A Night at the Opera: Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti at the CCP
Not since the ‘80s, when I watched Maya Plisetskaya’s rippling arms in The Dying Swan, has a performance stopped me dead in my tracks. Okay, I am being unfair. I rarely go to the theatre, so I do not qualify as a critic. And yes, I also remember Lea Salonga taking my breath away when she went an octave higher in her rendition of “Memory” from the musical Cats. But I am a legit spectator whose senses are not untouchable, however—or because they are—raw in the arts.
So, there I was, enjoying the opera Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti, at the Main Theatre of the Cultural Centre of the Philippines. The Tatler Philippines box, smack centre of balcony 1, gave me a vantage point in terms of listening, viewing, and snapping some photos. Then Phil-Am tenor Arthur Espiritu started to perform “Tu Che a Dio Spiegasti l’Ali” (“You Who Unfolded Your Wings to God”), the last aria in the third and last act, and I was riveted to the stage. Though poised to take another snapshot, I had frozen, lost my eyes, my ears, my breath in the voice, the song, the emotions emanating from this artist essaying the role of lover who’s been the victim of a lie, just learnt the love of his life has died, and was about to commit suicide himself. I even forgot to read the subtitles flashing on the upper part of the stage. I was thoroughly enthralled even though I did not understand a word being sung.
Espiritu was everything an artist of international calibre is. More than the voice that filled the walls and the halls of this esteemed theatre, is the successful delivery of the angst and pain of a man engulfed in personal tragedy. Only when the aria ended did I realise I failed to take a single shot.
The central character of Lucia de Lammermoor is a woman forced to marry another man and, in the process, loses her mind and her life. But in this Philippine production, the voice that lingered was that of Edgardo, the love of her life. The French-Armenian soprano Melody Louledjian played Lucia. Her voice was enchanting, but her aria was early in Act 3, way before Espiritu’s, which closed the curtain. The audience was therefore left with the memory of this latter performance to bring home.
At the press conference that introduced to local media the artists and team behind the opera, Assistant Director Prince Sisowath Ravivaddhana Monipong of Cambodia alerted everyone to the Philippine gem that is Espiritu. “You should be proud of him,” he said.
Any Filipino would be hard put to suppress pride for this theatre artist who migrated to the United States with his parents when he was a teenager. He has sung in notable places, played many major roles, and reaped several awards and recognitions. The Philippine audience must not be deprived of this talent and must be given more opportunities to watch and listen to Espiritu.
Directing as well as designing the set and costumes was Vincenzo Grisostomi Travaglini, a musicologist, an opera stage director, and a journalist. Assisting him was Prince Sisowath of Cambodia. The music was performed by the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of guest conductor Alessandro Palumbo.
The production of Lucia di Lammermoor in the Philippines was made possible by the Cultural Centre of the Philippines, the Rustan Group of Companies, the Filipinas Opera Society Foundation, Inc, the Embassy of Italy in Manila, and Hilton Manila.