Touch me not: a resurrection of the Filipino spirit

Elias, Basilio and SisaIn the Latin Bible, Jesus Christ said to Mary after His resurrection, “Noli Me tangere…” (John 20:17). Inspired by these words, Dr. Jose Rizal penned a novel about the resurrection of the Filipino people, whose time had come to arise and forge a new destiny without the oppressive grip of Spain and her abusive padres.

This novel by our National Hero was crafted into a beautiful opera by National Artists Felipe P. De Leon and Guillermo Tolentino, circa 1957. A generation passed until this opera was staged in a foreign land, where philanthropists Loida Nicolas Lewis, Jerry Sibal and Edwin Josue heard the stirring music and lyrics in the mother tongue. The foreigners who listened to and watched the opera with them could not fully understand what the story meant—but for the Filipinos in the audience, the story was not lost, and the Motherland’s anguish was clear: Come to me, my sons, do not let me die.

And so, despite the herculean task it entailed, the producers set out to bring this opera back home, with the hopes that those who will watch it in Manila will once again feel their love for the Philippines resurrected, and their patriotism restored. From the onset, during the gala night (Sept. 11), it was exciting to see their vision and hope slowly unfold. As the guests arrived in different kinds of Filipiniana clothing (from classic terno to colorful tribal attire), I overheard a couple of passersby remark: “Ang ganda pala pag puro Filipiniana o!” Kudos to the organizers for using fashion to spark interest and appreciation for Philippine history.

Later while watching the opera, with beautiful orchestra music and soaring voices, one can truly sense this devotion and hope being conveyed by the incredibly talented all-Filipino cast, crew and production team of Noli Me Tangere: The Opera – Manila. From Jerry Sibal’s grand stage designs and exquisite costumes, to the remarkable performances by world-class Filipino artists such as Sal Malaki and Ivan Nery (Crisostomo Ibarra), Rachelle Gerodias and Myramae Meneses (Maria Clara), Andrew Fernando and Jonathan Velasco (Padre Damaso), Antoni Mendezona and Jean Judith Javier (Sisa) and more—it was a showcase of Filipino talent, culture and artistry at its finest. After the curtain call, I asked my 7-year old son what he thought of the show. “It was spectacular!” was his reply.

So yesterday, I came back—this time bringing with me several young adults from church. I was just as excited as they were, giddy even, because of the serendipity of their first exposure to the opera: Sept. 21 was the 42nd anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines.

With stage direction by Freddie Santos and Maestro Rodel Colmenar at the helm of the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra, the audience was totally enthralled every minute and did not even notice the hours that passed by—proving to the young Filipinos with me that Opera, which they may have thought of as boring or old, is actually entertaining and enlightening. Maria Clara (Myramae Meneses) made me tear up several times, and by the time Sisa (Jean Judith Javier) sang her famous aria I had been reduced to crying into my shawl, but I didn’t care. Basilio and Elias had no trouble getting me all choked up with their laments after that.

This opera is truly different—because the music is uniquely Filipino, and the story is a mirror of our own collective struggles and aspirations as a people: to be free from man-made religious oppression and corruption, and to be able to create a humane society that is based on equality, freedom of worship, justice and love for fellowman. We praise God from Whom all blessings flow, for using the producers to bring us this wonderful gift. It is more than just a revival of a classic piece — it is a call to the Filipino spirit to rise up and refuse to be enslaved again by those who abuse their power. It is a prayer from our heroes in the past: that we who are alive today, will not take for granted the liberties which they fought and died for, and that we will have the courage to pass this story on to future generations.

[PS: Click here for a chance to win a pair of VIP tickets to see Noli Me Tangere: The Opera, now on its last weekend at Newport Performing Arts Theater!]

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