**Click HERE to read the article with photos

Opera is not exactly the most popular entertainment medium in the Philippines. Why would it be, we are literally on the other side of the globe from where it originated: Italy. The Philippine heritage is of the Spanish Zarzuelas, a lot of religious music, and American pop, rock and roll, and country music cultures. Opera per se has been struggling to become more popular here, while stage musicals enjoy a greater popularity among Filipinos, especially after Lea Salonga landed the lead role of Kim in Miss Saigon back in the 1990s. Since then, several Filipino actors have made it to Broadway and West End, but only a handful have ventured into opera.

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cast of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi by LyrOpera ©MTHerzog

One of the reasons is that the best known operas are in a language other than English, which is a turn-off for a mass population that enjoys the immediate gratification of Hollywood and the local cinemas. In short, opera does not speak the language of the common people. This is the both the challenge and core motivation of Lyric Opera of the Philippines (LyrOpera), aspiring to make opera as a music genre better known locally and appealing to the youth.

The language barrier was overcome in a manner that is practical but unconventional for traditional opera performances – a screen to the side of the stage with the running translation of the lyrics. LyrOpera first tried this with Carmen, using two screens, but for Gianni Schicchi it was whittled down to one. If you are a conservative, orthodox opera fan, the screen will drive you absolutely nuts, but if you are new to opera, it is the best thing to ever happen.

When asked to photograph the performance of Giacomo Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi I yes because a. I enjoy opera, and b. I will promote and support any efforts to the opera awareness campaign. What I hadn’t realize that Gianni Schicchi is set entirely in Florence. Imagine my surprise when I sat through the rehearsal and listened to all the familiar names, places, churches and families mentioned in the play! Not to mention that didn’t need to look at the screen with the running translation of the lyrics. Fiesole, Santa Croce, Dante, the Medici! Goodness me, I was back in Florence and walking the familiar streets that have become so dear to my heart.

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Jasmine Salvo as Lauretta ©MTHerzog

For Director Sherwin Sozon, himself one of the Philippines’ most talented opera singers, staging Gianni Schicchi on a shoestring budget for audiences unfamiliar with opera without sacrificing quality and offending Puccini in his grave, the challenge was enormous. He pulled it off marvelously, hitting the high notes for his directorial debut, as did the entire cast. Just to mention a few, Noel Azcona’s performance as the conniving Gianni Schicchi is enthralling, as were the portrayal of Lauretta Schicchi by Jasmine Salvo and Elisanta Cortes, who will move you to tears with her solo.

In more ways than one, Sozon’s directorial interpretation of the comedy opera showcases Filipino talent and culture, adding a unique flavor that makes it charming and appealing to non-traditionalists. It is not your usual flamboyant stage with extravagant sets, nor are the costumes designed to take your attention away from the performer. It is minimalist, simple, and effective in showcasing the talent and voices of the actors.

The gala performance is at the Cultural Center of the Philippines Little Theatre for one night, then moves to the Power Mac Center in Makati on March 3 & 4, 2017. All performances are in collaboration with the Societa Dante Alighieri Comitato di Manila and the Embassy of Italy.

**Click HERE to read the article with photos

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