Thursday, November 8, 2012

Culture Vulture

Music soothes the savage beast.

Or does it?

Misquoting William Congreve's famous line* like the rest of us, so begins a particularly memorable episode of The Electric Company's "The Adventures of Letterman." Attending a classical concert, the villainous Spellbinder - no doubt entranced by the music - turns a bassoon into a...a baboon! Hilarity, of course, ensues, until Letterman saves the day by taking a double "L" from his chest and transforms the non-music loving simian into a less-disruptive balloon - which floats quietly out of sight.

Early evidence that I was a young troll.

What's this piece of childhood trivia got to do with anything, you ask?

Nothing, except that I've been going on an Arts & Culture bender of late, and I know deep down inside I'm just Spellbinder hoping to either create chaos or soothe the savage beast within.

Hopefully both.

Because I am given to obsessions - not all of them magnificent - I could not rest until I kept my promise to Brendan, my ex-protége. And thanks to the constrictions of his indentured servitude and the ensuing resetting of our momentous date, I ended up seeing Phantom of the Opera twice as a result.

Satisfying that sophomore - and sophomoric - craving for attention ironically did not slake my thirst for the limelight. Instead, it reawakened an ancient lusting so much so that as naturally as Claudia wanted to suck blood in Interview With A Vampire, I, too, wanted more.

Encore, encore, s'il vous plait, encore.


I ended up watching King and I twice, as well, this time escorting Mara - yet another "lady friend" - laden with faux bijoux up and down Newport's casinos, causing the eyes of the tai tais to narrow even further. Had I been more of a gambling man, I'd have played baccarat like Bond and she'd have moved like Harlow in Monte Carlo while waiting for the house to open. 

But alas, I have other ways of losing money - like watching musicals at least twice with different transvestite dates on my arm.

And because musicals are but a gateway drug, thanks to Gibbs Cadiz' helpfully-informative blog, we just barely managed to catch the tail end of Lisa Macuja's Swan Song Series performances : Giselle once with Mara, and in an encore reminiscent of Brendan's original failure to keep a date, I ended up watching Carmen twice: the first night with Mara, the next with Ayen. But a happy occasion, that, because we were privileged to witness a bonus dance from the prima ballerina as well as a song from her sister, in celebration of their parents' Golden Anniversary that last night. 

In between those, there's the ongoing National Theater Festival at the CCP. Mara and I had a grand old time watching Nonie and Shamaine Buencamino, Mae Bayot, Jenine Desiderio, and the rest of the spirited cast of Mario O'Hara's Stageshow - both as a gesture of support for the theater couple as well as my own nostalgic interest in bodabil.

Annoying Orange's mom was a more cultured kind of citrus.

Next stop : mighty Europe! The rainbow's gonna tour, dressed up, somewhere to go! We'll put on a show!

Oh, wait - I channeled Señora Peron there for a nanosecond.

Must've been all the jewels.

At any rate, our cultural calendar will take us to a whole new world on November 16th at the Meralco Theater, which, unfortunately, means I would be missing Joey Reyes' Sayaw nf mga SENIORita  in its debut run at the CCP that very same night. I'd love to see how closely it hews to its inspiration The Boys In The Band, but I'm not too keen on battling EDSA traffic to catch its succeeding performances at the AFP Theater. 

Nevertheless, should we fail to catch it at all, we are ready to console ourselves with Ballet Philippines' Dragon Song/Rama Hari back at the CCP on the 30th.

I always need a Statler to my Waldorf.

Lest I come off as a braggart and a snob, let me confess that these cultural excursions are hugely an elaborate - and expensive - exercise in social trolling born out of boredom. Be that as it may, I do have a genuine - if selective - interest in watching live performances, aside from those given by myself and my lovely accomplices. I still lament learning too late that Wicked had a short run in Singapore earlier this year, and would watch Evita every week if they ever bother re-staging it here. 

But why the trolling, you might ask? Isn't attending artistic performances sufficient in and of itself? 

