How Noli Me Tangere Has the Youth Interested in Opera Again
In March 2019, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) was the site of an unusual ruckus: roughly 1,800 people were crammed in the mezzanine section of the theater. They had just watched Noli Me Tangere: The Opera, and stayed on talk about the show, to thank the producers, and perhaps to get a chance for a picture with the performers.
What made the scene particularly remarkable was the majority of the crowd was made up of younger millennials and members of Gen Z—a break from the typical demographic of an opera’s audience. The attendance itself was easily explained: tickets for students are offered at a 50 percent discount. But what took director and producer Jerry Sibal by surprise was the enthusiasm that the youths had for the show.
“I was so surprised. I thought they were going to sleep!,” Sibal jokes. “We'd been hearing people say, 'Oh, opera? Matutulog nalang ako because it's so boring,' but they were entertained!”
It’s difficult not to be entertained by such a lavish production. The opera is an adaption of Dr. Jose Rizal’s novel Noli Me Tangere, penned in 1957 by National Artists Felipe Padilla de Leon and Guillermo Tolentino. Bringing de Leon’s kundiman-inspired compositions to life is the 53-piece NOLI Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Maestro Herminigildo Galang Ranera. A cast of some of the country’s finest singers—including Bianca Lopez, Mheco Manlangit, Nomher Naval, Ivan Nery, Joseleo Logdat, and Nils Flores—perform Tolentino’s libretto with the skill and reverence it deserves.
Along with artfully crafted physical pieces, the set features three enormous LED panels that lend a sense of visual dynamism not often seen on stage. The displays shift from delicate capiz windows to torrential rains, and from idyllic riverside sunsets to ominous religious imagery, placing the actors in the center of an immersive, three-dimensional world.
And, at the heart of it all, the story that sparked the Philippine Revolution, sung in a language known for its musicality. Rizal once wrote about the importance of loving one’s mother tongue, and few art forms express this love better than opera. Tagalog’s percussive syllabication allows for crystal-clear diction, so that every word within the tremendous vocal arrangements can be fully understood. The emotionality inherent to the language, on the other hand, ensures every note sung strikes the audience to their core. In many ways, Noli: The Opera is the medium through which Rizal’s novel can be best appreciated.
The fact that its call to rise up against oppression remains relevant today, Sibal muses, gives the opera’s modern run a deeper sense of purpose.
“After more than 100 years, the stories are still happening,” he says. “We have to be together in one voice, and not to sell ourselves to the oppressors. It's a wake-up call, in short. And we do it through arts and culture. We have to remember: A country without its art is a country without its soul.”
Perhaps this, beyond the talents of its performers and the quality of its production, is why Noli Me Tangere has found its audience among the youth. More so than in previous generations, young people have begun to see the relevance of art in shaping society. Just as Rizal’s book was a wake-up call for Filipinos then, the opera is a reminder for the youth to stay “woke” in these tumultuous times.
“At this young age, they’re able to get the sense of why Rizal wrote this novel. He would have been very, very happy to see that,” Sibal says. “In fact, he once wrote, 'Ang kabataan ay ang pag-asa ng bayan.'”
“That's why we're trying to encourage kids to be good, to love their country,” he continues. “Without the love for country, we will not progress.”
Due to its critical and commercial success earlier this year, the Department of Education and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts have brought the opera back for another run. Noli Me Tangere: The Opera will be showing at the CCP Main Theater for one weekend only, from June 21 to June 23, 2019. For both its spectacle and its social relevance, the opera is a highly recommended watch.
Tickets are available via Ticketworld. Call (0915)593-4777 or the CCP Box Office at (02) 832-3704/06 for inquiries and reservations.