What do sopranos Evelyn Mandac, Fides Cuyugan Asencio and Andion Fernandez have in common?
Although there is generational gap in their singing careers (50s, 70s, 90s), they have all sung a lead role in Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel.
Mandac sang Hansel in one of her first two performances at the New York Met and Fernandez sang a lead role in the same opera at Deutsche Opera Berlin while Asencio (now National Artist for Music) kept the role in her repertoire after graduating from the Curtis Institute in the early 50s.
This was New York Times report of Mandac’s Met appearance in the role: “In the New Year’s Day performance of Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” given by the Metropolitan Opera, Evelyn Mandac took the part of Gretel for the first time with the company. A Philippine soprano, she made her Met debut this season. Appearing with the cast that included Rosalind Elias (Hansel), Jean Kraft (Gertrude), William Walker (Peter) and Andrea Velis (the Witch), Miss Mandac seemed at home vocally and dramatically. Her duets with Miss Elias found the two voices in reasonable balance, and the two vocal textures were compatible.”
Singing at the Met (or for that matter, the La Scala di Milan in Italy) is like breaking through a Mafia of established musicians.
In the past, the Met was also the territory of the likes of Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi. Even an American singer like Beverly Sills had to wait in the latter part of her career before her voice was heard at the Met.
Are the corridors of opera power of the Met as loathsome as the intrigue-laden corridors of Manila’s presidential palace?
Answering this query, Mandac said: “I have heard of that but when I made my debut there, I was extremely lucky. They were very kind to me and very helpful. The chorus members were very kind and from what I heard, they are the opposite of kindness when they don’t like the singer.”
She recalled that when she returned at the Met for Hansel and Gretel, the rehearsal conditions were not ideal. They rehearsed in small rooms, everything was new to her and it was already opening night. The chorus advised me what to do and it was a big help for me. The sets of Hansel were protruding over the orchestra and if you were not careful, you would end up singing your way to the orchestra pit.”
The good news is that the new Met production of Hansel and Gretel will be heard at Cinema 1, Greenbelt in Makati on Tuesday, November 7 starring Christine Schafer as Gretel and Alice Coote as Hansel.
The New Yorker has nothing but good praises for the Engelbert Humperdinck opera: “Philip Langridge’s mirthful and malicious performance as the Witch is the standout in the company’s latest production of “Hansel and Gretel” which takes nothing away from the fine singing of Christine Schäfer and Alice Coote (in the title roles); Vladimir Jurowski conducts with imperial confidence.”
Another good review from New York’s snooty opera media: “The clever ‘new’ version just introduced at the Met is tough and dark, sparse and savage, an exploration of deprivation, cruelty and gluttony in a contemporary always-always-land. Wittily staged by Richard Jones and moodily designed by John Macfarlane, with delicately calibrated movement overseen by the choreographer Linda Dobell, the production represents a brilliant perversion of an innocent period piece. This fairy tale minus fairies is much grimmer than Grimm. When the kiddies sing their evening prayer and go to sleep in the forest, actually a surreal drawing room, they dream of a glorious banquet catered by a corps of cartoon chefs. No celestial guardians allowed. The wicked witch masquerades as a roly-poly matron who loves to bake romantic nostalgia may be stubbornly denied on the stage, but it is passionately defended in the pit. Vladimir Jurowski conducts with masterly urgency, rare sensitivity and sweep. The virtuosic ensemble (term used advisedly) is led by Alice Coote, rich-toned and beguilingly tomboyish as Hansel, and Christine Schäfer, exquisitely smart, sweet and scrappy as Gretel. Rosalind Plowright conveys sympathetic desperation as the Mother, brashly complemented by Alan Held’s mock-heroic Father. Philip Langridge gobbles up the draggy outrage of the Witch.”
The Met-CCP season ends with another Mozart favorite, Cosi Fan Tutte, on December 5.
The production features a cast of breakout young artists – soprano Amanda Majeski, mezzo-soprano Serena Malfi, tenor Ben Bliss, and bass-baritone Adam Plachetka. baritone Christopher Maltman, as the scheming Don Alfonso, and Tony Award–winning actress Kelli O’Hara, who triumphed in her 2014 Met debut in Lehár’s The Merry Widow. David Robertson conducts Mozart’s colorful score.
(Now on its 8th season, the CCP’s The Met: Live in HD series is a special program of the CCP Film, Broadcast, and New Media Division (CCP FBNMD), under the Production and Exhibition Department in partnership with The Metropolitan Opera of New York, the Filipinas Opera Society Foundation, Inc., and Ayala Malls Cinemas. The series showcases operatic productions through the High-Definition (HD) digital video technology and Dolby Sound thus recreating the experience of watching live an opera production at the Met. All screenings are scheduled at 5:30 p.m. at Cinema 1 Greenbelt 3 in Makati City. Tickets are priced at PHP450.00. Students and young professionals may enjoy the screenings at PHP100.00 upon presentation of valid ID. Tickets are available at Greenbelt ticket booths and the website www.sureseats.com.)