A Feast for the eyes, not much for the ears
Performed by the Barasoain Kalinangan Foudation
February 13, 2009 performance, UP Theater
When the word Zarzuela is mentioned one prominent work comes to mind and with it the name of its creator. Walang Sugat by Severino Reyes is probably one of the well known examples of Zarzuelas to date. Although Severino Reyes have written several other works, Walang Sugat gained a considerable sucess during the zarzuela’s golden era in 1930s. It rose again to prominence after the Second World War and won over the younger generations of zarzuela aficionados during its revivals in 1979 and 1992. Even if it has gone through several ordeals through the years it does not seem to lose its appeal to its loyal audience.
Recently, this wonderful zarzuela took the stage once more in celebration of the Zarzuela Festival at the University of the Philippines with performances by the Barasoain Kalinangan Foundation, Inc. The program commenced with a dance as the overture plays on. Combination of movements showing various emotions depict the bad and good elements in the story. It also served as a fore warning of things to come as old photographs were flashed in the back ground with the aid of an LCD projector. It seems like the dance was also to interpret what was being flashed on the screen. These were pictures showing the hardships and atrocities the Spanish colonizers had brought upon the natives that eventually led to the founding of the Katipunan by Andres Bonifacio and the writing of the Dr. Jose Rizal’s Noli me Tanghere and El Filibusterismo.
The first part of the zarzuela introduced the main characters Tenyong and Julia. Tenyong was enjoying sweet time with his sweetheart Julia when news came that his father was arrested by the Spanish officers due to suspicion of his seditious activities against the government. The cruelty of his captors led to his death forcing the young Tenyong to avenge his father’s death by joining the rebels and taking on what his father had started. But this decision meant leaving his family and his beloved Julia behind. The ever hopeful and faithful Julia can only do nothing but support the decision of Tenyong and prayed to the high heavens that time will come that all these things that disturbed their love will come to pass.
As if separation was not enough. News came for Julia that she was to be engaged to Miguel in the second act. The rich yet witless son of Don Tadeo, a family friend of
Julia’s, won the favor of Julia’s mother Juana. His being dense and “shy” on so many things eased her nerves that he will never be involved in any undoing against the government that will bring peril to their lives unlike the rebellious Tenyong. This unwelcome news came to Tenyong through an emissary sent by Julia along with it is also the news of the passing of Tenyong’s mother. Luckily for both of them, the revolution was coming to an end just in time for Tenyong to rescue his love from being married to somebody else.
In the final act, Tenyong arrived on the day of Miguel and Julia’s wedding date being carried by his soldiers and appeared to be wounded and was about to die. He had requested for Julia’s hand in marriage and would not mind so much for Julia and Miguel to carry on with their matrimony upon his death. Everybody agreed as an act of goodwill for someone who is close to death thus Tenyong and Julia wed. Tenyong of course did not die. Instead he revealed himself to be in good health for everybody to exclaim “Walang Sugat!” ending the story on a happy note that all good things will come in the end.
The two lovers served as a breather against the dark and harsh realities of the revolution. The hopeful Julia and the ideal hero Tenyong relied on their love and loyalty for each other to guide them towards these turbulent times as what was said in their love duet “Sa Hirap at Ginhawa.” This song was not part of the original Fulgencio Tolentino score. Instead it was composed by Mike Velarde who was just one of the several composers who came up with the reconstruction of the material after it was destroyed during the Second World War. This overflowing love soon metamorphosed into love of country and its emancipation from foreign domination as what was expressed by the final song in the first act “Bayan Ko” immediately following “Sa Hirap at Ginhawa.” This moving number was composed by another great Filipino, Constancio De Guzman. This song managed to survive up to this date for it has become the anthem of the Filipinos whenever rights of the people are being oppressed. Several other songs written to reconstruct the zarzuela were “Paalam” and “Huwag Mong Dulutan,” also by de Guzman; “Walang Sugat,” “Makikiliti Kang Totoo,” and “Ako’y Lubayan” were also Velarde’s and “Battle Song” by Herminio Velardo. The rest of the music remained Fulgencio Tolentino’s.