Well, for better or worse, every gay man craves some drama in his life. And no drama is larger than life than when it is within the context of an opera, soap or musical. Speaking of which, the last musical opera I remember watching locally was a tragicomic staging of the already-tragic La Traviata. A theatrical - if well-meaning - travesty held at either the CCP or the Met, such was the trauma that I can't recall exactly. But I do remember its come-on was that it was an "experimental" version that "enhanced" the music of Verdi by altering the libretto with a smattering of Tagalog lyrics by none other than Rolando Tinio, if memory serves. 

Mal canto Tinio?

Opera is already inherently given to caricature as it is, but hearing Violetta singing that she was repairing to fucking NOVALICHES for her health could only send even the most solicitous of Filipino audiences into uncontrollable tittering. 

Be that as it may, I would still gladly sleep through Wagner at the Met - if we ever manage to convince any touring opera companies to grace our karaoke-infested shores.

(EDIT: In between the time I wrote this and the time I published it, I have learned that the Manila Symphony Orchestra, in celebration of Richard Wagner's birth bicentennial, is featuring Australian Wagnerian soprano Claire Primrose and Filipino tenor Randy Gilongo this Saturday, November 10th at the Philamlife Auditorium.)

So now it turns out I can sleep through Wagner at the...Philamlife.

It ain't over even after the Fat Lady sings.

It's a new addiction, this conspicuous cultural consumption - one I haven't really had since I was a child and the official escort to my grandmothers. There was always a sense of excitement in the air on those special nights when the women of the house transformed from lola, tita, and mama into these elegant perfumed ladies. And there was that thrill of anticipation before the show, and the grown-up feeling of mingling with the adults during intermission beneath the CCP's majestic capiz chandeliers.

I guess I miss all that...theatricality ? Or maybe I just miss the dressing-up part.

At any rate, unlike the Phantom's sequel Love Never Dies, this current infatuation of mine with the performing arts shall most certainly not last. But while I am caught in its entrancing embrace, I guess I've no choice but to enjoy the ride.

And with that, I shall leave you with this - my first lasting impression of Caro Nome from Verdi's Rigoletto - as interpreted by a dog.



*The actual line is "Music has charms to soothe a savage breast." Which, if you ask me, is far FAR more interesting than the more popular misquote.


  1. heeey, Tristan und Isolde has its glorious moments. The Narrative/Curse and Liebestod are lurve.

    i wanna watch Rama Hari, too.

    libre mo ako!!! :P

  2. My date bailed on the Wagner program this Saturday.

    You wanna snore with me through that, instead?

  3. Wow! I didn't realize that culture and arts have made a comeback in Manila (or perhaps I wasn't paying attention the past years) something to look forward to for my next visit

    1. Yes, Sean. The performing arts have experienced a welcome boom lately, with so much variety (and quality) to choose from.

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  5. omg ang lakas maka-alta ng post na 'to, rudie. i shall find a way to incorporate lines from this post sa every day life ko so people will think i'm cultured too.

    I didn't really enjoy phantom. in fact, i slept through a huge chunk of the second half. but i do enjoy atlantis. as long as they bench nyoy, that is. :p

  6. "i shall find a way to incorporate lines from this post sa every day life ko so people will think i'm cultured too.

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAH!!! Laugh trip ka, Nyl!

    But actually, regarding Phantom: after Masquerade, yeah, puede ka na ngang matulog. The second act just pretty much falls flat after that; practically all the big rousing numbers were in Act 1. The only thing worth waiting for in Act 2 was the final lament by the Phantom - yun lang ang nakaka-touch.

    1. I hope I don't offend anyone by what I'm about to say but I never really "got" phantom. I mean... he's ugly and mean, plus the whole kidnapping thing. And we're supposed to feel bad that the girl doesn't love him back? o_0

      makes me want to sip champagne on a yacht.

