Arts & Culture

Filipino tenor debuts in a Polish opera in Melbourne

A scene from the Polish opera,King Roger. Vocally challenging for the Filipino tenor. Photo credit: Opera Australia.

After his well-received Rodolfo in La Boheme at the Sydney Opera, Filipino tenor Arthur Espiritu debuts in a rarely performed Polish opera as the Shepherd in Karol Szymanowski’s “King Roger.”

Hailed as a superb production by the Sydney Morning Herald, the Polish opera opens at Melbourne Arts Center on May 19.

“This superb production is a rare chance to see something rich and strange,” wrote an Australian critic after watching its initial staging at the Sydney Opera.

Another Australian critic said the “Szymanowski rarity marries spectacular staging with an intense erotic charge.”

Espiritu who is making his Melbourne debut said the opera was pretty challenging. “The musical rehearsal was a bit hard because I am the only new singer in the group and everyone has already done the production some ten times before.So, I feel like I have to be up fast to catch up with everything. Of course, there’s the element of having to worry about the short rehearsal time.”

The Melbourne Arts Center where Filipino tenor Arthur Espiritu debuts May 19.

Describing his Shepherd role as “very interesting,” he expounded, “It is the antagonist of the story.He is the symbol of the Dionysian ideology.One dimensional being.Believing he is a God.Preaching and spreading pagan beliefs.Human nature is better than religiousness.Why not indulge in your desires? Director Kasper Holten’s ideas are pretty sly. It makes a lot of sense in a visual way and very emphatic on the battle between his good angel and bad angel. I represent the bad angel.”

The Filipino tenor flew to Melbourne right after his engagement with Romanian diva Nelly Miricioiu at the Ayala Museumlast month.

In between rehearsals with the Romanian diva, Espiritu had to learn the opera fast and learn to sing it in Polish libretto.

In the first few rehearsals in Melbourne, he realized he was in for a tough vocal challenge. “It is 20th century music and atonal so my musical chops have no power over it.Everything has to be sung to its exact specifications from the composer.If you try to make a stretch or rubato or any color change, you will be behind and you will be out of tune with the orchestra on the next bar.There are many meter changes, no key signatures, and yes, it’s in Polish.So, I had to rely on pure phonetic sounds and translate word for word. I must say it is a totally different experience.”

Described as “voluptuously beautiful, imagina­tively colored, stylistically diverse masterpiece,” the opera was earlier seen in a 2015 spring season at the Covent Garden.

Arthur Espiritu with Nelly Miricioiu reprising “Parigi o cara” from La Traviata. Photo by Nomher Nival.

The tenor admits the opera has some very good beautiful lines. “It has so many kinds of thematic sounds from the Byzantine, to Oriental, to old Polish folk tunes, really interesting.I really think that Szymanowski did some very good things with the voices especially Roxanna’s role which has some of the best tunes in the opera.”

The Polish opera was one of two contracts (including La Boheme) offered to the tenor after Australia Opera artistic director Lyndon Terracini saw him in the controversialCalixto Bieito staging of Cosi fan tutti in Basel (Switzerland).

After his Melbourne engagement, he will sing the Duke in Rigoletto with St. Margarethen Opern Festspiele in Vienna and another Boheme in Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv at end of the year.

Asked what he learned from singing with the Romanian diva for the first time, Espiritu said: “I have learned that true art lies within someone’s heart and good intentions for the Art.Loving what you do and keeping that love in conjunction with your life.She gave me so much inspiration.To have lived the life and experience all of those fantastic achievements, I’m just in awe.”