Arts & Culture

A Filipino tenor worth braving the traffic for

Tenor Arthur Espiritu with fellow artists who gave Metro Manila classical music lovers a magical night. From left, pianist Gabriel Paguirigan,soprano Jasmin Salvo, Espiritu, Stefanie Quintin, and Myramae Meneses. Photo from Meneses’ Facebook.

Last Saturday night was pretty much like the state of the nation when no one was looking.

A ray of sunshine in the morning turned into ominous dark in the afternoon and the rain just poured like another warning from the heavens.

Those who calendared an evening with tenor Arthur Espiritu and his guest sopranos with pianist Gabriel Paguirigan at the Circuit Makati found themselves trapped at C-5 and the build up saw vehicles piling up along Kalayaan Avenue blocking the way to Makati City on many sides. It turned out there were road constructions going on at C-5 and the sudden downpour made it worst.

This was no way to begin an evening of operatic arias but then the concert has a star tenor with only one engagement in the country this year. You take the bad traffic and the bad management and hoping to be transported to another realm by the magic of the human voice.

After some delay due to stranded music lovers, the concert was off to a good start with a short but haunting Fenton’s aria from Falstaff,” Dal labbro il canto estasiato vola.”

With the orchestra parts arranged for piano by Jed Balsamo, the intro had calming effect and indeed what a fitting opener for concertgoers who survived the monstrous traffic. The tenor voice floated with authority somewhere with a hint of pathos and pure unexplained longing. Pianist Paguirigan made something vastly magical with that one-minute intro. When the tenor sound appeared, the night’s opera conquest was off to a good start.

To be sure, the guest sopranos had their own glorious moments with their chosen arias.

Espiritu and Meneses in a Boheme duet. Photo by Sarah Sison.

Soprano Stefanie Quintin was easily an instant standout with her Handel aria from Giulio Cesare followed by Jasmin Salvo delectably eschewing a Donizetti aria and then Myramae Meneses showing off a gem of a maturing voice in Mi chiamano Mimi (Boheme).

All told, the sopranos had winning voices and a level of confidence that made their performances visually and vocally appealing.

Moreover, their ability to blend came to the fore in the duets with the versatile tenor.

Meneses was a highly vulnerable Mimi in “O soave fanciulla” with the Rodolfo of Espiritu.

But their Cosi fan tutte duet eclipsed everything else. It was one hot item and indeed one has never heard a more sensual Mozart duet.

The Adina of Salvo was a good foil to the playful Nemorino of Espiritu who carved a real funny drunken moment with superb acting in the “L’elisir d’amore” duet.

But nothing beats the finale Romeo et Juliette duet of Quintin and Espiritu. Visually, the two looked the parts and when they sang, the vocal rapport was even more truly ephemeral.

For another, their acting stood out.

Over and above anything else, they have a gem of a collaborative artist in Paguirigan.

Espiritu’s one of only two solo numbers was Che gelida manina from La Boheme.

You could see from the attention of the audience that they were listening to a voice of great import. Never mind that the aria was inspired byFrenchman Henri Murger’s stories in the mid-19th century and with a description of their first meeting as follows: “But what contributed above all to make Rodolfo madly in love with Mademoiselle Mimi were her hands, which in spite of household cares, she managed to keep as white as those of the Goddess of Idleness.”

Over the years of singing Boheme in various countries, Espiritu has made the aria his own. The tessitura always has a natural sheen and of that much feared high notes, he simply breezed through them like a virtual walk in the park and with all the overpowering emotion not waiveringa bit.Deafening applause and screams of Bis! followed.

Like what opera convert and Espiritu fan Benette Santiago posted on FB, it takes so little to appreciate music. She wrote, “With opera you just let the music wash over you and take you away from where you were — from the humdrum of days when you operate on auto-pilot to scenes of pining for a Romeo.”

Before the performance. From left Arthur Espiritu, Myramae Meneses, Angel Nacino of MCO Foundation, Cristina Espiritu, and Stefanie Quintin.

The concert was a fundraising event of the MCO Foundation which has logged 34 years in the local concert scene.

If the MCO board of trustees could learn anything from this event, it is the realization that talents abound but it takes more than passion to undertake a program to support the artists. “If there is a will,” Espiritu said,” there is a way.”

It was a coincidence that the cell phone of one trustee rang in the middle of an aria.

A fitting reminder that support for the arts should be real and encompassing, not some kind of ego trip for credit-obsessed patron of the arts.