By Ibarra C. Mateo
Vien King as Giorgio Bachetti
Karla Gutierrez, artistic director of the Philippine Opera Company (POC), announced in a media conference that Passion, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, marks the 20th season of POC.
Described as “a romantic journey into and through the many shades and mysteries of love,” Gutierrez said Passion, the 1994 Tony Award winner for best musical, runs from Sept. 14 to 29, at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, in Makati.
Robbie Guevara is the director while Daniel Bartolome is the musical director and conductor of a 15-member orchestra.
In the same media conference, Guevara said Passion is an operetta, which will run for 110 minutes, without intermission “so as not to interrupt the build-up of emotions” from the audience.
Guevara said his version of Passion will be “Netflix-type, with fast-paced story-telling, with the chorus doing the transitioning.”
“We will humanize the soldiers, with less marching. They like to gossip. There are funny parts,” Guevara said.
Guevara was exuberant in saying that the POC Passion will have a 15-member orchestra, not commonly done in Passion productions, even abroad, “because some tend to cut some instruments out.”
Passion is Bartolome’s first foray in a Sondheim production and musical theater. The sweeping romantic score of Passion had been described by Sondheim as “one long rhapsody.”
Based on the 1981 film Passione d’Amore and after the novel Fosca by I.U. Tarchetti, Passion has been described also as “a haunting, intensely emotional one-act chamber opera that many consider to be Sondheim’s deepest and most powerful evening of musical theatre.”
Others have called it as a story of “terrifying relentlessness that can be found in people who have not learned how to love.”
The lead cast members of Passion are: Shiela Valderrama-Martinez (as Fosca), Vien King (Giorgio), and Jasmine Fitzgerald (Clara).
Valderrama-Martinez told the media conference that she had always wanted to play Fosca and that it is “one of her dream roles.”
“In my 25 years in performing, I’ve always been easily typecast as the ingénue or the princess,” she said.
Going against expectations that she would do the role of Clara, Valderrama-Martinez expressed her gratitude that she is being given the chance to play Fosca, a role which she described as veering away from those she had been associated with.
“There’s always gonna be an ugly side of a person and a beautiful side of a person and it’s up to the actor to show that. I hope I will show that. And besides, it’s not about the look. It’s about her story,” she said.
Gutierrez shared that Valderrama-Martinez is studying voice lessons under Tenor Arthur Espiritu in preparation for this role.
In the same interview, King said that he feels the pressure in playing Giorgio, his first major lead role. He, however, said that it is “a great opportunity” to be in the production.
King said the role of Giorgio will give him an avenue to work harder than before and to the best of his abilities. He said he wants to have his own version of Sondheim’s Giorgio.
The supporting cast members include: Lorenz Martinez (Doctor Tambourri), Raul Montesa (Colonel Ricci), and Noel Rayos (Lt. Torasso).
Composing the ensemble are: Jonel Mojica (Major Rizzolli), Lorenzo Mendoza (Pvt. Augenti), Jos Jalbuena (Ludovic), Timothy Racho (Sgt. Lombardi), Joshua Cheng (Lt. Barri), Vyen Villanueva (Fosca’s father) Lorraine Lisen (mistress), and Jasmin Salvo (Fosca’s mother).
Aside from Gutierrez, Guevara, and Bartolome, the other members of the artistic team are Jason and Jo Tecson (set designers), Shakira Villa Sykes (lighting director), Zenaida Gutierrez (costume designer), Myrene Santos (hair and make-up designer), Venger Marquez (vocal coach); Sunshine Domine (production manager).
Venger said Sondheim’s melodies are great. “But if you are a music major, you will see that his scores are faulty. That is the genius and secret of Sondheim,” he said.
Passion opened on Broadway in 1994 and won four Tony Awards: Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical.
Major productions: London (1996), Germany (2011), Sweden (2016); Off-Broadway revival (2013), and London revival (2010).
Other productions include: St. Louis (1996), Sondheim Celebrity (2002), Minnesota Opera (2004), Netherlands (2004), Lincoln Center, New York (2005), Chicago (2007), Melbourne (2014), Paris (2016), Virginia (2018), and Italy (2019).
Passion runs as follows: Sept. 14, 20, 21, 27, and 28 at 8 pm and on Sept. 15, 21, 22, 28 and 29 at 3 pm. Venue is the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza.
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