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Why is opera so important?

By Ricky Toledo and Chito Vijandre, The Philippine STAR Published Oct 23, 2022 5:00 am

The first time we watched an opera at the Met in New York was a religious experience that got us hooked for life. It’s a ritual that starts with dressing up to the nines for what kindred spirits consider a most important occasion each time, no matter that one has seen that opera dozens of times.

It’s because each performance is special and the effort, resources, and time it takes to produce a show—just getting the right singers, conductors and musicians who are in demand in the great opera houses of the world and the creative and production team producing lavish sets and exquisite costumes—is just so staggering that once you enter the theater, you feel the palpable energy of anticipation, if not outright veneration of what you are about to witness. 

This is why, when the Cultural Center of the Philippines started airing the Met Opera HD series at the Little Theater in 2013 and later at the Greenbelt Cinema, we were extremely overjoyed that we could experience some of the best opera productions in the world through high-definition video technology. Not to mention that it included behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with artists and creative staff.

We would watch live opera staged at the CCP, but these were few and far between. “In recent times, in 2017 we had L’Elisir d’Amore by Gaetano Donizetti and before the series of lockdowns we premiered Lucia di Lammermoor. Truth is, opera needs copious amounts of resources of talent and money,” according to CCP president Margie Moran-Floirendo.

Toasting to the 7th season of Met Opera HD at the launch in Greenbelt are (from left) Ayala Malls president Christopher Maglanoc, CCP president Margie Moran-Floirendo, Ayala Malls Cinema head Charmaine Bauzon, Greenbelt general manager Iza Arcilla, Ayala Malls head of Operations Clavel Tongco and Filipinas Opera Society Foundation president Dr. Jaime Laya.

Talent we certainly do not lack, with numerous singers making it abroad performing at the most prestigious opera companies, but financial resources are always a challenge, not just in opera but in the arts in general. “Opera is the most excessive of all art forms and the most ambitious, with a lot of constraints in producing a world-class opera,” Margie points out.

To make up for this lack of live opera performances, CCP partnered with the Metropolitan Opera, the Filipinas Opera Society Foundation Inc. (FOSFI) and Ayala Malls Cinemas to bring the Met Opera HD series, which is happily back for the seventh season after a two-year absence during the pandemic.

Italian Ambassador Marco Clemente and soprano Bianca Lopez-Aguila sing Libiamo ne’lieti calici from La Traviata.

@culturalcenterph

Launched last Oct. 4 with Carmen by Georges Bizet, the next screenings are on November 15 for La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi with Diana Damrau and Juan Diego Flórez, conducted by the new Met music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin; Dec. 6 — Dialogues des Carmélites by Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc with Isabel Leonard and Karita Mattila; Jan. 10 — La Fille Du Régiment by Gaetano Donizetti with bel canto stars Pretty Yende and Javier Camarena; and Feb. 7 — Samson et Dalila by Camille Saint-Saëns with Elīna Garanča and Roberto Alagna. (All shows at 5:30 p.m. at the Greenbelt 3 Cinema.)

Soprano Diana Damrau plays the tragic heroine Violetta, and tenor Juan Diego Flórez sings Alfredo, her hapless lover in La Traviata

But why is opera so important? “Because it offers sincere reflection on who we are and how we relate to others and what it means, collectively, and individually, to be human. Watching opera allows us to experience emotional and imaginative truths and share profound and transformative cultural experiences,” says Margie.

It’s truly one of the most powerful art forms combining music, voice, storytelling, drama, dance and theater. When you open yourself to it, opera reveals countless treasures, but you have to pay close attention to the nuances to be able to reap the rewards.

A scene of dancers in the party scene of La Traviata

Aside from the lyrics, the music says so much and, many times, moves the action forward on its own without the words. Particular instruments correspond to specific characters or feelings. And when artists start singing from solos to duets, trios and choruses, there are incredible layers of music and meanings that harmonize into glorious melodies and narratives.

Appreciating the different aspects of opera trains you to be more sensitive in real life—to people’s thoughts and emotions, to relationships, to the needs of the community and the country.

Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard as the fearful Blanche dela Force, who joins a convent of nuns to escape the terrors of the French Revolution in Dialogues des Carmélites by Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc

Bel canto star Pretty Yende in La Fille Du Régiment by Gaetano Donizetti

Tenor Roberto Alagna and mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča in Samson et Dalila by Camille Saint-Saëns

It’s what makes opera, and all art forms, for that matter, a necessity, as Dr. Jaime Laya, FOSFI president, said at the launch of the series at Greenbelt recently. Italian Ambassador Marco Clemente concurred, saying that opera, art and beauty may not provide sustenance to people like food, but it certainly feeds the soul.

And to satisfy all lovers of opera and music, Margie announced the coming live opera production of Turandot by Giacomo Puccini to open on Dec. 9 at the CCP Main Theater. That is certainly something to look forward to. But so are all the Met Opera in HD performances which we definitely will not miss.