Filipino baritone meets legendary Spanish mezzo

The baritone as Alidoro in Cenerentola in Barcelona. He survived the language barrier.

Stories of music legends meeting Filipino artists are many and they prove that classical music is not the monopoly of Western musicians.

Composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein and violinist Isaac Stern heard a recital of Filipino pianist Cecile Licad and were impressed enough to greet her backstage.

In the late 40s, the young Bernstein worked with Filipino mezzo Conchita Gaston in a Carnegie Hall concert that also featured opera icon Beverly Sills who sang in Manila in 1969.

King of Opera Placido Domingo heard the Rigoletto of Filipino tenor Otoniel Gonzaga in Hamburg and was so impressed he knocked backstage, introduced himself and his son and told the tenor, “I thought you were Mexican,” Domingo told Gonzaga.

Gonzaga was Domingo’s understudy in The Merry Widow with Mirela Freni staged by Washington Opera.

Of late, the current opera sensation Jonas Kaufmann heard the Elvino (Sonnambula) of Filipino tenor Arthur Espiritu and could only say good words about the performance.

The latest in the opera scene is that Filipino baritone Zip de Guzman met the legendary Spanish mezzo Teresa Berganza when he appeared in a new version of Rossini’s Cenerentola where the revered singer was the artistic director.

Berganza is an opera icon in the same generation that produced Maria Callas, Victoria de los Angeles and Renata Tebaldi, among others.

Baritone Zip de Guzman with legendary mezzo Teresa Berganza. The baritone was easily starstruck.

In the Rossini opera staged at Sala D’Orchestra at Conservatori Liceu in Barcelona April 12 and 13, De Guzman played Alidoro, the philosopher and Prince Ramiro’s tutor.

He got the part when he applied after his Master of Music graduation at Elizabeth University in Japan.

De Guzman recounted: “I was star struck when I first saw Maestra Berganza and at the same time I was really nervous to sing in front of her. After a few days of vocal coaching, I realized she’s very bubbly, warm and motherly to all the members of the cast. She even signed my Ricordi vocal score and willingly had her photo taken. It was an opera milestone for me because she was identified with the title role of Cenerentola which she had sung so many times to great acclaim.”

He admitted it was hard to sing on stage because they could not hear themselves, but the audience could perfectly hear them on their side. “Dealing with the acoustics of the hall was a big challenge,” he added.

For another, he doesn’t speak Catalan and his Spanish was not so good and he had to deal with that every day of the rehearsal until the opening night.

He also had a hard time adjusting to a modernist, if, unconventional approach to opera. “Everything was improvised and modern, even our costumes and the staging. Our director, Paco Azorin also had a different and unconventional approach when it comes to our stage acting. You really have to think out of the box, but I learned a lot from my colleagues and the director.”

To his relief, he found the other members of the cast very encouraging. “My colleagues were very humble and supportive and to think that most of them are prizewinners of major competitions including Francisco Viñas, Carreras, Pallet. Most of them were already working for other opera houses including the Liceu, among others. At first, I felt uneasy because they were good, accomplished and amazing singers at their very young age. But when they warmed up to me, I became comfortable. It was also an honor to work with the conductor, Maestro Manuel Valdivieso, one of the most esteemed conductors in Barcelona and the rest of Spain.”

Zip de Guzman with Maestra Irma Potenciano when he got the NCCA award this year. He wants to do full-time teaching which is his real passion.

The capital and the largest city of Catalonia with a population of 1. 6 million, Barcelona he found the virtual stopover of many opera singers. “I love Barcelona because it’s where you see and hear many opera icons. I am very fortunate to attend masterclasses of people whom I only see in YouTube including baritone Carlos Álvarez and bass Eric Halfvarson.Recently, Jonas Kaufmann sang Andrea Chenier at the Gran Teatro del Liceu and the other day Juan Diego Florez and Bryn Terfel had a concert here as well.”

When he is done with performing, the baritone said he would like to do full time teaching. “Teaching is my real passion. I studied music because I was really frustrated with my voice and I wanted to help the young students develop their musicianship and personality. I guess all the performance opportunities that was given to me along the way was a bonus and a gift from God.”


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