MANILA — If the electric guitar and electronic keyboard had been invented in the days of Mozart, Bach and Beethoven, would they still be using violins and harpsichords? What if Taylor Swift lived in the Middle Ages, would she be an opera singer?
“Opera was pop music back then! In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Even up to now, opera is still alive. So that means it’s still popular. Depending on the location where we are in the world,” Arthur Espiritu told ABS-CBN News in an email interview. In fact, he is temporarily based in Dublin, Ireland, due to work.
Espiritu is a world-class Filipino opera singer based in the United States who started out in musical theater and, believe it or not, played drums and sang for an alternative band in his youth.
He is featured in an online opera and musical theater talk show with Menchu Launchengco-Yulo titled “Behind Arias & Showstoppers: Conversations on Opera and Musical Theater.” Written and directed by Floy Quintos for the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the show will air Saturday, May 21 at 6 p.m. on the CCP Facebook page.
Espiritu said he was thrilled because it was his first time working with Lauchengco-Yulo. although with Quintos there were concerts before Quintos conducted them. “It would be the third time, I believe.”
Espiritu has been busy in recent months after the two-year long string of lockdowns. In May he completed a performance, playing Edgardo in Donizetti’s “Lucia del Lammermoor” at the Opernhaus in Leipzig, Germany.
“The last performance will take place on May 27. Edgardo is a very demanding role. It is one of Donizetti’s great masterpieces. I do, however, have another opera to play, the role of Robert Earl of Leicester in Donizetti’s ‘Maria Stuarda’ here in Dublin, Ireland, with a stellar cast at the Irish National Opera,” said Espiritu.
“This will be my first performance in Ireland and it will be filmed for release on Operavision on July 8th. This is probably one of the most difficult tenor roles. Few tenors accept this role because of its unforgiving range (range high voice)?
After the long confinements and the canceled shows, Espiritu is simply happy to work. He is again traveling to key cities around the world as one of the most sought after tenors. In fact, it’s almost complete.
“I’m still trying to catch up with all the canceled shows, so my talent agencies are working very hard to book me as many shows as possible. I’m looking forward to another Romeo in Gounod’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in Bulgaria, a first concert in the Netherlands, at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, a soloist in an opera gala concert with the Isarphilharmonie concert hall in Munich, Germany, a leading role as Riccardo in The Masterpiece of Verdi “Un ballo in maschera” (“A masked ball”) with the Theater of Bonn, Germany, a reprise of the role of Rodolfo in Puccini’s “La Bohème” with the Cologne Opera, Germany at the end of the year,” Espiritu said. “So I have a lot to look forward to.”
“I also teach vocal lessons online from our vocal studio (Kantahan Central), based in Metro Manila. At the moment, we offer online lessons and face-to-face sessions on special requests. “, he added.
Epiritu was born and raised in Tanay, Rizal, and has a home in Valenzuela City if he is in town.
If he had the chance, he said he would perform with Lauchengco-Yulo at a concert here in the Philippines. He is even willing to duet and sing pop and rock ballads and songs.
“I believe we can collaborate as I sing across different genres from pop, jazz, musicals, operettas and opera. I happen to have more success as a vocalist. opera. I used to play drums and sing in an alternative band. We used to cover Bon Jovi, Metallica, Dream Theater, U2 and more,” he said.
“I used to sing Tony in ‘West Side Story’, ‘Alladin the Musical’, Gilbert and Sullivan, Cole Porter’s ‘Kiss Me Kate’, ‘Phantom of the Opera’, and more. is not because I sing opera that I am limited to singing opera. Believe it or not, I started with musicals,” added Espiritu.
For her part, Lauchengco-Yulo told ABS-CBN News that she was very open to doing a gig with Espiritu. “Absolutely! Wow, that would be an incredible and totally unique challenge. And, of course, Floy has to direct,” she said.
She shared her experiences making “Beyond Arias.”
“It was amazing to talk and exchange views and comparisons with Arthur about the similarities and differences between musical theater and the world of opera.
“We learned so much about each other’s trades. At the end of it all, we both agreed that opera and musical theater are based on ‘truths’. And, of course, Floy was the perfect person to ask all the questions because he knows both worlds very well,” Lauchengco-Yulo said.
Espiritu also previewed the online conversation with Lauchengco-Yulo.
“It’s really interesting to see how education and a bit of digging into the history of musical theatre, Broadway and crossover genres, all because what we call ‘theater’ these days has had humble beginnings in opera. The standard songs/arias and showstoppers all started as opera arias. Thanks to the invention of microphones, musicals were written to evolve into what we now call musical theatre,” Espiritu said.
“At the time, musical theater was opera. And the standards were opera duets and arias known to followers, fans, opera stars and composers and conductors. In Europe, the musical theater and Broadway, so famous in America, is still called Musiktheater. This is classified with the “standards” of opera and Broadway. They also rank ballet, drama,” added Espiritu.
“That’s why we need these educational shows where we can really deepen our knowledge of the musical performing arts. Pavarotti is one of the very first to bring opera to merge with current trends. Many others have done the same, Dame Sutherland, Caballe with her famous concert with the Queen, cross artists like Andrea Bocelli, groups like Il Divo, Sarah Brightman, many others. Even this song that we call “Nessun Dorma” is an aria from Puccini’s famous opera “Turandot”. Aretha Franklin sang it at a concert, and many other TV talent shows made this song famous.
“Or even that song we call ‘O mio babbino caro’? Is taken from “Il Trittico (Trilogy) Gianni Schicchi” by Puccini. That’s why they moved on to the pop scene. Pop/Musical Theater/TV Theater certainly won’t make the effort to reach the old standards of how vocal music was born. In the Philippines for example, if you listen to kundimans, Filipino operas, those old recordings, their way of singing was based on operatic techniques and people were used to that kind of singing,” he said.
We asked him what it would be like to sing Broadway, standards and other musical theater songs if he was going to do a show with Lauchengco-Yulo?
“It would be like stepping back in time for me to sing Broadway hits and standard songs, because that’s where I started. It’s so interesting that my journey has taken me to so many experiences in operatic literature and the richness of so much history in the performing arts that I had to step back to be able to say, I can sing the stuff that I used to sing. If only we could educate our children about this wealth of music history and realize that everything has roots/beginnings and that we have to be careful calling Broadway, standard songs something new.
Quintos told ABS-CBN News that if local producers like PCC support him, he would gladly write the script and conduct a live concert featuring Espiritu and Launchengco-Yulo.
In the meantime, there is “Beyond Arias”.