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‘The Kundiman Party’: Sing, remember, resist!

String together millennials in search of self and art, middle-aged women groping for meaning, a retired opera diva rediscovering her relevance, social media, young love in the time of extrajudicial killings, family and stormy politics, then equip the unseemly characters with a most unlikely weapon—the kundiman — to battle national darkness.

You read right — yes, the kundiman, that undying Filipino musical form or genre that, in the days of yore, set hearts and souls on fire.

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Go catch the much-acclaimed “The Kundiman Party” of the UP Playwrights’ Theater. Written by Floy Quintos and directed by Dexter M. Santos, the play is a must-see in this postelection season. More shows at the Peta Theater Center tonight until June 2.

When you closely examine the wrenching lyrics and feel the soaring melody of the kundiman, you might learn the meaning of all or nothing, love beyond death, hanggang libingan and other protestations of the lovelorn and the forlorn. Kung hindi man, you know. So what does the kundiman, which came to be at the turn of the 19th century, got to do with the here and now and the millennials born and bred in the age of social media, the internet and smart gadgets?

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Retired opera diva Adela Dolores (Shamaine Centenera Buencamino) has had her heyday in concert halls abroad and as a protégé of Imelda Marcos. But Adela at some point saw the light and broke away from her patron. “Between La Scala and Mendiola, I chose,” she says. As age catches up with her, she spends her time tutoring aspiring singers, Antoinette (Miah Canton) among them.

Maestra Adela’s living room at home is the meeting place of the so-called Kundiman Party, composed of rambunctious postmenopausal women (Missy Maramara, Jenny Jamora, Frances Makil Ignacio, Stella Cañete Mendoza) who love kundiman and going to protest rallies. Pianist Ludwig (Gabriel Paguirigan), Adela’s accompanist, completes the party. Enter Antoinette’s boyfriend Bobby (Boo Gabunada), a struggling documentary filmmaker, estranged son of a senator named Juancho Valderama.

What do you know, a star is reborn when Adela debuts on social media and has a YouTube channel of her own, getting hundreds of thousands of likes and followers. Thanks to Bobby, of course. A collage of her online appearances is flashed every now and then.

The maestra is in her element. But it is not all kundiman and arias that she had sang in operas during her prime. She gets to speak her mind. She has found her voice. “It’s been a long time since I was brave,” she says.

And she also tries a “new” language. “Mga beshie, I am shookt!”

She is transformed, transfigured if you will, when she reminisces. “Casta diva” (a famous aria from the opera “Norma” by Bellini) segues into strains from a Nicanor Abelardo kundiman. Music is a heady brew.

By the way, “The Kundiman Party” is not a musical; dialogues are not sung. But the kundiman holds the play together. It is almost always Antoinette who sings excerpts from the kundiman masters, although soprano Rica Nepomuceno as Melissa, a professional kundiman singer aching to be relevant, almost steals the show with her “Mutya ng Pasig.”

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Suffice it to say that the cabal of kundiman lovers and the subversive presence of their diva on social media catch the attention of the establishment. The words “Sing! Remember! Resist” are on their shirts and they say why.

When at the start of the second part (after the intermission) Ludwig makes the piano roar with Chopin’s “Revolutionary Etude,” you know something is afoot. We have listened to the music, we have seen the picture, we have felt the fear. Now the denouement — confrontations take place, danger is at the gate, the titas of the Kundiman Party are distraught, someone is killed, Ludwig is a near-casualty. Senator and son….

I won’t be a spoiler, so I go only up to there. But here’s a list of the kundiman (arranged by National Artist Ryan Cayabyab and Krina Cayabyab) in the play: Abelardo’s “Bituing Marikit,” “Kundiman ng Luha,” “Mutya ng Pasig” and “Nasaan ka Irog”; Francisco Santiago’s “Pakiusap,” “Madaling Araw” and “Pilipinas Kong Mahal.”

The party ended gloriously with “Madaling Araw.” Imagine dawn breaking in this benighted country. I was in tears.

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TAGS: Dexter M. Santos, Floy Quintos, Human Face, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, The Kundiman Party, UP Playwrights Theater
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