Zarzuela and memories

/ 11:06 AM September 01, 2013

The last time I watched a local production of a zarzuela was in the 1970s and early 1980s, all held at the St. Theresa’s College Auditorium. So it was refreshing to watch the zarzuela “Dalagang Bukid” last Friday in the same auditorium that bears witness to three decades of excellent musical productions from the 1960s to the 1980s including the cultural productions denouncing the Marcos dictatorship. Only this time, the auditorium is air-conditioned.

The opening scene with a procession in honor of the Blessed Virgin to the choral background of “On This Day”  brought to mind our high school and college days during Sodality functions (I could still sing the complete song). The script was very well translated from Tagalog to Cebuano. For  this I salute the late Telly Java-Ampatin whom I knew very well in college. The songs, whether in solo, duet or chorus (important elements in a zarzuela), were typically kundiman, very Filipino with some familiar melodies from popular folk songs coming in and out in the musical score. The technical aspect was excellent – all characters wore lapel microphones  so the dialogue and  songs were very clear. The salon de baile as the main setting provided the social life and reality of the historical period, the interplay of the characters in the play. I like the costumes, especially those of the female characters from the dalagang bukid to the salon dancers – depicting the period’s fashion and style, the cool color combination not flashy. The choreography was simple yet dignified. The main characters were fantastic.


It was a wholesome and entertaining production and the rest of the audience agreed with me when we met at the lobby.  But what I liked most was the bundle of issues that it presented – aside from gambling, colonial mentality, usury – two issues emerge strongest, gender and age. Students assigned to watch  the play have a lot to discuss and write about in class next week.

But the most vivid memory I had while watching the play was my senior year in STC as a member of the Play Production class of Madame Delia Aliño-Villacastin, who directed “Dalagang Bukid”.  The Play Production class was in charge of the annual play of STC. In the 1960s there were no special technicians or costume designers. The  class sewed the costumes, made the sets, props and accessories, served as technicians, prompters, and sometimes played some parts in the plays. All these were done under the critical view of the nuns who watched the rehearsals and made comments after every scene. Congratulations and thank you very much, Madame Villacastin, for initiating the zarzuela productions in the 70s and sustaining it to the 80th year of STC’s academic presence. An apt celebration of the  80th year of STC’s academic presence in Cebu, the production of “Dalagang Bukid” signals a loud call to other academic institutions to use  the rich local theater heritage that awaits to be tapped. It was also a very appropriate way of concluding the buwan ng wika.


In  high school I had the privilege to watch the rehearsals and the actual reproduction of two Cebuano zarzuelas  “Jose Vendido” and “Loleng Bihag” written by Carcaranon writers Vicente Alcoseba and Jose Galicano respectively. The first was biblical, about  Joseph and his brothers; the second was historical, about a Christian girl abducted by the Muslims. Both productions involved  residents of the community regardless of their background, and were presented as a special offering during the fiesta of Cofradia de San Jose in Luanluan, the cultural hub of Carcar. The exposure formed a strong influence in my interest in  Philippine culture.

The Carcar lecture series with its last leg, the 6th of the series to be held on Sept. 21, unearthed numerous works by Carcaranon writers, some known others unheard of.  Initiated by the Cebuano Studies Center headed by Dr. Hope Yu with the participation of the Department of Literature of the University of San Carlos, the Carcar Lecture Series also calls on other universities in Cebu to do related activities tapping other towns or communities, partnering with local institutions for implementation. The Center also plans to publish all the papers presented in the six lecture series, a total of 12 writers.  The Cebuano Studies Center partnered with the St. Catherine’s College (before known as St. Catherine’s School) for its venue. The local government  greatly benefits from this initiative if only it appreciates the town’s or city’s literary heritage.

Initiatives of this kind are  highly needed and valued at present if we need to sustain the appreciation and conservation of our cultural heritage.

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TAGS: Dalagang Bukid, theater, zarzuela
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