Almost every Filipino knows Noli Me Tangere, the 1887 novel in Spanish by Jose Rizal, the most known and respected of Filipino writer and revolutionary. Translated into Filipino, it has been required reading in all Philippine high schools.
The novel exposes the abuses of Spanish authorities on the natives during the Spanish occupation of the Philippines. The abuses and corruption are seen as a disease of the society, thus the title, Latin for “touch me not.” Noli Me Tangere follows the story of Juan Crisostomo Ibarra upon his return to the Philippines after finishing studies in Europe, who plans to open up a school and marry Maria Clara. He would clash with the corrupt parish priest Padre Damaso, who is out to thwart his plans.
Noli Me Tangere has also inspired many great Filipino artists to recreate it other forms including the 1961 film by National Artist for cinema Gerardo de León, and the 1992 television series by National Artist for film Eddie Romero. There are also several adaptations for the stage, including the 1980 Kanser by Jomar Fleras; the 1995 musical with libretto by National Artist for literature Bienvenido Lumbera and music by Ryan Cayabyab; and Noli at Fili: Dekada 2000 in 2008, which transports the story into a contemporary setting by Nicanor G. Tiongson.
But a stage adaptation that is most acclaimed but seldom mounted is the 1957 three-act opera with libretto by National Artist for visual arts Guillermo Tolentino and music by National Artist for music Felipe Padilla de Leon. This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of Noli Me Tangere, the opera, celebrated with a grand restaging at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
“We’re glad to welcome back Noli Me Tangere, the opera, to the CCP main stage after 30 years since Fides Cuyugan-Asensio’s Music Theater Foundation staged it in 1987. Theater-goers and music lovers shouldn’t miss this rare musical experience; it’s every Filipino’s story set to one of Felipe de Leon’s finest scores,” said Dr. Raul Sunico, CCP president.
He described is as “one of our gems in Philippine opera” and added that “some of the issues are still relevant to us like corruption, injustice, deceit, etc.” He also revealed that this restaging is the grandest in the history of the CCP.
Noli Me Tangere, the opera, is the Philippines’ first full-length opera, arranged in the Western operatic tradition with overflow passages reminiscent of Mozart, Puccini and Wagner, and sung in Tagalog. According to New York-based dramaturg Randy Gener, the opera was, however, “not the first Filipino opera ever written. That honor belongs to Sandugong Panaguinip, a 1902 work with a Spanish libretto by Pedro Paterno, which was translated into Tagalog by Roman Reyes, and music by Ladislao Bonus. Sandugong Panaguinip was a one-act opera made up of five scenes, while De Leon’s Noli opera was written in three acts, making it the country’s first full-length grand opera.”
De Leon, who is famous for the songs “Payapang Daigdig” and “Sarong Banggi,” and sculptor Tolentino are said to be obsessed by Noli Me Tangere that they were bent on finishing an opera adaptation. In 1957, their work premiered at the Far Eastern University. Its CCP debut was held in 1987. Dulaang UP of the University of the Philippines staged it in 2011. In 2012, the centennial of the birth of Felipe Padilla De Leon, the opera was shown in Chicago, USA. Filipino-American philanthropist and socio-civic leader Loida Nicolas Lewis brought it to New York with the help of New York-based event designer Jerry Sibal and Edwin Josue, and then to Washington D.C.. The three then brought it home to the Philippines in 2014 with a staging at the Newport Theater of Resorts World Manila in Pasay.
Sibal and his husband Josue is behind J&S Productions Inc. which is partnering with the CCP for the 2017 restaging of Noli Me Tangere, the opera, which has a reported budget of about P30 million, grand sets designed by Sibal himself and newly formed 53-piece symphony orchestra to be conducted by Herminigildo Ranera. It will also feature more than 200 opera singers, musicians and crew, and 16 scene changes, all under the direction of Sibal himself.
“We’d like to instill in the youth that nationalism is very important. We’re very educated, talented, and skillful. The only problem we’re facing right now is the love of country,” explained Sibal. “We’d also like to create more appreciation of the opera art form. The opera is highest form of art because it has architecture, literature, theater, and classical music combined together. The beauty of Noli Me Tangere, the opera lies in its use of our own language, Tagalog, and the Filipino love song kundiman combined with Western opera influences.”
Sibal and Josue are targeting the Millennials for this opera. “It’s our legacy to them. As immigrants, we want to give back.”
“This is about giving hope to everybody, giving opportunities like how the United States gave us opportunities,” Sibal said.
Renowned tenor Ronan Ferrer in the role of Crisostomo Ibarra will the lead the cast, together with Bianca Camille Lopez (Maria Clara), Stephanie Anne Aguilar (Sisa), John-Andrew Fernandez (Padre Damaso), Greg de Leon (Elias), Mari Yapjoco (Basilio), and Santino Juan Santiago (Crispin). The cast also includes Nomer Narito Nival, Resty Yongco, Aretha Angcao, Jade Rubbis Riccio, Nerissa de Juan, Mary Louise Alcantara, Irene Quiso-Ednave, Charina Althea Balmores, Rachelle Jasmine Balunes, Elisanta Gregorio Cortes, Mecho Joy Manlangit, Thea Perez, Katrine Jamar Sunga, Jillbert Chua, Jan Briane Astom, Eugene de los Santos, Erwin Dimaculangan, Harold Nikko Forton, Paul Dominique Galvez, Allison Rose Cervantes, Anne Abigail Garza, Jane Florence Wee, Ruzzel Adrian Clemeno, Renz Nathaniel Cruz, Radnel Ofalsa, Octwen Jade Cabilan, Rare Jireh Columna, Ivette Vanerrie Salas, Courtney Gomley, Marianne Maxielom, Claudine Nitura, Grace Pedrocillo. Larian Villamarin, Francisco de Guzman Jr., Nestor Estoque, Thomas Julian Hollon, Matthew Vallo, Earl Cristobal, Mark Anthony Cruz, Frederick Maturan, and Inno Angelo Montellano.
Noli Me Tangere the opera, which is now considered the most staged Filipino opera, has a limited run of six performances at the CCP’s Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo from January 28, 2017, (gala premiere) to February 3.
Shows on January 28 and February 1 to 3 are at 8 P.M. while the January 29 and February 3 shows are at 2 P.M.
For special ticket deals and discounts, contact J&S Productions Inc. at 0926-0380548, 0921-8903816, (632) 998-2356, or the CCP Box Office (632) 832-3704/06, or visit www.ticketworld.com.ph. Tickets are P3,500; P2,500; P2,000; P1,500; P1,200; and P1,000. For more information, visit NoliMeTangereTheOpera.com or Facebook.com/NoliOperaManila.