MANILA -- Rachelle Gerodias-Park, the country’s premier soprano, loves Pearl Jam.
“I have a confession: Before I became an opera singer, I was a ‘headbanger,’” she told ABS-CBN News in a recent online interview.
“I entered the conservatory in the late '80s and my love for opera came later so I must admit grunge was first,” added Gerodias-Park, who graduated cum laude from the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Conservatory of Music.
We asked Gerodias-Park about her favorite Pearl Jam songs and she readily answered, “Even Flow” from the band’s debut album “Ten,” released in 1991. She also likes “Rearviewmirror” and “Daughter,” two hits from the band’s second album “Vs.” released in 1993.
Surprising maybe for purists, how to reconcile Maria Callas, Puccini and Pavarotti with Eddie Vedder doing a stage dive. But good music is good music. Even concert cellist and conductor Renato Lucas confessed he’s a devoted Metallica listener.
After college at the UST, Gerodias-Park earned her Master’s degree in vocal performance and vocal literature from Eastman School of Music, in New York and a Professional Diploma in Operatic studies from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.
Why we recently caught up with the world-class opera singer has something to do with St. Francis of Assissi and a benefit concert to help build a church for the poorest of the poor living near the coastlines covering the cities of Malabon, Navotas and Caloocan.
Together with her husband, South Korea’s well-renowned baritone Byeong In Park, she performed in a recent online fundraising concert titled “Build My Church on a Song.”
It happened on the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, on October 4, as part of “Francis Fest 2020,” an annual festival organized by Santuario de San Antonio Parish in Forbes Park, Makati City. The recorded performance was made accessible online for seven days, October 4 to October 11, through the Santuario de San Antonio Parish’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.
The major beneficiary is St. Clare of Assisi Parish, whose ministry covers around 40,000 families living in depressed communities in Barangay Longos in Malabon City, Barangay NBBS or North Bay Boulevard South in Navotas City and Barangay Dagat-Dagatan in Caloocan City.
The concert aimed to bankroll funding to build church. If everything fall into place, the organizers said the construction will begin in 2021.
In the said concert, the Park couple made use of the Santuario’s chancery and altar as their stage.
Hosted by Martin Lopez, Far Eastern University Center for the Arts executive director, the concert also had Cocoy Laurel performing a song using St. Francis of Assisi’s words of wisdom: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love.”
Jose Mari Chan was a special guest. He didn’t sing but he gave a heartwarming message, explaining St. Francis’ legacy.
The Park couple performed about 14 songs, covering popular opera pieces, kundiman and Broadway favorites.
Among the highlights of the concert was “Brindisi” or the drinking song from the opera “La Traviata.” Perhaps being husband and wife, they don’t have to fake their emotions or act out the numbers about lovers. When Park put his arms around her as they danced around the altar while singing “Brindisi,” it felt like they’re a newlywed. Oh, at some point, they actually kissed to end a segment.
The same “kilig” was felt when they sang “All I Ask of You” from “Phantom of the Opera” and “If Ever I Would Leave You” from the musical “Camelot.”
We felt goosebumps when Gerodias-Park sang “Think of Me,” also from “Phantom of the Opera” and the essential, popular classical concert piece, “The Prayer.” Hats off to Partk, who with perfect Filipino pronunciation, performed the classic kundiman “Dahil Sa Isang Bulaklak,” by composer Leopoldo Silos.
After the online concert, we asked Gerodias-Park of their future plans and projects, if and when the pandemic is over and the lockdowns have been fully lifted.
“We hope that our cancelled concerts and other projects will still push through. We were supposed to be the featured soloists for the season concert of the Manila Symphony Orchestra and we were also scheduled to do a duo concert together with Senator Joey Lina at the Manila Hotel for the Knights of Rizal,” she told ABS-CBN News.
It’s been a tough year for everyone and for the Park couple, it’s more DIY at home.
“Since the pandemic we have had no helper at home so we share all the household chores and parenting duties. We are blessed to have my mom with us so she also helps in taking care of the boys. Both of us can cook so our kitchen is busy and our dishes are mostly Filipino and Korean. But I must admit that Byeong In is the better cook,” Gerodias-Park said.
Then again, looking at the bright side, they are happy to be with their children, Jose Vittorino and Theodore Franco, almost round-the-clock.
“The best thing about this quarantine is we get to spend more quality time with our kids and they really love it! Parang bumawi kami this year kasi last year we were super busy with work. The boys would be in school during the day then Byeong In and I would come home late naman when we have shows,” she said.
“Now we are homeschooling the boys. We never really planned on homeschooling but because of the situation we thought this is the best option. It’s not a walk in the park but we are learning and we’re happy to be part of our children’s education and to be closely monitoring their progress. It’s difficult but very rewarding and also fun!” Gerodias-Park added.
Now that everyone is forced to stay home, the Park couple continues to teach online via the Gerodias-Park Vocal Studio.
“We are happy to be able to continue teaching our students online! It was an adjustment in the first few weeks. We are now getting accustomed to the remote lessons but of course we miss the face-to-face sessions,” she said.
The Gerodias-Park Vocal Studio has a Facebook Page for inquiries on vocal lessons and tutorials. The songs of Pearl Jam are not included.