By Marivir R. Montebon
New York — It was the finest treat Filipinos in the East Coast could ever have for this year, the staging of the novel Noli Me Tangere by Dr. Jose Rizal, into an opera of three acts (Felipe de Leon) in the Big Apple.
Deep, moving, and definitely awesome in the finer artistic elements of the set, costumes, and music, Noli was a landmark performing arts production. Ms. Loida Nicolas Lewis along with the experienced expertise of Filipino artists, labored on this project with passion and dedication through the Foundation for Filipino Artists.
Thanks to Jerry Sibal who did a fabulous stage design that transported the audience to colonial Philippines in the 1800s. And thanks too to the orchestra of maestro Michael Dadap, the soulful mingling of the voices of the actors and the orchestra was magical. May Pamana definitely did a splendid direction of the entire Opera.
The demand for a repeat performance is as audible as its rousing applause in the three autumn nights the Noli was shown at the Kaye Play House of the upper east Manhattan’s Hunter College on October 4-6.
Noli, the Opera, was an ensemble of respected Filipino opera singer led by Sal Malaki as Juan Crisostomo Ibarra, Antoni Mendezona as Maria Clara, Andrew Fernando as Padre Damaso, Roberto Perlas Gomez as Elias, Maria Christina Navarro as Sisa, and Kirby Asunto as Basilio.
It also featured Jonathan Estabrooks, Rosemarie Flores, Brad Arreglado, May Hackett, William Lim, Brittany Palmer, Allan Samonte, Rina Saporantos, Elijah Sirilan, Zion Sirilan, Ulises Solano, Resty Yongco, Sherwin Su, and Lisa Villamaria.
The crew was as formidable as the cast: Rene Dalandan (assistant stage director), Kristin Jackson (choreographer), Jeff Davis (lighting designer), Executive Producer Jerry Sibal (set and costume designer), Natalie Qing Zhang (stage manager) and Clare Chujie Xu (assistant stage manager).
Noli, the Opera has stuck to the same message of social ills which Dr. Rizal boldly wrote about in his novel that inspired the anti-Spanish revolution. Sans the impeccable showmanship of the Filipino artists, Dr. Rizal perhaps would still want to emphasize how we must heal our own illnesses and wounds as a people.
As Philippine Consul General Mario de Leon puts it, it was “a world class production with a world-class Filipino cast. Noli Me Tangere, the opera, makes everyone proud to be a Filipino during its 3-day run in New York City, the capital of musicals and operas in the planet.”
OSM! shares these reviews from an ecstatic, well-satisfied audience:
“Noli Me Tangere was fantastic! The singers were all excellent. The whole performance brought nostalgic feelings in me. The character Sisa delivered a powerful performance both in her singing and acting. Maria Clara, Crisostomo Ibarra, and Padre Damaso brought their characters to life with such passion that for a moment we, the audience, felt that we have gone back to the Spanish era. Everything was meticulously prepared – the costumes, the music, and the background of each scene.
This opera is a testament to the ingenuity and talent of our Filipino artists. Ms. Loida Lewis and the rest of her group deserve a standing ovation for a job well done!” – Vicky Baul
“I am proud to have seen a Filipino Opera in NYC. The whole production is outstanding! Jerry Sibal designed and created the 1800s look and feel on stage. The orchestra was remarkable. I have nothing but praises for all the performers. To Ms. Loida Lewis and the organizers, thank you for making this event possible. Mabuhay ang Pinoy.” – Grace Labaguis
“It was great, although it was a bit long. Kirby Asunto gave a heart tugging performance as Basilio. She made me cry.” – Elton Lugay
“Thank you for asking me about something that I enjoyed immensely last Saturday night. The Opera Noli Me Tangere was truly outstanding in regards to the set and the costumes. I love the set design by Jerry Sibal, the capiz shell windows from top to the floor and open up to show scenes like the day with the clouds moving by, then changing to evening with a moon and then closing to show chaos outside. It was magnificent. Kudos to Jerry Sibal whom I congratulated personally.
And the costumes, wow, I want to wear all of them to the community functions. The singers were terrific with their singing especially Sal Malaki as Crisostomo, who I learned was a student of Fides Ascencio Cuyugan, and Maria Clara (Antoni Mendezona) but the best of them all was Sisa. She was gloriously excellent in her role as Sisa. Her acting as the crazy woman was superb.
I think that the music was a little loud that it drowns some of the singing of the main actors. All in all, Noli Me Tangere should have been seen by more people, especially Filipinos so they can be proud that they have something to be proud of.” – Lumen Castaneda
“Magaling sila lahat pero doon ako umiiyak sa scene nila ni Sisa at Basilio. (They were all good but I cried on the scene of Sisa and Basilio).” – Shirley Asunto
“It was truly a beautiful production, great acting and singing, especially Sisa who made me cry. The message of Noli continues to be relevant today. There has to be a repeat performance and a national tour!” – Nerissa Alegretti