoy this.”
When asked if they believed that the interest for opera had depleted, the performers were quick to object. Be that as it may, all of them are committed to keeping the fire of the opera burning. In fact, on the opera stage, David doesn’t only perform, he looks into the bigger picture. “If we don’t do it, who will?” he challenged, insisting that opera work is a calling more than a career, a cultural responsibility. “If we don’t sing Mozart, who will? Who will keep him alive?”
David thanked Nedy Tantoco, the opera’s producer and fundraiser, for bringing L’Elisir d’Amore to the Philippines and enabling the Filipinos to experience this classical Italian gem. Nedy said that, although it is expensive to produce an opera, its true value cannot be measured in dollars and cents. “It’s not that difficult to do,” she said, contrary to the belief that producing an opera requires a lot to sacrifice. “All these fantastic talents uplift me. I can just imagine all of them on stage—that would make a really wonderful night. That inspires me and makes me devoted to producing even more operas.”
A love potion isn’t needed to fall in love with the gorgeous and talented cast of L’Elisir d’Amore (The Elixir of Love). The gala performance will be on Saturday, Oct. 7, at 8 p.m., and the matinee will be on Sunday, Oct. 8 at 3 p.m. Gala tickets are at P5,000, P3,000, P1,500, and P1,000 while matinee tickets are at P2,500, P1,500, P800, and P500. The opera fundraiser will be held at the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo, the main theater of the CCP.
With Nedy as executive producers are Nestor O. Jardin and Dr. Raul M. Sunico. The opera is dedicated to Rustan’s founders Gliceria and Bienvenido Tantoco, Sr. Proceeds of the fundraiser are to benefit the construction of the San Pablo Apostol Parish church in Tondo, Manila.
Interested parties can contact the CCP Box Office through 02 832 3704 or 06 or Ticketworld through 02 891 9999; www.culturalcenter.gov.ph