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Post-election messages of patriotism told through the kundiman

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THE cast of The Kundiman Party.

By Michelle Anne P. Soliman, Reporter

AN ARTIST’S work is inspired by many things. It may be his environment, the events in his community, or his personal experiences. For playwright Floy Quintos, current events in his country inspired the creation of what he previously said would be his “swan song.”

“When I wrote this play, I was just feeling very worried about the country, that’s all,” Mr. Quintos said.

PETA Theater opens with a limited run of The Kundiman Party on May 24 — a week after the Philippines’ midterm elections.

The creators of the show believe that “the outcome of the elections will be the start of a greater struggle, the beginning of a new chapter in the fight to regain our national dignity,” according to a press release.

Directed by Dexter M. Santos, the play was first produced by the UP Playwright’s Theater in 2018.




After its run last year, Mr. Quintos felt that it was “time to let go of the play” until news about the midterm elections started coming out. “Late last year, (actor, director, and PETA’s Chief Operations Officer) Melvin Lee approached me about staging it again here (in PETA),” Mr. Quintos said at the press launch in PETA Theater Center on May 2, adding that PETA Theater’s management believed in the material after seeing the show and “what it can say [even] in a post-election scenario.”

The play revolves around a retired kundiman and classical singer Adela Dolores who spends her time teaching kundiman to young students and her matronly friends who are interested in that particular genre of Filipino love songs. Adela’s life takes a turn when one of her students, Antonette, introduces her to her activist-boyfriend, Bobb, who acquaints Adela with social media. Then the story shifts from hilarious to serious.

Actors reprising their roles in the original production are Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino as Maestra Adela, Frances Makil-Ignacio as Tita Mayen, Stella Cañete-Mendoza as Tita Helen, and Jenny Jamora and Missy Maramara alternating as Tita Mitch. Also reprising their roles are Miah Canton as the young soprano Antoinette and soprano Rica Nepomuceno as the professional kundiman singer Melissa.

The newcomers in the cast are 2011 NAMCYA first prize piano competition winner Gabriel Paguirigan who makes his acting debut as Ludwig, the Maestra’s accompanist; Boo Gabunada (Mula Sa Buwan and Ang Huling El Bimbo) takes on the role of Bobby; and Nonie Buencamino takes on the role of Senator Juancho Valderama who is Bobby’s estranged father.

WHAT MAKES A KUNDIMAN?
The story is told with kundimans — featuring piano arrangements by National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab and additional scoring by his daughter Krina Punsalan Cayabyab — composed by Nicanor Abelardo (“Mutya ng Pasig,” “Nasaan Ka Irog”) and Francisco Santiago (“Pakiusap,” “Pilipinas Kong Mahal”).

Popularized at the end of the 19th century, a kundiman is an art song with themes of love. It has also evolved to include themes about patriotism and oppression by a colonizer or dictator.

“It started as an extemporaneous singing… It has always been about love, but it has evolved into other aspects,” UP College of Music professor Rica Nepomuceno, who plays the soprano Melissa, said of the kundiman.

“It is quite challenging for us to be using the kundiman now. With the influx of popular music, not only Filipino popular music, but also the foreign popular music, the audience now — especially the young ones — are not very familiar with the songs,” Ms. Nepomuceno said of the challenge in making kundiman relevant.

She also noted that the expression of a deep devotion for anything makes the art song relatable in the story. “Kundiman is still very much alive even if consciously we don’t know. We use it [always] when there’s an urgent need to express devotion,” Ms. Nepomuceno said.

SOCIAL RELEVANCE
The play hopes to inspire vigilance among viewers. “The Kundiman Party will touch not just minds but more importantly hearts. It will inspire, we hope, a wider audience to be engaged in what is happening in the country today,” said PETA President Cecilia B. Garrucho about the show’s goal.

“I have no potential of my work ever being a classic. That has never been my concern. I write, I think for the ‘here and now,’” Mr. Quintos said, adding that it was a realization among the cast members that the story “still seems so fresh” as it was a year ago.

“I’m glad [enough] that we have started some sort of conversation with the audience and some sort of introspection. I think that’s the main purpose of our art,” he said.

The Kundiman Party runs from May 24 to June 2 at the PETA Theater Center in Quezon City. For information and tickets, visit www.facebook.com/pages/category/Performance-Art-Theatre/The-Kundiman-Party-at-the-PETA-Theater-1087627344777762/