Arts & Culture

A Filipino opera star is born

Tenor Arthur Espiritu at the CCP.In top vocal form with excellent acting thrown in. Photo by Kiko Cabuena.

If his cheering CCP crowd last September 26 was of any indication, matched by a shouting ovation coming from a predominantly millennial audience, it just meant tenor Arthur Espiritu has bridged the gap between the young and the old in opera appreciation.

At the CCP lobby where new fans outnumbered the senior citizens, the tenor was mobbed by new found admirers asking for autograph and that inevitable selfies.

Like it or not, an opera star is born in the person of Espiritu who happens to be the first Filipino tenor to sing at La Scala di Milan.

To be sure, Otoniel Gonzaga from Iloilo had that share of ovation at the CCP and Philamlife theaters. It just happened that in this rare, well-received recital, the millennials were completely won over and cheering like they just heard a new rock star.

Out of the blue on a balmy Wednesday night, Espiritu proved he has reached a level of acceptance that erased no doubt that he is a singer of consequence in this island plagued by floods and typhoons and extra judicial killings.

“I felt that they were fabulous,” the tenor told Vera Files about his first CCP recital audience. “They were very receptive and I was very happy to see that there were many different age groups in the audience that night.”

Looking good together and in perfect sync with pianist Mariel Ilusorio, Espiritu set the special tone of his recital with Liszt’s Tre Sonetti de Petrarca rendered with such beauty and impetus you have to look twice to convince yourself the interpretation came from a Filipino singer.

The voice was powerful but the tenor got more approval from the way he used his bel canto skills to extract beautiful nuances from every phrase.

Espiritu said his assisting artist was simply wonderful although he felt they needed more time for rehearsal as he arrived from Frankfurt a mere one week before the recital date.

“Mariel was wonderful.Her musicality and feel for the music were very honest to what the composers wrote.Her piano had fluidity and sense of depth. She was also very kind and generous musician and person. It was such a pleasure performing with her,” he said.

Tenor Arthur Espiritu with young opera fans. Opera has a good future in this country. Photo by Christina B. Espiritu.

He added performing at the CCP Little Theater was just like singing in a typical opera house. “The hall was fine it was just like singing in a typical opera house. It felt dry on my side but I just trusted the hall to carry the sound.”

But the sight of so many young people in the audience was something else for him. Naturally he didn’t expect the kind of reactions they normally reserve for their favorite rock stars. “I really felt that there was hope and that classical music will go on despite what several critics and pessimists say. I felt that we were moving forward on that night and my hope was to affect and hopefully interpret the music to the point that it would inspire them.”

After his recital, he plunged head on to masterclasses the following day and it dawned on him that opera still has still substantial following among young singers. “Thankfully the master classes were a lot of fun and the singers were very receptive and very eager to learn. We have an abundance of talent in this country and we must help cultivate the talent to the point that it can be competitive against the current standards out there. I felt very happy to be able to share my experiences with them and I’m also very grateful that we have teachers who were willing to reach out and share with us their students. As a teacher, I really feel that it is important that the students reach their potential and hope that you have somehow made a difference in their lives not just in academia but in life as well.”

He has not spent a couple of weeks in Manila when off he flew to Lithuania to sing Rodolfo (La Boheme) at the Kaipedia National Music Theater October 6.

He will have a short holiday break during the Yule season before singing Roberto (Earl of Leicester) in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda at Staatstheater am Gaertnerplatz in Germany starting February 8, 2019 to May 5, 2019.

With a sigh, the tenor confided: “I feel that the time spent with my family was far too short. Those moments I missed especially my children’s development from the first steps to their first words were moments I wish I was there to witness. This is one of the sacrifices in my life that I wish I never have to make.”