By Robert Encila
Manila — In honor of the upcoming 60th anniversary of the Noli Me Tangere opera’s original premiere, New York-based artist Jerry Sibal returns to Manila with renewed elan and a more ambitious vision for his production of the Noli. Not only is he launching a spectacular new set design, he is also at the helm as a first-time director.
For Sibal–a Filipino of Chinese descent living in Manhattan–returning to his native Manila is a source of pride and creative renewal.
Sibal is a consummate artist of international renown. A sought-after event designer in New York City, he published an innovative coffee table book titled An Event to Remember: Designing Spectacular Special Occasions(Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2009). His network packs an impressive punch, featuring a who’s who of contemporary pooh-bahs: Sir Richard Branson, Steve Wynn, Oprah Winfrey, Celine Dion, and Sheik Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani of Qatar, to name a few.
With an elite world at his disposal, Sibal might appear immutably removed from his humble roots of Binondo, Manila. On the contrary, he’ll gladly indulge anyone who raises his favorite topic. Binondo is not only his cherished place of birth, it’s also the setting of Dr. Jose Rizal’s 1887 novel, Noli Me Tangere (“Touch Me Not”).
The latter feature is the reason why Sibal beams at the mere mention of his hometown. He has an affinity for the national hero’s opus, whose description of Old Manila ignites a romantic idealism for this enterprising man of many art forms (he is a graduate of Architecture, a former interpreter of indigenous Filipino dance, and a successful floral and set designer).
To Sibal’s imaginative eye, Old Binondo is a vivid and vital environment, reflecting the words and sentiments of Rizal. His scenic rendering of Rizal’s Binondo, with its presumed accuracy, would certainly do the author proud.
Rizal’s seminal narrative about Philippine Society in the Spanish Colonial era (which is obligatory reading for Filipino high school students), was adapted into opera byNational Artist for Music Felipe de Leon and National Artist for Sculpture Guillermo Tolentino. It premiered in 1957 and was re-staged in 1987 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) as a centennial commemoration of the book’s publishing.
In 2014, Sibal produced Noli Me Tangere, The Opera, at Resorts World, Manila, under J & S Productions, Inc., a company he founded with partner and fellow art enthusiast Edwin Josue. It came on the heels of a highly acclaimed run of the same show that J & S Productions had mounted at Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College in New York City and at Washington DC’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Sibal is effusive in his description of the play’s scenic elements. “The show’s sets–which, according to the CCP are the largest it has ever had for an opera–and my overall directorial concept are very faithful to Rizal’s book. Nature-inspired and rustic textures envelop the floor-to-ceiling, multi-functional set pieces on stage. It’s like you’ve found yourself wandering inside the Metropolitan Opera House or a century-old Broadway Theatre in the middle of a busy day in Old Manila.” (Broadwayworld.com)
Date and Time: January 28 and February 1-3, 2017 at 8 p.m; January 29 and February 3, 2017 at 2 p.m. lVenue: Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo (CCP Main Theater) lTickets: P3,500 l P2,500 l P1,500 l P1,200 l P1,000