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Renewed by song

This is the second story migrating from Arts/Books to the Inquirer’s Op-Ed this week for good reason. It speaks of nothing less than national renewal from the depths of Filipino soul.

Coiled around the umbilical cord between music and history, Floy Quintos’ theater masterpiece “The Kundiman Party” lends new strength under the present dispensation.

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Philippine politics has always been its own kind of theater. “The Kundiman Party” travels to the antipode of fear as this government compels obedience from a populace shocked into silence by the sheer terror of three years of extrajudicial killings (EJKs).

Defying such impunity, “The Kundiman Party” homes in on the Tagalog serenade of romantic love, transmuted to love for country. Over a century since this spirit revolted against Spanish rule, popular resistance to a stolen senatorial election rediscovers the kundiman’s power.

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At the center is the legendary Adela Dolores, once an opera singer at La Scala in Milan. Returning home, she claims the kundiman as her own, only to be co-opted to glorify the Marcos dictatorship. Wearied by her unnatural role, this true artist retires and opens a kundiman school with the highest standards for aspiring singers.

But three of her graduates are deeply involved in a protest movement she knows nothing about. With them is a senator’s renegade son, Bobby, a social media specialist and the boyfriend of Maestra Adela’s star pupil Antoinette. But the outside world catches up with the isolated maestra in the killing of her own housekeeper’s brother, ending her stupor in shock.

“This is war, and there are casualties in war,” her graduates inform her. Now Bobby convinces Maestra Adela to amplify the horror with online videos of kundiman to focus and strengthen resistance. Her consent leads to a new viral reality on social media screens.

Antoinette singing “Bituing Marikit” at the heart of Filipino soul, mourning victims of EJKs with “Nasaan Ka Irog,” marking the loss of the West Philippine Sea to Chinese invasion in “Mutya ng Pasig”—these kundiman gems bewitch the nation with the same numinous power a century since they helped Filipinos win independence. “Sing! Remember! Resist!” becomes the battle cry of collective agony in a new chapter of history.

But like the best Greek theater, Maestra Adela’s new public presence as  kundiman  master brings the unkindest cut of all—her pianist Ludwig beaten up by the regime’s thugs trying to frighten her into silence. “Paano tayo kakanta kung wala nang musika?” she moans.

So demoralized is her school that at the lowest ebb, one stalwart graduate admits to fear driving her to migration.  Now Bobby’s father, Sen. Juancho Valderrama, makes a surprise appearance, offering state support for a nationwide kundiman revival on the strength of his son’s work. Before Maestra Adela can respond, Bobby arrives and angrily refuses an offer tainted by an invitation to return to the family home.

From this potent emotional brew, Maestra Adela emerges a new woman, naming her deepest reason for being—love bigger than oneself, just like the kundiman.

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This weekend at 3 and 8 p.m. are the last four performances of “The Kundiman Party” at the Peta Theater Center. Go. Let your spirit breathe where Art is one with Life.

Sylvia L. Mayuga is an essayist, sometime columnist, poet, documentary filmmaker and environmentalist. She has three National Book Awards to her name.

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TAGS: Filipino soul, national renewal, Philippines
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