[Note: I had no plans of going to the tribute concert to Imelda Marcos at the CCP last Friday, but was asked by the boss to go and report on the event. Well, here it is, on the front page of today's Inquirer.]
A GRAND TOTAL OF 12 PEOPLE showed up to protest “Seven Arts, One Imelda,” the lavish tribute the Cultural Center of the Philippines staged last Friday for its founding chair, Imelda Marcos, the widow of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
The protesters, chanting “Never again to Martial Law!” were reportedly led by the son of the late National Artist for Theater and Literature Rolando Tinio—an interesting twist, given that Tinio’s Teatro Pilipino was a resident company of the CCP in Imelda’s time, and Tinio himself enjoyed a close relationship with the former First Lady. (See related story on page F2.)
The protesters were kept to the rain-soaked driveway by a police contingent, while an oblivious crowd—perfumed, coiffed, bejeweled and botoxed, many of them familiar faces from the Marcos dispensation—kept the CCP lobby humming in anticipation of the arrival of the woman for what promised to be the evening of her biggest social rehabilitation yet after the little incident that was Edsa 23 years ago.
When Imelda arrived, in a purple and red gown accented with a swarm of rubies on her neck, she glided in as if she’d never left—grand, commanding, a magnet for photographers, quickly attended to by friends, courtiers and fans eager for a handshake, a photo-op or a mere flicker of recognition from her still-beautiful face.
Whether she saw the demonstrators outside, and what she thought of them—nobody dared ask. It was left to the CCP’s new vice president/artistic director, Raul Sunico, to bring the matter up ever so delicately, obliquely, in his welcome remarks.
“We want to give this tribute irrespective of political color,” he said. “Let art and politics be separate.”
The elegantly staged program that followed largely kept to that promise—no speeches, no overt hagiography, only good-old fashioned musical performances by a phalanx of first-rate Filipino artists, many of them beneficiaries of the Madame’s support during her time, as Sunico himself acknowledged.
Among the performers featured in Act 1, each of whom generously kept his or her appearance to a single number, were pianists Cecile Licad and Sunico, violinists Joseph Esmilla and Coke Bolipata, flutist Antonio Maigue, classical singers Aileen Espinosa Cura, Camille Lopez Molina, Rachelle Gerodias and Jonathan Velasco, accompanied by the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Chino Toledo.
Licad dazzled with a complex rendering of Liszt’s “St. Francis de Paula Walking on the Water,” as did Esmilla with his rousing fiddling on De Sarasate’s “Introduction Et Tarantelle, Op. 43.” The singers—especially Lopez-Molina with a magnificent “O don fatale” from Verdi’s “Don Carlo”—provided rich vocal performances.
One was left to wonder, though, whether the choice of song said something more than it did. In the opera, it was sung by a lady-in-waiting who betrays her queen, with lyrics like “O mia Regina, io t’immolai al folle error di questo cor” (“O my Queen, I sacrificed you to the crazed passion of my heart”). Does Imelda know Italian? If she did, what would she have made of the queenly references?
There was evidence that the concert, scripted by Floy Quintos and directed by Alexander Cortez, tried bending over backwards precisely to skirt the charged image of Imelda as a self-styled queen, when the CCP was more like her private salon-cum-music chamber and the artists in her stable at her beck and call for command performances.
Act 2, for instance, called “Muse and Madness” (“How suitably Imeldific, don’t you think?” said Bongbong Marcos, Imelda’s son, in his introduction, drawing a flutter of nervous laughter from the crowd), presented Imelda not in the high noon of her reign, but as a young girl awakening to “her artistic instincts, inspirations and flights of creativity.”
Nearly 300 performers, composed of 10 choirs plus Ballet Philippines, The Bayanihan Dance Company, solo performers Lisa Macuja, Candice and Carissa Adea and mezzo soprano Clarissa Ocampo (splendid), were conscripted to give life to an abstract, impressionistic suite of songs, dances and images, performed to an original score by Ryan Cayabyab.
Cayabyab’s 28-minute suite was remarkably flexible, accommodating everything from snippets of ragtime to bars that evoked Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” from balletic moments—for Macuja and Adea’s shared moment on stage, classical and modern dance lashed together rivetingly—to soaring choral melodies—Filipino in the case of the children’s choirs, full-throttle Latin for the adult ones. (Just wondering: What were these kids taught about the woman they were honoring?)
Of course, this wouldn’t be Imelda without the ternos. They came out first draped on mannequins wheeled around by dancers, followed by amazonian models wearing some of the most stunning, and also the most outlandish, versions ever made of the iconic costume—a few of them you couldn’t imagine Imelda herself wearing. The ersatz fashion show featured gowns by Pitoy Moreno, Inno Sotto, Noli Hans, Finina Tugade, Joey Samson, Paul Cabral, Steve de Leon, Tippi Ocampo and the late Joe Salazar.
The musical suite ended with Imelda remaining a dreamy young girl—at best a naive representation that clashed with the picture and legacy of the baroque woman now being feted.
That girl, after all, would grow up to become one of the country’s—the world’s—most powerful women, hoarding riches that enabled her to become a much-flattered patron of the arts. In an age, lest we forget, when royal patronage had gone the way of the Medicis, in a nominal republic desperately poor even then, where any arts endowments should have come, if not from private funds, then at least from a public purse well accounted for. And, certainly, not for one’s bloated sense of self-glorification or the deodorizing of a corrupt regime.
In the end, the concert, fetchingly mounted and performed as it was, would have to return to that fundamental question: For whom is all this art? For whom, in fact, is this institution that claims to be the cultural center of the entire Philippines? (The concert was a strictly by-invitation-only affair.)
Jeremy Barns, in his effusive write-up on Imelda and her CCP vision in the concert program, wrote what must qualify as the understatement of the century—Edsa, the first People Power Revolution, the most significant contemporary event in the nation’s history, buried in layers of pained elision: “Of course, different things moved in different directions, and as time passed, the vision of achieving greatness, which later was reformulated into that of a New Society, lost the support of the people. The country went into crisis. Ultimately, the government of Ferdinand Marcos came to a sudden end, and he and Mrs. Marcos exited the stage on which they had long held forth.”
He got one phrase right: “held forth”—as in reigned, like Their Imperial Majesties, summoning subject, factotum and artist alike to their presence with a wave of a hand. Unacknowledged in the jubilant celebration of Filipino artistry that was “Seven Arts, One Imelda” was that dark, chafing fact.
For a truer picture of the context and history from which all these art and art-making were forged, one must go back to those wet, forlorn voices outside. In the proper scheme of things, the equation should stand: Seven arts, one Imelda—and 12 people who remembered.
[Photo: Lyn Rillon/Philippine Daily Inquirer]