Tenor Arthur Espiritu dissects opera, musical theater

Totel V. de Jesus

Posted at May 21 2022 04:02 PM

World-class Filipino opera singer Arthur Espiritu. Photo by Jojit Lorenzo courtesy of Arthur Espiritu
World-class Filipino opera singer Arthur Espiritu. Photo by Jojit Lorenzo courtesy of Arthur Espiritu

MANILA -- If the electric guitar and electronic keyboard were invented in the times of Mozart, Bach and Beethoven, would they still be using violins and harpsichords? What if Taylor Swift lived in the Middle Ages, would she be an opera singer?

“Opera was pop music back then! In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Even up to now, opera is still alive. So, this means it's still popular. Depending on where we are in the world,” Arthur Espiritu told ABS-CBN News in an email interview. In fact, he is temporarily based in Dublin, Ireland, because of work. 

Espiritu is a US-based Filipino world-class opera singer who started in musical theater and, believe it or not, played drums and sang for an alternative band in his youth. 

He is featured in an online talk show about opera and musical theater with Menchu Launchengco-Yulo titled “Behind Arias & Showstoppers: Conversations on Opera and Musical Theater.” Written and directed by Floy Quintos for the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the show will be streamed Saturday, May 21, at 6 p.m. on the CCP Facebook page.

Espiritu said he’s excited because this was the first time he worked with Lauchengco-Yulo. though with Quintos, there have been concerts before that Quintos directed. “This would be the third time, I believe.”

Espiritu has been busy these past few months after the two-year long series of lockdowns. This May, he is wrapping up a performance, playing Edgardo in Donizetti’s “Lucia del Lammermoor” at Opernhaus in Leipzig, Germany.

“Last show will be on the 27th of May. Edgardo is a very demanding role. It's one of Donizetti's great masterpieces. I do, however, have another opera to perform, the role of Robert Earl of Leicester in Donizetti's ‘Maria Stuarda’ here in Dublin, Ireland, with a stellar cast at the Irish National Opera,” Espiritu said. 

“This will be my debut performance in Ireland and it will be filmed for release on Operavision on the 8th of July. This is probably one of the hardest tenor roles. Not many tenors accept this role because of its unforgiving tessitura (high vocal range)?”

After the long lockdowns and cancelled shows, Espiritu is just happy to be working. He is traveling again to key cities around the world as one of the most-sought after tenors. In fact, he is almost fully booked. 

“I'm still trying to make up for all the cancelled shows, so my talent agencies are working extra hard to book me to as many shows as possible. I'm looking forward to another Romeo in Gounod's ‘Romeo et Juliette’ in Bulgaria, a concert debut at The Netherlands, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, soloist at an opera Gala Concert with Isarphilharmonie Concert Hall in Munich, Germany, a role debut as Riccardo in Verdi's masterpiece ‘Un ballo in maschera’ (‘A masked ball’) with Theater Bonn, Germany, a reprise of the role Rodolfo in Puccini's ‘La Boheme’ with Opera Cologne, Germany at the end of the year,” Espiritu said. “So, I have a lot to look forward to." 

"I also teach online voice lessons from our vocal studio (Kantahan Central), Metro Manila based. For now, we do online lessons and some face-to-face sessions on special requests,” he added. 

Epiritu was born and raised in Tanay, Rizal, and has a house in Valenzuela City if he’s in town. 

Given the chance, he said he would perform with Lauchengco-Yulo in a concert here in the Philippines. He is even willing to have a duet and sing some ballads, and pop and rock songs. 

“I believe we can collaborate as I sing across different genres from pop, jazz, musicals, operettas, and opera. It just so happens that I am more successful as an opera singer. I used to play drums and sing lead in an alternative band. We used to cover Bon Jovi, Metallica, Dream Theater, U2, and more,” he said. 

“I used to sing Tony in ‘West Side Story,’ did ‘Alladin the Musical,’ Gilbert and Sullivan, ‘Kiss Me Kate’ by Cole Porter, ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ and more. Just because I sing opera does not mean I am only limited to singing opera. Believe it or not, I started with musicals,” Espiritu added. 

For her part, Lauchengco-Yulo told ABS-CBN News she is very much open to doing a concert with Espiritu. “Absolutely! Wow, that would be an amazing challenge and totally unique. And, of course, Floy must direct,” she said.

She shared her experiences while doing “Beyond Arias.” 

“It was amazing speaking with and exchanging views and comparisons with Arthur on the similarities and difference of musical theater and the opera world.

“We learned so much about each other’s craft. At the end of it all, we both agreed that both opera and musical theater are grounded in ‘truths.’ And, of course, Floy was the perfect person to ask all the questions since he is very familiar with both worlds,” Lauchengco-Yulo said.

Espiritu also gave an appetizer of the online conversation with Lauchengco-Yulo. 

“It's really interesting how education and a little bit of digging up on the history of musical theater, Broadway, and crossover genres, all because what we call ‘theater’ these days had humble beginnings in opera. Standard songs/arias and showstoppers all began as opera arias. Thanks to the invention of microphones, musicals were written to evolve into what we now call musical theater,” Espiritu said. 

“Back then, musical theater was opera. And the standards were operatic duets and arias known by followers, fans, of opera stars and composers and conductors. In Europe, musical theater and Broadway so famously called in America, is still called Musiktheater. This is categorized together with opera and Broadway ‘standards’. They also categorize ballet, dramatic theater,” Espiritu added. 

“This is why we need these educational shows where we can actually deepen the knowledge of the performing musical arts. Pavarotti is one of the very first to put opera to merge with the current trends. Many others have done the same, Dame Sutherland, Caballe with her famous concert with the Queen, crossover artists such as Andrea Bocelli, groups like Il Divo, Sarah Brightman, many others. Even that song we call ‘Nessun Dorma,’ is an aria from Puccini's famous opera ‘Turandot’. Aretha Franklin sang it in a concert, and many other talent shows on TV have made that song famous. 

“Or even that song we call ‘O mio babbino caro’? Is from Puccini's ‘Il Trittico (Trilogy) Gianni Schicchi’. This is why they crossed over into the pop scene. Pop/musical theater/TV theater, certainly won't make the effort to reach out to the old standards on how vocal music came to be. In the Philippines for example, if you listen to kundimans, Filipino operas, those old recordings, their way of singing was based on operatic techniques and people were used to that kind of singing,” he said.

We asked him what would it be like singing Broadway, standards and other songs from musical theater if he’s going to do a show with Lauchengco-Yulo?

“It would be like going back in time for me to be singing Broadway hits and standard songs, because it was where I started. It's so interesting that my journey has taken me to so many experiences in operatic literature and the wealth of so much history in the performing arts that I had to walk backwards to be able to say, I can sing the stuff that I used to sing. If only we can educate our children to this wealth for music history and realize that everything has roots/beginnings and that we must be careful calling Broadway, standard songs as something new.”

Quintos told ABS-CBN News that if local producers like the CCP would support it, he would gladly write the script and direct a live concert featuring Espiritu and Launchengco-Yulo. 

For the meantime, there’s “Beyond Arias.”