By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City — The Payag Restaurant on Roosevelt Avenue was packed to watch Kirby Asunto sing her way back home again here in the world’s premiere city. Donning a red dress and her hair pulled up, Kirby was at her element, belting American and Filipino pop songs for a crowd that is captivated by her sweet warm voice and child-like giggles.
Seven months earlier, 15-year-old Kirby went home to the Philippines with her family to do a series of shows for the country’s giant media networks, ABS-CBN and GMA. She likewise performed for local politicians in their campaign sorties in the recent elections. It was a meaningful time touching base with her Filipino roots, and looks forward to going back to the Philippines in December, in time to escape the snow and to record her first CD album.
But a big project awaits Kirby in October, with the opening of the Noli Mi Tangere Opera at the Kaye Playhouse of Hunter College on the 4th, 5th, and 6th of the month. She plays the 12-year-old Basilio, the older son of Sisa who worked as an abused sacristan together with his younger brother Crispin. Kirby will be performing alongside stalwarts of Philippine Opera, led by Sal Malaki, who will portray the role of Philippine hero Dr. Jose Rizal. She will be under the tutelage of New York City-based stage director May Pamana.
The Noli Me Tangere Opera has Michael Dadap for musical director. Dadap is the Artistic and Music Director of the Children’s Orchestra Society (COS) New York since 1984. A seasoned and versatile conductor, Mr. Dadap has conducted, worked, and collaborated with the world’s legendary soloists and duo ensembles with orchestra, which includes Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Sharon Robinson, Violinists Christine Kwak, Sheila Reinhold, Soovin Kim, Stephanie Chase, Sarah Chang, and Cho Liang Lin and Jaime Laredo, pianists Emmanuel Ax, Helen Huang, and Cecile Licad among others.
Kirby said she has just finished reading the script of the Noli, and found the role very challenging, aside from realizing the inequities of Philippine society then and now. “This is another major break for me. I look forward to being Basilio,” she said giggling. Rehearsals for this young lady would commence next week.
Excerpts of the interview:
1. It was your first time to come home to the Philippines as a performer, wasn’t it? How did that feel?
Kirby: It was a nice experience. I made my adlibs with the audience stronger. I had to speak Tagalog before the Filipino audience.
2. Which audience are you more comfortable with, with the all-Filipino or with the Fil-Ams?
3. On your upcoming role as Basilio in the Noli Me Tangere Opera, do you think being a young boy would be so much of a challenge?
Kirby: I think so. Especially because this is my first time to perform on a professional opera. Although I had performed before in school operas, this is going to be very challenging and in Tagalog.
4. Are you going to do a la Anne Hathaway and cut your hair for the role?
Kirby: I think I will just wear a wig.
5. Do you think it is difficult to sing and act like a boy?
Kirby: I think it is challenging. But Basilio is 12 years old, and normally, the voice range of boys and girls are just the same within that age. I will practice hard to really pull it off.
6. I think your voice is really suitable for musicals and opera. Do you think this project with Noli Me Tangere will lead you to be more serious with Opera music than pop?
(For tickets to the Noli Me Tangere the Opera, go to www.nolimetangerenyc.org)