Portrait of Filipino tenors as Edgardo di Ravenswood

Arthur Espiritu: the new Edgardo in the CCP production of Lucia.

When Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor opera unfolds at the Cultural Center of the Philippines January 30 with French soprano Melody Louledjian in the title role, it will also showcase the vocal artistry of Filipino tenors led by Arthur Espiritu who is singing the role of Sir Edgardo of Ravenswood for the second time after his much-acclaimed South Korean debut last year.

Melody Louledjian: the new CCP Lucia on January 30.

Before Espiritu, other Filipino tenors equally shone in the role.

Noel Velasco, winner of the Pavarotti competition in Philadelphia, sang four performances as Edgardo in a production of the Welsh National Opera under the baton of Sir Charles Mackerras.

The Ilonggo tenor Otoniel Gonzaga sang the same role in Ohio and Boston in the United States and with Graz Opera in Germany.

The first known performance of Lucia di Lammermoor was at Tondo Theater on November 26, 1886. Another foreign opera company staged the same opera two years later in the same theater only to resurface again some nine years later in Zorilla Theater in Quiapo in 1897.

Moreover, the opera was heard with Filipino cast at the Manila Metropolitan Theater as early as 1933, two years after its inauguration.

As if to showcase an opera loving Manilans, the 1931 Met inauguration was opened by an aria M’appari from Friedrich von Flotow’s opera, Martha sang by the great Italian tenor Tito Schipa.

The historic occasion was .graced by then senate president Manuel L. Quezon, interim American Governor General George C. Butte, then speaker of the house of representatives Sergio Osmena, Sr., Manila Mayor Tomas Earnshaw, University of the Philippines president Rafael Palma, the Archbishop of Manila, officers of various Chambers of Commerce from different countries, and members of the so-called Manila’s 400.

A photo from the 1933 production of Lucia di Lammermoor at the Manila Metropolitan Theater featuring the Lucia of Nelia Manalo (kneeling) and the Edgardo of Octavio Cruz (third from right).

The 1933 Met performance featured the Lucia of Nelia Manalo Concordia, the Edgardo of Octavio Cruz, Carmen Bernabe as Alice, the then 18-year old Luis Garchitorena as Arthur, Tomas Earnshaw as Enrico with bass Jose Galicano.

The Donizetti opera was last seen at the CCP in 1976 in its Filipino version with the Lucia of Editha Hernandez in a production of Centro Escolar University with the CCP Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Alfredo Buenaventura. It featured Gamaliel Viray as Enrico and bass baritone Emmanuel Gregorio as Raimondo.

Way back in 1948, another version of Lucia di Lammermoor was heard at the UST Gymnasium with the Lucia of Maestra Mercedes Matias Santiago who has sung the role more than 20 times. Lord Arthur Bucklaw was the then dashing tenor Aristeo Velasco.

Singing Lord Bucklaw at the coming CCP production is tenor Ivan Niccolo Nery who sang an infinitely moving Flower Song (Carmen) in one Manila Pianos concert series.

Born July 11, 1902, Octavio Cruz -- who sang the lead tenor role of Lucia di Lammermoor at the Manila Metropolitan Theater-- is Pasig’s renaissance man who was also the frequent Alfredo (Traviata) of Manalo and Santiago.

A discovery of Emilia Reysio Cruz at the UP College of Music, Cruz sang in the chorus of Aida in 1932 with Jose Barredo as Radames.

A year later, he was Alfredo in Traviata announced with much fanfare in El Debate. Came opening night, he got good reviews from La Opinion and Sunday Tribune. He was also Manrico in Il Trovatore opposite soprano Angela Asuncion de Agaton, Turrido in Cavalleria Rusticana with the same soprano, the title role in Faust with the distinguished bass Jose Mossesgeld Santiago opposite Manalo and Aida (as Radames) again with Agaton.

Like Santiago, Cruz studied with the pioneers of opera education in the Philippines namely voice teacher Victorino Carreon and considered the first opera impresario, Don Ramon Javier.

After Cruz’s triumphant debuts in Traviata, Lucia di Lammermoor, Trovatore, Faust, Aida and Cavalleria Rusticana, Pasiguenos may be right in claiming he was indeed the first Filipino Caruso.

Indeed, his vocal talent came at the time of the beginning of the golden age of opera in the Philippines from the Manila Grand Opera House to the Manila Metropolitan Theater and then on to the FEU Auditorium.

Tenor Octavio Cruz as he appears on the cover of Music News in a special tribute concert at Pasig Museum.

Writer Federico Licsi Espino described the years of 1930 to 1943 as “an auspicious era for opera in the Philippines. The era was marked by fruitful musical season. It is unexcelled in polished performances and a vitality of singing style. There is nothing like it in the whole history of opera in the Philippines.”

When Cruz passed away on June 20, 1977 (this is the same month and year the opera icon Maria Callas died in Paris), the Pasig Cathedral was full of music lovers and opera singers from Manalo to Santiago and many others.

With Cruz’s passing away in 1977, the country lost one of the last few links to the golden age of opera in the country.

Others in the CCP production of the Donizetti opera include Korean baritone Byeong-In Park as Lord Enrico Ashton, Lord of Lammermoor; Shi Zong, bass, as Raimondo Bidebent, a Calvinist chaplain; Alessandro Palumbo, conductor; Vincenzo Grisostomi Travaglini, director; and Prince Sisowath Ravivaddhana Monipong, assistant director.

The 2020 Lucia di Lammermoor is a coproduction with the Philippine Italian Association, Filipinas Opera Society Foundation and Rustan’s.

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