Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Spotlight on the Sarsuwela

After focusing on the komedya for a month last year, the University of the Philippines is shifting the spotlight on another traditional theater form, the Philippine zarzuela or sarsuwela, also for the whole month of February with an exhilarating array of activities and performances aimed at generating awareness and appreciation, stimulating scholarship and generally enjoying this once popular entertainment.
Aside from the performances of important works of sarsuwela by select theater groups, there will be an educational and interactive opening parade, film showings, a national conference and an exhibition. There will also be researches, an outreach program and a writing series.
The zarzuela, a form of musical theater first presented to the court, originated in Spain and spread to its colonies, including the Philippines, developing their traditions. It was introduced to the Philippines in the late 19th century and became popular, performed in different languages in the country. Contrary to the komedya, also introduced by the Spaniards, which is didactic, the zarzuela is primarily for entertainment, usually a love story and has formulas. By the turn of the 20th century, the form was ensouled with nationalism and was used as a vehicle for subversion against American rule. With the advent of other forms of entertainment and technology, it died down.
Now and then, the sarsuwela is being performed by contemporary theater groups, and there is sporadic interest in its revival and study. UP’s Sarsuwela Festival is perhaps the biggest sarsuwela venture in modern times.

The festival has four sarsuwelas, deemed classics, to be presented by different theater groups: Paglipas ng Dilim by the University of the East Drama Company, Walang Sugat by the Barasoain Kalinangan Foundation, Sa Bunganga ng Pating by the Far Eastern University Art Theatre Clinique, Ang Kiri by the Dulaang UP, and Iloilo Sarsuwela: Padayon Ang Istorya by the UP Visayas Alumni Theater Company.
To be mounted by the official student theater organization of the University of the East, formed in the 1970s, Paglipas ng Dilim was written in 1920 with libretto by Precioso Palma and music by Leon Ignacio. It tells about the love story between Estrella, a maiden with a pure heart, and Ricardo, a popular young man who recently graduated from medicine, which will be tested by Caridad, a society figure who had her heart set on Ricardo.
Sa Bunganga ng Pating is written in 1921 with libretto by Julian Cruz Balmaseda and music by Leon Ignacio. While telling the loves story of Nati, daughter of a greedy landowner, and Mario, a son of one of their farmers, the play also tackles injustice and other social matters.
With libretto by Severino Reyes and music by Fulgencio Tolentino, Walang Sugat was performed in 1902, tackling the oppression of Filipino prisoners by Spanish Friars in the love story between Julia and Tenyong. This will be mounted anew by the Barasoain Kalinangan Foundation, an award-winning community theater based in Bulacan.
Ang Kiri, written in 1926 with libretto by Servando de los Angeles and music by Leon Ignacio, is the story of Sesang, who is a non-conformist, thus misunderstood as loose, and her search for true love.
Paglipas ng Dilim will be onstage from Feb. 4 to 6, Walang Sugat from Feb. 11 to 13, Sa Bunganga ng Pating from Feb. 18 to 20, Ang Kiri from Feb. 25 to 27, and Iloilo Sarsuwela from Feb. 23 to 24 at the University Theater, with P75 ticket price.

Sarsuwela on celluloid
Complementing the live performances, there will be a showing of films to underline the great influence of sarsuwelas on early films. In fact, these films were from sarsuwelas like the 1919 Dalagang Bukid, produced and directed by Jose Nepomuceno, considered the father of Philippine cinema and starring Atang de la Rama. The sampling of sarsuwela-based movies includes ones from the 1930s to the 1970s such as the 1939 Giliw Ko (on Feb. 18), which stars Fernando Poe Sr; the 1939 Tunay na Ina (on Feb. 19) directed by Octavio Silos; the 1954 Maalaala Mo Kaya (on Feb. 25) starring Carmen Rosales and Rogelio Dela Rosa; and the 1971 Stardoom (on Feb. 26) directed by Lino Brocka. With ticket priced at P50, they will be shown at the UP Film Institute.

Making the milieu
UP’s Vargas Museum will mount “Zarzuela Sarsuwela,” an exhibition that aims to replicate the sarsuwela culture of the turn of the 20th century, allowing the viewer to situate him- or herself in the social milieu of the time through sound, image and performance.” It will run from Feb. 11 until April 5.

The national conference
From Feb. 25 to 27, at the Pulungang Claro M. Recto, Bulwagang Rizal, UP Diliman, researchers, academics, scholars, historians, theatre practitioners and many others are expected to converge for the First Sarsuwela National Conference. Esposuing the theme “Amor, Vida, Patria: Re(dis)covery of the Nation in the Sarsuwela,” the conference aims “to interrogate sarsuwela as a Philippine traditional theatre form or performativity; to reevaluate the nature and elements of sarsuwela; to rediscover the past (history) through sarsuwela; and to historicize the historical continuum of sarsuwela.”

Other components
The other components of the Sarsuwela Festival include research to answer to the dearth of materials on the sarsuwela; a lecture series for secondary schools and colleges with resident theater companies to encourage them to mount sarsuwelas and other traditional theater forms; and the sarsuwela writing competition to encourage playwrights to create new sarsuwelas.

Drawing up the curtain
To usher in the festival with a bang, there will be an educational and interactive opening. Scenes of the featured sarsuwelas will be paraded around UP Academic Oval on Feb. 4 at 2 p.m.

The Sarsuwela Festival is organized by the Office of the Chancellor of UP Diliman through its College of Arts and Letters and the Office of Initiatives for Culture and the Arts (OICA), in line with the University of the Philippines centennial festivities. For inquires or ticket reservations, e-mail, visit or call up telephone numbers 928-7508 and 981-8500 local 2105.

1 comment:

isi said...

Hi! I enjoyed reading your post. I'm a music graduate student currently working on a project on the early Tagalog zarzuelas composed by Jose Estella and Juan Hernandez. I'm wondering if you might have more information about the photos you included here, in particular, the two earlier ones from the CCP and PETA collections? Would you know from which particular sub-collection are these photos included?

Many thanks in advance!

Isi Miranda