2 centennials on bill

Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, staged by MSO on 16 and 17 March at the Ateneo as an ode to Italy’s most prominent opera composer and the orchestra’s heady road to 100. | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF ITALIAN EMBASSY MANILA

At the Ateneo’s Arete recently, an opulent production mounted two of Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini’s poignant one acts according to the grand traditions of one of Asia’s oldest symphony orchestras.

A timely double bill by Manila Symphony Orchestra featured classic Puccini masterworks, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi, and paid homage to Puccini’s 100th death anniversary this year, which coincides with MSO’s heady days on the runup to its centennial in 2026.

The MSO iteration of the classic masterpieces star opera’s power couple Rachelle Gerodias (soprano) as Suor Angelica and Byeong In Park (baritone) as Gianni Schicchi, with an orchestra under the baton of Maestro Marlon Chen.

“Mounting an unabridged version of an opera is no easy task, anywhere. Doing a double-bill with a symphonic orchestra and no less than 25 characters/singers on stage, is even more remarkable, almost heroic,” said Italian Ambassador Marco Clemente, who sat with his hands together at the curtain call.

“We all have to be grateful to the MSO for this heroism which will enable us today to enjoy these exciting performances thanks to the artistry of so many Filipino and not Filipino talents.”

According to Clemente, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi might not be the most popular among Puccini’s titles, even if they include two of the most famous among his soprano arias.

“But they are two operas that deserve all our attention and admiration because they are an amazing fountain of beauty, both vocally and symphonically.”

Clemente said the 100th anniversary of Puccini’s death offers an opportunity to reflect on the profound importance of the Italian composer in the history of musical theater.

Puccini’s immense popularity, he explained, sometimes overshadows his crucial contribution to the history of opera.

Puccini is one of the most important opera composers of all time. He is considered as the greatest Italian opera composer since Verdi and enjoyed immense popularity during his lifetime, which persists up to the present.

“For some supercilious critics, Puccini’s popularity could not get along with artistic respectability. Traces of this unacceptable misunderstanding are still noticeable today, albeit less and less often. This misunderstanding is quite unfair — and represents a risk to be avoided, a misconception to be corrected. And productions like Manila Symphony Orchestra’s will certainly help us in achieving these goals.”

Puccini at 100 is a fundraiser that benefits the Manila Symphony Orchestra.

Aside from staging Puccini at Arete, the embassy brought Gianni Schicchi to the youth in Tondo, Manila, last weekend on the grounds of San Pablo Apostol Parish Newland on Velasquez Street.