REVIEW: Tanghalang Pilipino's "Carmen"

Love-spurned soldier stabs wanton sex goddess 
By Walter Ang
Nov 3, 2001

The first opera I ever watched was a shortened English version of Macbeth. For an opera novice, 90 minutes of the stuff wasn't too bad to get introduced to the art form. (Although I must admit I came out of the theater thankful that it wasn't any longer.) This time around, the opera was George Bizet's Carmen. In chamber version (read: shortened) and in Tagalog, it seemed interesting enough to try out.

With two friends, I caught the story of Carmen ? a "wanton sex goddess" (Bridget Jones-speak for you) who toys with the feelings of geeky, milquetoast soldier Jose. His love spurned by this free spirited bohemian, Jose goes into a convoluted rage ("Turns into a serial killer," said my friend) and eradicates everyone in sight, including Carmen. All of this while singing, of course. And that, little boys and girls, is the lesson of this story: always be wary of the quiet ones. They're the ones who go crazy and start shooting everyone.

In this Tanghalang Pilipino and Philippine Opera Company production, director Nonon Padilla interspersed the singing with monologues ? "letters" from OFWs that tell of the pathos in their lives away from home ? in an "experimental collage juxtaposing the opera Carmen with the lives of Pinoys living abroad."

Padilla likes to make his audience think and this time is no different. The monologues tackled the eventual problems and situations encountered by our OFWs ? lost loves, lost lives, the difficulties of living a transposed existence. The director aimed to parallel their experiences with Carmen's own gypsy life. This concept is not easy to digest however, and it takes some effort to reconcile the two.

Brought to life by the very able ensemble, the monologues seemed to take more prominence (perhaps of its grimmer tone) and the opera seemed to become mere a backdrop. When the show ended with bleak statistics of the OFW diaspora (for example, every year, 600 OFWs do not come home alive), the opera is reduced to a mere afterthought.

The opera featured Jay Valencia-Glorioso as Carmen (alternating with Josephine Roces-Chavez) and Eladio Pamaran as Jose (alternating with Nolyn Cabahug) who sang to the music conducted by Joesfino Toledo. Unfortunately, it did not feel as if there was enough passion and love onstage. The monologues seemed to douse most of the emotional build-ups in the opera.

It felt like watching two productions for the price of one. In fact, the monologues themselves could very well be spun-off and developed into an independent production. "The OFW Monologues" as an answer to the "The Vagina Monologues" perhaps?

With the Filipino translation by Jose Capino, an opera in our own tongue is at least more appealing than some foreign language where you have no idea what's going on. In this case, for audience members who aren't well-versed in Filipino, the opera also provided English supertitles. For all the grief we give Americans and their supposed lack of grammar skills, our own mastery of Filipino isn't so hot.

Just like subtitles except that it's flashed above the stage, during the night we saw the show, the supertitles were more annoying than helpful. Mostly off-cue, the titles were late or did not match the lyrics and not all the actors' lines had translations, which defeated the purpose.

The show runs two hours without intermission, but there's no need to raise those eyebrows since it runs at a fast pace and is over before you know it. Is it possible that since TP has a largely student audience, the monologues were used to keep the youth's notorious short attention spans on track?

It did seem the monologues served as a sort of "commercial break," ? before you could tire of the opera, the monologues stepped in to change the pace and vice-versa. Opera need not be an intimidating endeavor with productions like these. Not exactly a full-blown version of what opera is perceived to be, this at least gives the audience a taste of what it can be.