Al Gatmaitan serenades the ladies
By Walter Ang
June 4, 2012
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Audiences will get their turn to be serenaded by Gatmaitan in Philippine Opera Company’s “Ang Bagong Harana,” a musical revue featuring traditional and contemporary Filipino songs.
Gatmaitan has been singing since he was a child but never thought he could do it professionally. “Every Sunday, I’d go with my lola to hear Mass and I’d sing my heart out in all of the songs. My brother would hit me with his elbow because I was singing too loud.
“I’d imagine myself being there in front, singing with the choir, but it was always the old ladies of the church who sang, so I thought, 'Nah, it’ll never happen.' I had to be content with my fantasies.”
Growing up in Bulacan, Gatmaitan figured he might become a priest. “My great-grandfather was a priest, my other grandmother is a Franciscan sister, and I have an uncle who’s also a priest.”
He realized he could “really sing” when he’d won a few singing competitions in elementary school. When college came, his father wanted him to take up engineering.
“Ahh! I hate numbers,” he says with a laugh. “But I didn’t know what course to take up.”
Most of his friends took up pre-med at University of the Philippines and he “went with the flow” until a dorm-mate mentioned the existence of the Conservatory of Music.
“I was a probinsyano who didn’t know that there was such a school, how ignorant!” He promptly shifted courses. “My entry into the conservatory was so amazing, as if I’d found a home. I had my first formal training as a singer. It was heavenly!”
His father didn’t object and became one of his loyal supporters and strict critics. “I once sang at a party without memorizing the lyrics and my amang reprimanded me.”
After graduation, he'd started performing for local theater groups but decided to pursue further studies in Italy.
While there, he scored more scholarships to study at Teatro Calabria (Acting and Diction); Spazio Teatro (Actor’s Formation); and Conservatorio “Torre Franca” di Vibo Valentia (Intensive Vocal Formation Training).
He was able to train under Maria Francavilla. “She’s a good friend of the late great tenor Luciano Pavarotti. She helped me a lot in my singing.”
“Before I left for Italy, I was doing quite well in theater in Manila but I wanted to sacrifice a bit since my studies would help me hone my craft. One of my theater professors told me once, ‘For us artists it doesn’t matter if you eat just one piece of bread a day as long as you get to do what you have to do, which is to perform, and that’s your responsibility.’ I think my sacrifice paid off because now I’m sure how to use my instrument.”
He’d started landing roles in Italy but was committed to returning. “I missed home!” he laughs. “And it’s a really different feeling when you perform for your own. Filipino audiences are more intimidating because we’re hard to please but it’s also more rewarding, more meaningful.”
Since his return, he’s performed lead roles in “Noli Me Tangere” and “Banaag at Sikat” (Tanghalang Pilipino); “Tales of the Manuvu” (Ballet Philippines); “Skin Deep” (Philippine Educational Theater Association); and “Hibik at Himagsikan nina Victoria Lactao” (Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas), among others.
He joins nine other classically trained singers in “Ang Bagong Harana,” “which was envisioned as love song to our country,” says POC artistic director Karla Gutierrez. This restaging of the show (the show had its world premiere in 2008) is partly to celebrate this year’s Independence Day.
Conceived and directed by Floy Quintos, the show includes a traditional children’s songs suite, a kundiman suite, a tribal songs suite and a folk songs suite. There is a bodabil suite that doubles as tribute to Sylvia La Torre (considered the Queen of Kundiman) and an OPM suite which includes classics like Freddie Aguilar’s “Anak.”
While he serenades audiences in “Ang Bagong Harana,” Gatmaitan will also be serenading a special lady. “My mother passed away when I was five years old. Though my father remarried and my stepmother became my nanay, I grew up with my lola. I was a lola’s boy. I had hoped she’d see me perform but she passed away before I even started. In every performance, I tell myself, ‘Lola, this is for you.’”
“Ang Bagong Harana” runs June 6-10 at Carlos Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza Bldg., Makati City. Contact 8817168 or 0917-5272880; or Ticketworld, 8919999.
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