History & nostalgia in American Songbook in Baguio City

Soprano Mheco Manlangit with Paul Casiano at UC Theater. Photo by Anna Leah Sarabia.

There is a bit of history and nostalgia as the concert series, American Songbook (A Retrospect), unfolded in Baguio City over the weekend at the University of the Cordillera and UP Baguio’s Teatro Amianan.

As sopranos Jasmin Salvo and Mheco Manlangit with tenor Jan Brian Astom intoned the medley (I Got Rhythm, Embraceable You and Someone to Watch Over Me), the spirit of George Gershwin wafted in the air and with it the glorious history of Baguio which has a clear and dominant American connection.

The years 1898 to 1937 -- which was the lifetime of Gershwin – were witness to the colonial evolution of Baguio City which was declared the Summer Capital of the Philippines by Governor General William Taft in 1909.

Camp John Hay – established in 1903 – was named after President Roosevelt’s secretary of state John Milton Hay.

The Mansion in Baguio City -- built in 1908 -- served as the official residence of the American governor general during summer to escape from Manila’s blistering summer heat.

Even the University of the Cordillera (UC) where the first American Songbook concert took place with pianist Paul Casiano was just a block away from what used to be the only American hill station in Asia now the historic address of Casa Vallejo where earlier outreach concert series in Baguio took place.

Tenor Astom broke the ice and admitted to the predominantly young audience of UC that the program would feature favorite songs of their grandparents. He called it the old folks’ songs and added, “Where it not for them, you won’t be around.”

It helped that the singers have first-rate voices and the fact that they were classically trained was the young audiences’ initial exposure to operatic voices.

Soprano Jasmin Salvo with pianist Paul Casiano at the University of the Cordillera Theater. Photo by Anna Leah Sarabia.

Soprano Salvo has a clear throaty Gershwin sound in I Got Rhythm and was even more at home in Cole Porter’s in The Still of the Night. She delivered a delicately refined Smoke Gets in Your Eyes with an ending that took your breath away.

Broadway with the magical sound of opera was what soprano Manlangit gave the young audiences who screamed and applauded in the middle of the songs.

Tenor Astom’s Hammerstein number –Enchanted Some Evening – might as well describe American Songbook’s initial Baguio offering with young pianist Paul Casiano on the upright piano.

It was obvious that the UC president Ray Dean Salvosa knew the program inside and out and it was a delight listening to him as he narrated his Broadway music connections during welcome lunch for the visiting artists.

The American Songbook got a more intimate audience led by UP Chancellor Raymundo Rovillosat the newly built recital hall called Teatro Amianan in Baguio’s University of the Philippines.

For once soprano Manlangit’s operatic voice was put to good use as she interpreted All the Things You Are and So in Love and a magical If Loved You.

In the hands of pianist Gabriel Paguirigan, the lyrical Broadway numbers got an art song ending that was clear and impeccable to the last fading note.

Towards the end, the audience got a repertoire closer to their generation.

Tenor Astom sang a tender Maria and a well-loved duet of Tonight from Bernstein’s Westside Story.

Tenor Jan Brian Astom and sopranos Mheco Manlangit with Jasmin Salvo with pianist Gabriel Paguirigan at the Teatro Amianan at UP Baguio. Photo by Vixienne Marie Calulut.

With the three singers closing with Defying Gravity (Wicked) and Season of Love (Rent), American Songbook was headed for a hearty reception.

The encore number, Never Enough (from The Greatest Showman), thrilled the millennials in the audience.

American Songbook ended on a third day with a special performance at the University of Baguio Centennial Hall to mark art patron Des Bautista’s 76th birthday.

And so it was that American Songbook got a good reception from Baguio residents who are aware of the city’s colonial past.

It was two nights of glorious American songbook sang 5,050 feet above sea level and emceed with good insight from UP Prof. Ben Tapang.

American Songbook will have a special repeat performance at Ayala Museum on June 17, 2018, 6:30 p.m.

(American Songbook in Baguio City was presented by Cultural Arts Events Organizer and Guacamole productions in partnership with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Genesis Transport Service Inc., University of the Cordilleras, UP Baguio, Des and Auring Bautista, Sizzling Plate, Mother's Garden and Restaurant, Musar Music Corp. and Arca's Yard Baguio.)


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