MANILA -- The Philippine Opera Company is out to dispel the widespread impression that opera is an esoteric performance art with its production of "Passion," an opera in English from one of the most revered composers of musical theater.
Stephen Sondheim is widely admired by theater lovers all around the world and Filipino fans are in for a treat with back-to-back-to-back stagings of three of his most popular works.
Apart from "Passion," which will have a three-weekend run at the RCBC Theater starting Saturday, September 14, there is also Sondheim's "Company," which opens ahead on Friday, and "Sweeney Todd" in October.
"Passion" is an adaptation of the Igino Tarchetti’s novel "Fosca." Sondheim was inspired to write the musical with frequent collaborator, James Lapine, after watching the film adaptation, "Passione d’Amore." This story centers around the unattractive Fosca who falls for the dashing Captain Giorgio as he is transferred to a remote military camp in the boondocks of Italy. Prior to being transferred, Giorgio is seen in a blissful relationship with the beautiful Clara. While there is the love triangle at its core, there are themes of sex, passion, and manipulation.
The multi-awarded musical was staged in Manila by Repertory Philippines back in 1996 with Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Michael Williams, and Gia Macuja. Twenty-three years later, the Philippine Opera Company (POC) is pulling out all the stops as it celebrates its 20th year.
“Gone are the days where the fat lady sings and puts her hands together and that’s it. Nowadays, opera singers and classical singers must be able to act,” said Karla Gutierrez, POC's artistic director. “Opera and musical theater are the same. So, if you’re enjoy watching musical theater, then why not opera?”
Robbie Guevara, a self-confessed Sondheim fanatic who himself was part of the Rep cast, directs this new staging.
“In my mind, I’ve blocked all of his plays,” gushed Guevara who was infected with the Sondheim bug by theater mentors Jaime del Mundo and Bart Guingona. His encyclopedic knowledge proved to be a blessing for the production as he was able to give insight to the musicians and the cast.
The cast is led by theater veterans Sheila Valderrama-Martinez as Fosca, Vien King as Giorgio, and Jasmine Fitzgerald as Clara, and supported by Lorenz Martinez (Doctor Tambourri), Raul Montesa (Colonel Ricci), Noel Rayos (Lt. Torasso).
Jonel Mojica (Major Rizzolli), Lorenzo Mendoza (Pvt. Augenti), Jos Jalbuena (Ludovic), Timothy Racho (Sgt. Lombardi), Joshua Cheng (Lt. Barri), Vyen Villanueva (Fosca’s Father) Lorraine Lisen (Mistress) and Jasmin Salvo (Fosca’s Mother) round out the ensemble.
POC is promising all the pomp and pageantry befitting a grand production. The cast will be clothed in costumes by Zenaida Gutierrez that capture both the lavishness of the Milanese upper class and the military life of rural Italy against the backdrop of Jason Tecson’s set.
As Sondheim wrote "Passion" for a 16-piece orchestra, there will be one performing every show led by musical director Daniel Bartolome. Even abroad, productions of “Passion” rarely use the full complement often rearranging the music to compensate for missing instruments. Having this in the intimate confines of the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium will definitely be an auditory treat.
As Guevara puts it, it is time to rediscover the genius of Sondheim and "Passion" will surely hit the high notes for both musical theater and opera fans.
“Passion” will have evening shows at 8 p.m. on September 14, 20, 21, 27 and 28. and 3 p.m. matinees on September 15, 21, 22, 28 and 29 at RCBC Plaza, Makati City.