By Michelle Anne P. Soliman, Reporter

Theater Review
By James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim
Presented by Philippine Opera Company
Ongoing until Sept. 29
Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati City

“What is the cost of a few words when a life hangs in the balance?” Doctor Tambourri, who is airing for the terminally ill Fosca, asks the young soldier Giorgio Bachetti in Stephen Sondheim’s one-act operetta, Passion.

The 1994 Tony Award winner for Best Musical is based on the 1981 Italian film Passione d’amore. Set in 1863 war-torn Italy, the story follows a handsome soldier Giorgio, who has an ongoing affair with his beautiful but married mistress Clara. While trying to keep his love affair going after being reassigned to a provincial outpost, Giorgio meets, and — after first finding her neediness repellent — learns to love the sickly spinster Fosca, his Colonel’s cousin.

Produced by the Philippine Opera Company (POC) in line with its 20th anniversary, Passion opened on Sept. 14 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati City.

A bit of a neophyte when it comes to Stephen Sondheim’s works, I entered the theater knowing only the synopsis of the story and no set expectations.

To a first time viewer, the music-driven story disturbingly presents a horror of a love story — a love affair alongside extreme one-sided romantic affection.

It is only after learning of Fosca’s history when it comes to marriage that Giorgio develops a feeling of guilt, then redeems himself by giving Fosca more attention than Clara. We see how women are treated in both relationships, and their different interpretations of what love is.

Director Robbie Guevara’s casting of the three lead actors — Jasmine Fritzgerald as Clara, Vien King as Giorgio, and Shiela Valderrama-Martinez as Fosca — was outstanding as the actors presented authentic chemistry in every scene.

Ms. Valderrama-Martinez was wonderful Fosca. Her diction was flawless; her execution of the character makes you uncomfortable but at the same time, one eventually understands her longing for love and compassion.

Mr. King gives a laudable performance in what is his first lead role as the naive Giorgio. Most of them in which Fosca directly admits her devotion to Giorgio makes you sympathize with his discomfort as someone who initially does not reciprocate.

All the leads, and the rest of the cast — Lorenz Martinez as Doctor Tambourri, Raul Montesa as Colonel Ricci, and Noel Rayos as Lieutenant Torasso — sang flawlessly.

The simplistic approach to the set and lighting design by Jason Paul Tecson and Shakira Villa Symes, respectively, makes the audience focus on the action onstage.

The costumes designed by Zenaida Gutierrez are commendable — intricate and well-researched, they stay true to the setting of the story. My companion, a fashion design graduate, commented that it was important, in spite of the nine quick costume changes, to have Clara wear petticoats which adds not only elegance but also accuracy to western fashion in the 19th century.

The operetta presents the viewer with an esoteric style of storytelling. Watch with a companion, family, or a group of friends. A discourse of varied viewpoints about the story awaits after leaving the theater.

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