By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City — Here is to an absolute thumbs up to the substance and singing sensation of Juan Luna’s Spoliarium. Debuting on October 1, at the Richard Harris Terrace Hall of the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, one would readily conclude that this neo-romantic opera has singing actors par excellence and a story worth telling.
A brain child libretto and lyrics of Fides Cuyugan Asensio (who portrayed Sisa of Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere), the three act play beacons with the thunderous chorus of Viva Luna, for having won the 1884 Madrid Exposition of Fine Arts for his Spoliarium, rendered on enormous canvass.
On the splendid music of respected maestro Ryan Cayabyab, one sees the friendship of ‘indios’ (or I should say immigrants) in Paris, sharing tsokolate, enjoying fencing, and discussing about Spanish atrocities. Juan Luna (Michael Kuhn) spends time with his contemporaries Jose ‘Pepe’ Rizal (Ivan Nery) and Trinidad Pardo de Tavera (Andrew Fernando) who is to become his brother-in-law, as they talk about the ills of the motherland.
The story progresses into romance with Luna falling in love with rich Spanish girl Paz de Tavera (Bianca Camille Lopez). They eventually marry while the painter gains recognition among the art circles of Paris and all over Europe for his masterpieces which were bold and aesthetically lavish social commentaries.
Luna’s tumultuous personal life pails in contrast to his acclaimed works and the power these paintings evoked for the indio’s revolution against Spain. He is constantly agonized by his meddling mother-in-law, Dona Juliana (Aida Gamboa) who also puts him down for being an ‘indio’. Love wanes and Luna becomes extremely jealous of his wife and blames her for the death of their second child. His aggravation and insanity lead him to murder her and his mother-in-law. Luna admits his guilt and is later pardoned, for at that time, killing a philandering wife is forgivable.
This opera, under the direction of Anton Juan, refreshes us to the reality that racial prejudice and jealousy are timeless, just as much as social injustices and domestic violence remain ingrained in society.
I love this project. Kudos to the Foundation for Filipino Artists, the Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Asian Artist, and the Pierre Le Saint Events for mounting this on stage.
Save for the need for dramatic lighting to highlight Luna’s melancholy and breakdown and vibrant costumes for women reminiscent of the fashionably exciting Paris, it is culturally worthy to be toured. Or be on Broadway.
Watch it. The torrential rain did not stop us last night. (Photos by Troi Santos and Google.com)
Spoliarium still on tonight, October 2 at 8PM and October 3 5PM
Tribeca Performing Arts Center
199 Chambers Street, New York, NY 10006