The Barasoain Kalinangan Foundation Inc.’s production of Walang Sugat remained faithful to the traditions of Zarzuela form after all. Except for the use of multimedia devices such as the LCD projector and lapel microphones, one can say that it is still the zarzuela our grandparents had enjoyed during their time. Unfortunately, one cannot help to be distracted when lapel microphones become visible on stage for it totally disrupt the illusion of bringing the audience back to the time and place of the zarzuela where these gadgets were never heard of. Costumes are a delight to the eyes and one can feel a little envy because of the fact that the fashion then can only remain to be worn and seen on stage. The additional frame constructed on the stage and outside of the enormous UP Theater is reminiscent of the old Zorilla theaters where swirling flowers and banana leaves were engraved giving it that rustic feel and differentiating it from a more polished and classical opera sets or the modern and clean lines of the UP Theater architecture.
Appreciation for the music of Fulgencio Tolentino and the other composers was easy for zarzuela aficionados. But if one is a regular supporter of modern day music such as the prevalent pop culture of today, he or she might need to spend a little more time not just the music but almost everything to sink in to be able to appreciate it. Most comments from the young people present during the program stated that they were bored by the long and unexciting overtures. They were irked by the “corny” dialogues and the customs of men and women in their interactions during that time as presented in the zarzuela. It appears to be that these old customs of men and women’s interaction were alien to them and gave them a hard time understanding why it is so. As for the music, it brought back the memories of the usual background music common to the old black and white movies of the 1930s but once the familiar melodies of the individual songs were heard it started to have an identity of its own. The some of the song types were similar to the Kundiman genre in terms of content and sentiment while others were based on the Danza and the Habanera tempo prevalent of the Spanish era. Marches were common since the story included scenes from a nation on the verge of revolt making its presence inevitable. These types of old Filipino music was sentimental and carried a lot of emotion and aspirations. It expresses the bittersweet effects of letting go, the ecstasy of victory over dark forces threatening separation from a loved one and the spirit of nationalism. During those days, these emotions were conveyed in music and songs based on the parameters dictated by that era may it be the availability of musical instruments used, ideals and philosophies practiced, vocal and acting techniques employed and the conditions where such music were to be performed. It cannot be better than how it already is and for it to go beyond that will entail this form to be called something else other than zarzuela music and arias. The dialogues only showed how customary conversations were handled by women towards men, a daughter towards her mother and a son to his father. If one compares these things to what are happening to today’s society, he or she can only shake his or her head for such Filipino refinement and courtesies had already vanished in people’s daily interactions.
As for the Barasoain Kalinangan Foundation Inc.’s actors, although the performance is a zarzuela, it is evident that singing is not one of their strong features for there is a great need for improvement with regards to vocal performance. Zarzuela singing does not necessarily require strong operatic techniques but substantial knowledge and skills in execution will do. The use of lapel microphones can be a great help for vocal timbre that lack volume specially if pitted against the gargantuan stage like the UP Theater but it also amplify undesirable and destructing sounds. Singing is poorly supported and exemplified a lack in singing techniques. When the singing aspect in a Filipino production is taken for granted it always take away the recognition the written music it truly deserves. Walang Sugat possesses many wonderfully written songs which could have been more uplifting for the people listening if given a just performance by the singer. It seems like it has become customary to Philippine theater to take the acting part seriously and never mind if singing part does not match the quality of acting. One has to remember that singing does not only mean to execute the right notes with the proper rhythm. The singing itself should impart comfort that will put the listener at ease to be able to savor the song without the uncomfortable anticipation for a crack in the voice of the performer or the obvious lack of breath. Audiences tend to breathe with the performer so whatever discomfort the singer is experiencing is also felt by his or her audience. Sadly, this botched their efforts to mount a what could have been a one hundred percent wonderful musical performance.