Viva Voce’s pre-Valentine serenade

There is much to be said about the exercise of corporate social responsibility, particularly in supporting fine music.

Some big malls, among them Shangri-La Plaza in Mandaluyong and the Ayala Malls in Metro Manila, have stepped up to open their spaces for free concerts by classically trained musicians, the former to the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra, the latter to the Manila Symphony Orchestra.

And now the SM group of malls, particularly SM City East Ortigas Pasig and the BF Parañaque branches, is testing the waters with the Manila Chamber Orchestra Foundation’s presentation of the country’s top vocal ensemble, the Viva Voce Singers. The singers’ second free concert at SM City Parañaque was timed Sunday.

At Saturday’s concert in Pasig City, the sopranos (Glenda Velasco Liao, Anna Migallos, Roxy Aldiosa and Christine Palermo) looked like a row of delectable eye candy in gowns of emerald green, wine red, popsicle orange and royal purple. Solid but bright colors were noticeable under the men’s black jackets.

The Viva Voce Singers with their artistic director and founder Camille Lopez Molina, right.Photo by Elizabeth Lolarga.

With the group’s founder and artistic director Camille Lopez Molina on the keyboard, the concert opened with a series of Filipino courting songs, including the comic “Makikiliti Kang Totoo” from the Severino Reyes zarzuela Walang Sugat (always a popular duet featuring Liao and Raymond Yadao who can really ham it up), “Ikaw ang Mahal Ko,” “Maalaala Mo Kaya.”

Then the singers segued to foreign arias in Italian, French and English to show the many ways of declaring “I love you.” Roby Malubay proved every bit the ruthless seducer in the Don Giovanni excerpt played out with Aldiosa as one of his conquests. Aldiosa was again a revelation as she sang a seductive “Habanera” from Bizet’s opera Carmen.

Despite the youthfulness of peaches and cream Migallos and tenor Carlo Falcis, they made for a credible mature couple in the duet from Lehar’s operetta The Merry Widow. Noticeable when the song was sung was the tapping of heels from the elderly among the audience who were familiar with the tune.

Tenor Mark Bautista, who is bound for further studies at the Guildhall School of Drama and Music, interprets Bernstein's Maria from West Side Story. Photo by Elizabeth Lolarga

The third set of songs paid tribute to the great white way of Broadway with the singers’ choral rendition of Bernstein’s “Tonight” from West Side Story, Mark Bautista’s solo of “Maria” from the same musical, Velasco Liao’s heartfelt “Someone to Watch Over Me” from the Gershwin brothers’ Oh, Kay!, Malubay again cutting a dashing figure as Emile de Becque as he crooned “Some Enchanted Evening” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, Migallos’ cover of “I Could’ve Danced All Night” from Lerner-Loewe’s My Fair Lady and the medley from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera.

Viva Voce has been known to be the training ground of some of the country’s best vocal artists. Bautista recently was accepted to the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London where two Viva Voce sopranos, Myramae Tapia Meneses and Renee Michaela Fajardo, are already enrolled on full and partial scholarships.

Worth observing as she grows into her voice and achieves more confidence is Palermo. She did an alternatively coy and flirtatious “Unforgettable,” triggering memories of how balladeer Nat King Cole, and later on his daughter Natalie, turned that one into a pop classic.

Capping the matinee performance was the group singing of “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot.

What makes the pre-Valentine serenade of mall-goers laudable is how the disciplined singers kept their focus despite the distractions of a venue like a mall where people come and go.

Audience members sometimes stood up in the middle of a song to pull out an unruly child. But for those who stuck it out, some of them with graying hair, it was an afternoon well spent.

Lopez Molina was overheard saying, “I love it that the lolos and lolas came!”

The opera has an interesting history. It used to be the masses’ form of entertainment in olden times until the ruling class appropriated it and turned it into an art form for the elite. The MCOF production should be lauded for bringing back this theatrical and musical form back to the people in a contemporary setting such as a mall.

Tenor Raymond Yadao and soprano Glenda Velasco Liao. Photo by Elizabeth Lolarga.

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