By José Abeto Zaide
This is one of the most difficult columns for me to write.
Not a writer’s block. Worse, I must have singer’s block. I cannot carry a tune – an inferiority complex I developed in fourth grade elementary, when our teacher Mr. Marquez walked up and down the class rows during music lessons and asked desintunados to be silent. I remember the song “Tarry A While is a Sleep Town”; Lito Hocson and I were two whom Mr. Marquez hushed to hold our peace.
(I had my moment at the inter-collegiate choir competition as extra for the Ateneo Glee Club, because Roland Tinio needed to complete the ensemble to balance the choreography. I threatened to sing; but Tinio asked, Please don’t.)
But last Friday, 8 June, I had an earthmoving experience when Belinda Olivares Cunanan invited me and my wife Meng to “Harana” at the BGC Arts Center, promising “a cultural journey of folksongs from our own Filipino-ness…through the Spanish and American era up to contemporary…a lovely night of singing by some of our best sopranos, tenors, and baritones, and dancing to the more lilting music—fully choreographed and featuring period costumes.” (Designed by Zenaida Gutierrez who learned the craft of costume design from San Antonio State University, USA).
The costume couturier is also the mother of the prime mover, Karla Gutierrez (soprano), the president and artistic director of the Philippine Opera Company, who explained “Harana” matter-of-factly: “…From tribal chants, from planting songs to courtship ditties, from stirring kundiman to the delightful show stoppers from the works of the three C’s – Canseco, Cruz, and Cayabyab, the portrait of a race that is inherently good, inherently strong and kind and noble. The music we need to hear again and again to be reminded how we were once.”
An understatement. Last Friday’s concert was a pre-Independence Day event. It stirred the patriotic breast and reminded of how we may be remiss in neglecting our culture and heritage.
Meng and I first met Karla as a promising soprano. (Meng remembers her and Bebeth Timbol very well among our artist house guests, because Karla’s beau was so touched by the stimmung at the Embassy Residence that evening when he genuflected to declare his love for her and asked her to be his girl.)
The other stars of “Harana” were sopranos Melissa Camba, Lorraie Lisen, and Cris Go. Tenors were Nazer Salcedo and Cristiani Rebada. Baritones were Lawrence Jatayna and Noel Rayos.
In my previous incarnation during several tours of duty in foreign service, we used culture as instrument of diplomacy. Vide, Gilda Cordero Fernando’s “Jamming on An Old Saya” with haute couture and zarzuela; several performances of Andrea Veneracion’s Philippine Madrigal Singers aka Madz ( including an Independence Day performance at the Vienna Musikverein), the UST choir, the Ateneo Glee club, UE choir, etc.
I would have loved to impresario the “Harana” at the embassy. Too late for the Philippine Independence Day celebrations this 2017; but it is a hot number for a tour de force next year in Europe. (Suggestion from peanut gallery: Like at the opera, project an English translation of the beautiful kundimans on the screen for the foreign audience.)
Best foot forward. Perhaps our Chief Diplomat DFA Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano can tap “Harana” for his inaugural reception for the diplomatic corps – to get to know them…and for them to know the Filipino better.
But I am jumping ahead of the story because of the evening’s heart-throbbing excitement. I can still hear the ohrwurm of the beautifully arranged operatic kundimans. After the flowers and the encores, Karla invited the audience to join in signing “Gaano Ko Ikaw Kamahal.” With my wife’s forbearance, I even joined in, taking care not to call attention with off-keyed high C’s.
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