    2. While he's the eponymous character, I'm unsure if we're automatically supposed to root for the Phantom himself. Although most people tend to romanticize him, I thought the question was a little more complex: man, monster, or merely misunderstood? Just like most of humanity, he was a mixture of heroism, villainy, and plain misery al rolled into one. He's not a "hero" in the traditional sense, yet neither is he completely the villain. Anti-hero perhaps?

      *thinks about Nyl being undressed by king and seeing some things that a blogger ain't s'posed to see*

    3. I just can't see him as an anti-hero. Wala siyang redeeming factor! Or maybe I should see the Hollywood version. That always helps.

      And bastus ka, Rudie! Using Charlene against me! haha

    4. He was a musical and engineering genius, as I recall. Talent can often - but not always - redeem otherwise villainous characters.

      Looks? Well, the lack thereof gave rise to the signature mask - and all of his negative traits. If you're looking to Hollywood, don't think Gerard Butler; more like the Lon Chaney original.

      As for Charlene, well I've been to paradise...

    5. Might be the whole Filipino upbringing. We forget all the good done by someone bad.

      And that was Gerard Butler? Ooh, I love him. I remember snoozing through that whole thing.

      Well Rudie, i think it's safe to say that with all the whining I've done in my blog, I actually have been to me. :p

    6. The Phantom may as well have chanted Wreck-It Ralph's mantra: " I'm bad and thats good. I will never be good, and that's not bad. There's no one I'd rather be than me."

      Although I have a sneaking feeling he'd give his left nut to be Raoul - if only to have Christine. But then after a while he'd resent her for taking him away from his art, discovering that he took the sweet life and never knowing he'd be bitter from the sweet.

    7. Imagine if the phantom actually looked like Raoul. It would be the world's shortest musical. And none of the sleepy parts in Act II!

      Count on an ad man to relate Phantom to Charlene. lolz

  7. been wanting to watch a musical. Nver got the chance...sad.

    1. Aren't you coming home for the holidays soon, Mac? King and I will run till December, and so will Rama Hari. And Disney's Aladdin: The Musical also runs till Dec. 9.

      And it being Christmas, I believe Ballet Philippines is staging The Nutcracker.

      So, you can catch a show or two while you're in town, Mac ;)

  8. They did a Tagalog version of Traviata? Weird. Last time I saw it locally staged was in CCP last March where the Korean Soprano's voice cracked when she hit the last High E flat of Sempre Libera...

    1. La Travestia was more like it, but yes, yes they did. Though to be fair, they didn't translate the entire libretto into Tagalog; just certain inadvertently hilarious numbers.

      And you're correct: a friend informed me, during that Wagner program, that CCP did stage La Traviata earlier this year, and that the Laurice Guillen staging of Carmen that ran concurrently with Lisa Macuja's was the opera version and not a stage play as I had mistakenly assumed.

      The thing about live performances is that you never know what's gonna happen: the soprano might soar, or she might buckle. The prima ballerina's pas de deux might turn into a faux pas. You find yourself dreading such possibilities, and are elated when they hit that last E, or executes a bravura solo.

      Oh, the thrill, the excitement, and the rush.

    2. E.R.: yes, they did. with a white soprano and the (both) late (and lamented) nolyn cabahug as alfreo and gamy viray as pére germont, respectively.

  9. Rudeboy: Yeah, I saw Laurice Guillen's staging of Bizet's Carmen in St. Scho 3 weeks ago. It was good, though Carmen was played by a dramatic soprano instead of a mezzo soprano and we're only like 50 in the auditorium haha.

    Yeah that's what I most love about live performances especially with operas,you don't know what you'll be expecting. The singers' voices aren't amplified and enhanced with microphones. They need to be heard against an 80 piece orchestra and a battalion of chorus people.

    Eternal Wanderer: Oh. That would've been interesting to watch. I don't know why I missed it.

    1. "...we're only like 50 in the auditorium haha."

      Ooh, I get squeamish when that happens. I feel really sorry for the performers whenever the house is almost empty.

      "They need to be heard against an 80 piece orchestra and a battalion of chorus people."

      Oye, Ternie! Shades of that Wagnerian program we saw last Saturday, eh?