Need to brush up on the Severino Reyes-Fulgencio Tolentino sarsuwela Walang Sugat for the audition below? Here are four major musical moments I recorded (with permission) from the 2010 Tanghalang Ateneo production headlined by young actors Arman Ferrer and Janine Santos, and directed by Ricky Abad. [More clips here and here.]
But first--Walang Sugat in a nutshell, from an Inquirer piece by historian 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).
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. Minamahal Kita nang Tunay. It's been a year since Tenyong left for the war front. Julia is being forced by her mother to marry Miguel, the parish priest's wealthy nephew. In desperation, she sends a letter to Tenyong, begging him to return. Tenyong learns not only that Julia has been betrothed to Miguel, but that his mother has died in his absence. He sinks to his knees in grief and prayer. (I call this Arman Ferrer/Tenyong's Bring Him Home moment.) In a larger sense, of course, the Julia that Tenyong vows to rescue is the motherland whose honor he has offered his life to defend. When Ferrer gathers strength to sing the song's thundering peak--“Hahamakin ko'ng kamatayan, mailigtas kita lamang!”--it's a transcendent moment, the sarsuwela at its most heart-achingly expressive.
4. Walang Sugat/Finale. Near-death, Tenyong makes his last confession, and an unusual last request: that, before he dies, he and Julia be wed. After all, Julia would be a widow so soon after, free again to marry Miguel. Both Miguel's side and Julia's mother agree. The priest pronounces the couple man and wife. The general then bids Tenyong to rise. He does--removing his bandages to reveal he's actually unscathed. (“Walang sugat!”) Tenyong and Julia are reunited, and in the final frame, dressed in the colors of the new nation rising from the revolution going on around them, the couple and their friends sing of a fervent dream--and a promise: “Aking adhika, makita kang sakdal laya!” Blackout.
PLUS: About the two leads, from what I wrote in 2010 here--
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.