And my own HD video clips at that, taken with the gracious permission of Walang Sugat director Ricky Abad.
Not only is the sarsuwela a historic and cultural treasure, but its main musical numbers--especially those featuring the young leads Arman Ferrer and Janine Santos--were so stirring and memorable for me that I thought they needed to be memorialized somehow, recorded and shared with more people. On the Thursday evening I watched the show (for the second time), Ateneo's Irwin Theater had a sparse audience. Sad, because the production almost always brought people to their feet in the end.
This production of Walang Sugat (libretto by Severino Reyes, music by Fulgencio Tolentino) was first staged in February this year as part of Ateneo De Manila's sesquicentennial celebration. The production design of pop-up children's book illustrations (by National Artist Salvador Bernal) was all of a piece with the production's spirit of bringing the material closer to a younger audience. I saw it then, and while it struck me as a frisky, charming show, with glorious music supplied by a full orchestra under Chino Toledo's baton, there was also a tentative feeling to it, taking its cue perhaps from its newbie lead actor, who sung robustly but acted rather stiffly.
What a difference six months can make. Ferrer, as the young man Tenyong who grows up to become a revolutionary while also fighting for the love of his childhood sweetheart Julia, loosened up considerably for the restaging. The greater ease and confidence he now exhibited onstage translated to beautifully ardent, dashing singing--a rich, full-bodied and resonant sound that, in tandem with the lustrous soprano of Janine Santos' Julia, enabled this Walang Sugat--hokey moments and all--to raise the flag of beauty on the Irwin Theater stage with its heartfelt, youthful romanticism.
Santos is only 19; Ferrer is 21. Both are UP Voice students. What moved me so much when I heard them sing was realizing that the kind of voices they have is hardly heard onstage nowadays. Most young musical-theater actors, in keeping with the times and the demands of newer material, take to the pop-rock idiom and sensibility by default. Nothing wrong with that--Rent, after all, is but La Boheme in modern garb. But here are two kids who have decided to take the longer, more difficult route of formal training in classical music, in a country that has ceased listening to it.
Virtually unknown before this show, they break through with voices that would make you sit up, thumb frantically through the program in search of their names, and afterwards exhale a silent prayer of thanks for their teachers'--and the kids' own--stout-hearted commitment to honing those rare instruments. For the bright promise of their youth and talent, these two--Arman Ferrer and Janine Santos--deserve to be heard far more widely. They are major finds in my book.
About the sarsuwela--here's Walang Sugat in a nutshell, from an Inquirer piece by Ambeth Ocampo:
The zarzuela is set in Bulacan during the years of the Philippine Revolution, and centers on the lovers, Julia and Tenyong. Their love is tested when Tenyong joins the Revolution and leaves for the battlefield to avenge his father who died in prison from torture ordered by the friars. While Tenyong is away, Julia is forced by her mother to marry Miguel the rich nephew of the parish priest. The highlight of this play occurs on the day of Miguel and Julia’s wedding. Tenyong, mortally wounded, is brought into the church on a stretcher heavily bandaged. He asks for the last rites and interrupts the wedding. Then he asks to marry Julia before he dies. Naturally, Miguel and Julia’s mother object but cannot deny the dying man’s request. Julia and Tenyong are married and to everyone’s surprise the dying revolucionario rises from the stretcher and removes his bandages to reveal that--you guessed it--walang sugat! (No wound).
Part 1 of the video excerpts below. (I had to limit myself to recording only the leads' musical numbers since sitting behind me, no doubt distracted by the glare [small, but still...] of my HD Flip camera, was no less than Ateneo president Fr. Bienvenido Nebres. Who knew he'd also watch that night? My apologies, sir.)
1. Huwag Mong Silaban. Tenyong and Julia, second cousins and childhood sweethearts, engage in giddy banter. Julia has sewn a kerchief with Tenyong's initials on it, but her refusal to show it to Tenyong provokes the guy to threaten (playfully) to burn it. Hence the song's title, and the reaffirmation of love between the two.
2. Dalawang Braso. Tenyong's father is hauled to jail and tortured by the friars and town mayor. On his deathbed, his son vows revenge. Note both the exquisite delicacy (in “A, kapag namatay ka, o ama kong ibig...”) and thrilling power (the top notes in “frayle” and “bangkay”) of Ferrer's pipes.
3. Bayan Ko. Resolved to join the Katipuneros, Tenyong tries to dissuade the boy Pabling from following him, citing the dangers. The lad argues that even kids are capable of loving their country and fighting for its freedom. Against Julia's fears, and leaving his mother behind, Tenyong heads for the hills, to the soaring strains of Bayan Ko. End of Act 1. (This song, by the way, originally a poem by Jose Corazon de Jesus set to music by Constancio de Guzman, was a later addition to Walang Sugat).
[Thanks to Frances Sion for the photos. More clips in Part 2, up next.]