Friday, February 11, 2005


Russell Watson on the cover of his first album THE VOICE

And so it came to pass. The long wait was finally over last night when we settled in our seats at the Plenary Hall of the Philippine International Convention Center and waited for THE VOICE.

We were extremely early, like 2 hours early (I anticipated that there'd be traffic along Alabang-Zapote Road but we had a very smooth drive!), so we decided to visit some structures in the CCP Complex like the Film Center muna to kill time. After that, raining as it was, we decided to hole up in the quaint Figaro shop beside the CCP Main Building where Steve regaled Mom and I about his experiences with the Asian Tourism Forum and the faux pas the Philippine delegation committed in Penang during the 1997 ATF.

Finally, at 7.10PM, we decided to proceed to the PICC. It was extremely difficult to drive up the main entrance because a major renovation was ongoing, and there already were a lot of people and vehicles.

It was very heartwarming to see all the seats being filled up. Truly, Manila has become very accomodating to classical artists (the opposite of which applies to local theatre productions but this is will be discussed in another blog). The trend that has taken everyone by surprise started when the Araneta Coliseum - a 33,000-seating capacity covered dome in Cubao - was filled to the rafters for the Andrea Bocelli Manila Visit. Although there were hardly any write-ups regarding Sarah Brightman's concert at the Ultra (which is weird. No talk even about the amazing props and set?!), it's good to see the 3000-seater Plenary Hall to be full of people.

As usual, the high and mighty of the land, all familiar faces in the Philippine Tatler (a major sponsor of this event) that you can actually yawn at the mere sight of them (they're everywhere!) decided that the 8PM show should be reset to 8:45 so they can slowly glide into the Hall while taking photos of their friends like they've never seen each other for years, and make the de rigeur small-talk-beso-beso routine. Somehow, 30 minutes into this farce, the high and mighty couldn't seem to settle into their seats like everybody else.

MM-F, for example, changed her seat 4 times in 15 minutes. MC-Z, who was seated beside her, made a fuss about seating arrangements for everyone they know. Alam mo na, dapat tabi tabi sila. For people who also came in free courtesy of SMART Infinity (like us), it was shocking that there should be demands for better seats. In fact, we had to admit our location - Level 3, G Row - was an excellent vantage point. There was no need to strain your neck up or sideways just to see the stage. It was right infront of us at eye level. One advice to them malilikot/makukulit na society women: you could just have your seats planned way ahead of any event so you don't have to make a scene. Very un-photo-worthy, really. And unbecoming (to use JGC's words). High society should act like people are watching them because people ARE watching them.

Now, on to happier thoughts.

Finally, the PICC bell signaled the start of the show. Lights were dimmed leaving a lot of stupid people in the dark ramps and halls, unable to find their seats.

With Sir William Hayward as conductor, the orchestra started with Aaron Copland's FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN. This has been desccribed as "what may be Copland's most recognizable work. The simplicity of the opening idea, and the spare grandeur of the harmonized statement that follows suggest the ideal of the worth and dignity of the common person." Perfect choice for this fundraiser concert.

And finally, Russell Watson! At talaga naman, in his characteristic style of fun, he opened the night with the powerful GRANADA (pun intended!). This was followed by the Neapolitan canzone SANTA LUCIA (written in 1848 in honor of a Sicilian girl, Lucia, who was martyred by decapitation in the year 314), followed by Schubert's AVE MARIA (traditionally used during burial processions in provinces in the Philippines). Here, Watson sounded like he was struggling. Is it the 20-hour flight from Manchester or has he not really fully recovered from his throat surgery? I can't tell.

This, unfortunately, pales in comparison with the power of Ima Castro's voice - former Kim in the Manchester run of Miss Saigon, and Asia Song Festival Winner. However, this being a concert of classical music, Ms Castro went over-the-top by belting (labas ngala-ngala, as the colloquial goes). Watson finally got a taste of the Pinoy belter with Ima's screaming (pardon the exaggeration) paired with Watson's faltering voice which totally wrecked the well-loved THE PRAYER into pieces (it was so well-loved because Celine sang it with so much heart). Castro, nonetheless, was very well applauded after her solo performance of I BELIEVE I CAN FLY. Thank goodness for the big screens, you can really watch her reach into her high notes with so much intensity that she practically was on fire, her hair going every which way. What a funny sight but yes, Filipinos will always want to get a dose of their usual belting. Sigh.

It took a joke to finally make Watson warm up to the crowd. He was so detached during the first act, and by the time he came back after LES TOREADORS of Carmen was played, he was already in his element - making funny gestures and telling the crowd about how the few people who welcomed him during his arrival were being "extremely nice" ergo the Philippines must be full of extremely nice people. Applause all over. We love these kind of stories about ourselves!

Other songs include PANIS ANGELICUS (with the Master Chorale accompanying him), the popular O SOLE MIO, and VOLARE during which the crowd sang the chorus with him. What fun! He also performed CARUSO, LOVELIEST NIGHT OF THE YEAR and NESSUM DORMA during the encore period. He was called back on stage five times because he hasn't performed the songs he was known for - NELLA FANTASIA (One can hear Margie Moran's voice yelling, "Nella! Nella!"), the theme from The Enterprise, THAT'S AMORE, LA DONNA E MOBILE and crowd favorite TORNA A SURRIENTO. The latter was the last song he did before he finally said goodbye. I guess you can say that he was disappointed that Filipinos aren't so enthusiastic but then again, it really is difficult to make Filipinos do standing ovations. We like to cheer, stomp our feet, and clap like there's no tomorrow but stand up? Nah, good luck!

The stars of the night actually are the San Miguel Philharmonic Orchestra and the San Miguel Master Chorale. The latter has the most mature voice quality i've ever heard for a Filipino Choir (I've heard the Madrigal Singers during Jaime Cardinal Sin's birthday concert last year but the acoustics at the Manila Cathedral was terrible). The moment i heard the first notes sung by the Chorale, it reminded me immediately of the songs from old movies - divine and magnificent. Even Watson couldn't help but show his appreciation. He is, after all, performing at the home of the world's best performers - Manila.

I had the chance to get two of Ryan Cayabyab's CD's which were being sold at the San Miguel booth. At Php 280 per, it was definitely a steal considering the selection of Filipino classic songs included. To top it off, the songs were rendered by the same San Miguel Orchestra and Master Chorale! Whoah!

Call me crazy but I'm actually going to The Podium tonight - rain or no rain - to have my 3 CDs signed. As I said before, I'm a fan - period.

I wonder if he'd sign the bootleg copy of his New Zealand Concert? Abangan!
By the way, many many many thanks to Steve Alfafara, Travel Editor of ZEE Quarterly Cebu, for the tickets!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

He is a better pop singer. His classical singing is at most tolerable. Well, he is cute I must admit.