PPO continues to surprise with ‘Don Pasquale’

Maestro Grzegorg Nowak and the Philippine Philharmonic orchestra

For years, I have been a faithful follower of the offerings of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra’s (PPO) and lately, of SWITCH, which they launched as part of their 39th season and the 50th founding anniversary of the orchestra.

This series, which always falls on a Friday, truly fascinates me. And so, once a month, I would take time off to enjoy the scheduled date at the Samsung Performing Arts Theater. The concept behind SWITCH is simple: Each iteration has a new theme, spotlighting various guest performers each evening.

But there is one constant: the baton of conductor, Maestro Grzegorg Nowak, an esteemed principal associate conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London and was a music director of a multitude of orchestras and operas in Poland, Germany, Switzerland and the United States.

For Concert VI, he was joined by a substitute pianist, Roustem Saitkoulov, a misnomer, as he wowed the audience with Stanislaw Moniuszko’s The Fairy Tale Overture, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 4, op.58, G major, and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony no. 2 op. 27.

The previous installments of SWITCH spotlighted a sterling roster of artists, to include pianist Mark Bebbington, cellist Wen-Sinn Yang, young prodigy pianist Nikolay Khozyainov and pianist Jerome Rose. There was even an appearance by the multi-awarded, former CCP president and the erstwhile University of Santo Tomas Conservatory of Music dean Raul Sunico, whose magical fingers grazed piano keys with such mastery. And thus, we expected piano or violin soloists to take the stage. Little did we expect on the seventh time around, the show was Don Pasquale, a classic Italian comic composition. “It’s an opera, so how is this going to be possible?” we asked, fully knowing the guests were always instrumentalists.

It turned out the PPO was to present a concert-style performance — a first for us — with a setup wherein we could watch both the orchestra and the singers, both on stage, yet on different platforms. All this for a more immersive experience.

Don Pasquale has three parts. Act I delves into the Don’s plans to marry to produce an heir as revenge to his rebellious nephew Ernesto. Act II revolves around the marriage and the sudden turn of events which leaves the señor petrified! Finally, Act III reveals the climax of all the conflicts between marriage and inheritance woes.

The sterling cast was composed of soprano Dorota Sobieska as Norina. A doctorate degree holder in Philosophy of Art from the Kent State University, she co-founded the Cleveland Opera. A stage director, she has taken lead roles in over 50 operas, with shows in the USA, Canada, Bulgaria, Germany, and Poland.

Bass Dariusz Machej, as Don Pasquale, is a graduate of the prestigious Chopin University of Music in Warsaw, Poland. He has collaborated with the Grand Theatre National Opera in Warsaw and the Metropolitan Opera in New York. For his remarkable recording of Szymanowski’s Hagith, he has been awarded with the 2020 Fryderyk Music Award.

South Korean-born and Philippine-based baritone Byeong-In Park, as Dr. Malatesta, mastered his skills at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Stuttgart, Germany. He has since toured venues, such as the Graz Opera Theater in Austria and Die Staatstheater Stuttgart in Germany. A sought-after performer in Asia, he continued to collaborate with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra and the Manila Symphony Orchestra.

Tenor Nohmer Nival, as Ernesto, a graduate of the University of Santo Tomas Conservatory of Music, has collected accolades, to include the First Prize in the 2007 National Music Competition for Young Artists  and the 2015 Jovita Fuentes Vocal Competition. He has captivated audiences for his roles as Tamino in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and Crisostomo Ibarra in Felipe Padilla-De Leon’s Noli Me Tangere.

Baritone Zadkiel John “Zid” Yarcia, as the Notary, is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in Music at the University of the Philippines-Diliman as a scholar of the Friends for Cultural Concerns of the Philippines. A past Ten Outstanding Student awardee of Makati, he has represented the country at the World Championships of Performing Arts, where he clinched medals in the Opera and Broadway categories. Affiliated with the Philippine Opera Company, he has likewise shared the stage with the Philippine Madrigal Singers.

The chorus was composed of sopranos Angelica Rose Martin Benipayo, Camille Maica Magallanes Juanitez, Charina Althea Balmores, and Donna Klariz Baluyut, altos Chelsy Franchette Rosell, Jho-merita Chua-so, Nerissa Cabotaje De Juan, and Maria Vicella Villasin, tenors Gabriel Remoroza Ramos, Keanu Gregan Rebadeo, Joshua Angelo Fabros Mondares, Leo Angelo Malig Lanuza and Ruzzel Adrian Garcia Clemeno, basses Nelson Jr. Borongan, E C Raquiz Garcia, Paul Mark Raguin Gayanilo and Zadkiel John Yarcia. They were joined by rehearsal pianist Reynaldo Reyes Gendrano.

At the end of the energetic performances, amid standing ovations, I wondered what surprises are in store for the eighth and final showcase of SWITCH. One can only dream!