When Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor opera unfolds at the Cultural Center of the Philippines…
While opera remains a rarity in Metro Manila (except for some concerts offering token arias and some once-a-year opera production), tenor Arthur Espiritu is leading an opera life that the Filipino opera lover can only dream of.
For instance, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor was heard in the Philippines only in the late 40s with Maestra Mercedes Matias Santiago singing the title role at the UST Gym. She became a Free Press cover girl without asking for it.
Filipino tenor Arthur Espiritu recently sang the role of Edgardo in the Donizetti opera at the Daegu Opera House in South Korea and won more than his share of compliments.
A Vienna-based opera critic noticed the Filipino tenor’s voice was reminiscent of (Luciano) Pavarotti and (Placido) Domingo during their heyday. Critics found his graveyard scene as Edgardo very moving.
When the opera house released the video footage of Lucia, one heard the ecstatic stomping of feet from fellow musicians during the curtain call.
It was no doubt a clear signal the Filipino tenor has risen way beyond everyone’s expectations and has in fact soared to the stratosphere of opera.
“I had an amazing time in Daegu,” the tenor said. “On top of that, the audience was great and so was stage director Bruno Berger-Gorski and conductor Roberto Rizzi Brignoli. The orchestra was great! Best of all, the people were so accommodating and nice to me. They treated me with respect and appreciation. I had wonderful time.”
If there was one impression left on him when he left Korea, it was the fact that his fellow Asians are hungry for good music and the arts. “They appreciate the craft and value it as a way of life.”
After Korea, he sang a few more Boheme (Rodolfo) in Munich in the same opera house where he won great acclaim as Elvino (La Sonnambula) and watched by no less than the reigning King of Opera, Jonas Kaufmann. A German magazine called the same production as Opera of the Year.
Going back and forth Germany and Switzerland for more Boheme and rehearsals for Faust which opens second week of October, his schedule is indeed a whirlwind of frequent flying and hotel check-ins and rushing to the opera house. “Yes, I’m glued to my score whenever I get a chance to study,” he said. “I try to get some sleep whenever I can and I try not to get anxious. Singing is 80 percent psychological and 20 percent technique. When you panic, your body reacts and that will get you in trouble.”
With Rossini roles fading in his repertoire and more Puccini and Gounod operas getting into the picture, he discovers he is really more like lyric tenor than its light equivalent. “But I still have the flexibility and the means to be able to translate what’s on the pages of the music. The voice has settled and I find it easier to sing different styles now. Thanks God, I have not encountered any hiccups.”
He himself wonders how he is keeping up. “All I know is that I am actually pretty tired. But I have to keep going. I keep saying to myself that, ‘Oh really don’t deserve having this career.’ But as someone just recently told me, it is a responsibility to be able to share your art with people. In a way, I find peace in the thought of having to affect people and helping them feel something as an audience. As long as I can do that, I will try my best to keep going.”
For now, his eyes are on the title role of Gounod’s Faust running at Theater St. Gallen in Switzerland October 13, 2019 to March 25, 2020 with musical direction by Michael Balke and staging by Ben Baur.
He has no doubt his latest opera assignment is a quality role and a supreme vocal challenge. “It is one role where one has to remain in the drama. Vocally, it’s not very demanding tessitura-wise but it is demanding in the size of the orchestration and how it’s composed. You really have to sing it. There are some dolcissimi sections where you have to express your vocal skills in the way it’s phrased. It’s a very long opera. You have to know the interjections or else you will lose your entrance. You always have to count and anticipate.”
He admits his duet with Marguerite is his favorite part of the opera. “That duet in the third act has some of the most beautiful music ever written.”