HomeCommentaryClose encounter with the women of Noli Me Tangere

Close encounter with the women of Noli Me Tangere

It was in 1957 when National Artist for Music Fides Cuyugan Asensio portrayed Sisa in “Noli me Tangere,” an opera by Felipe de Leon that premiered at the FEU Auditorium.

Sixty-five years later, her granddaughter Nicole Laurel Asensio plays Sisa in the musical “Ibarra” written by Jomar Fleras at the GSIS theater.

I was seated near Fides who was eagerly waiting to witness the amazing performance of her granddaughter Nicole as Sisa during the finale show of Ibarra last weekend.

In her Facebook post, Nicole said that ”Jesus has a beautiful way of making our lives come full circle. My Lola Fides first played the iconic role when she was pregnant with my late father, who she named “Noli”.  She then went on to play the role many more times. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would get to reprise her role. But when the opportunity came, it felt right, and what a welcome challenge it is!”

Nicole added: “My biggest reason for embarking on the Ibarra journey is to pay tribute to Aba Fides who taught me how to sing and to devote my life to the arts and pay tribute to my dad in heaven too. This role is more than a role to me, it is Love for family. Love for the country.”

Sisa is one of the four major female characters of Noli Me Tangere, including Maria Clara, Donya Victorina, and Donya Consolacion.

Maria Clara is a sweet and kindhearted young woman raised with affection. As the closest approximation of virginal beauty and filial piety,  she is a hybrid who belongs to the elite but is kind and amiable to the lower members of the social strata. She’s torn between her love for Ibarra and her love for her family, ultimately choosing to protect Capitan Tiago’s reputation.

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Sisa is a caring but submissive woman who is the face of the silent victims of oppression, and of women who are too ignorant or too weak to survive. After both of her sons Basilio and Crispin went missing, Sisa went insane, wandering around town while searching for them.  She also symbolizes the motherland—the Philippines and the typical Filipino, submissive to all miseries yet very protective of one’s honor.

Doña Victorina’s superfluous and boisterous character represents social climbing Filipinos as her fanatical adulation of the Spaniards leads her to imitate the very actions and attitudes of the Spanish women. She is known for speaking ‘barok’ Spanish. She is a reflection of how colonialism subdues the natives through assimilation and makes them believe that the colonizers are of superior race.

Doña Consolación is a brutal, vulgar, and older Filipina woman who strands herself between Spanish culture and Filipino culture.  She is ashamed of her heritage and pretends to be unable to speak Tagalog, her own native language.

According to historian Xiao Chua, some have suggested that Rizal was a misogynist in his portrayal of women.

All his women characters were undesirable: Doña Consolacion was cruel, Doña Victorina epitomized colonial mentality, Sisa was too weak she became mad, and what people think as the symbol of the Philippines and the Filipino woman, Maria Clara, was actually a weak and treacherous woman, who did not fight for her love and gave away to Padre Salvi her lover’s letters to her, which were used to implicate him in a revolt.

Maria Clara’s fate sums up the loss of status of women of the emerging principalia in a racialized patriarchal society that relegated women to invisibility from public life.

“Ibarra” is a play originally titled “Kanser,” written by  Jomar Fleras which won in the 1979 playwriting contest of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP)  for the category of adaptation of a Filipino novel.

It is based on Rizal’s book “Noli Me Tangere”, published in 1887  and written in Spanish, which is a sweeping and passionate unmasking of the brutality and corruption of Spanish rule in the Philippines (1565–1898) that is seen as a disease of the society, thus the title, Latin for “touch me not.”

Kanser had its world premiere in 1980 at the CCP staged by the theater group Bulwagang Gantimpala with Tommy Abuel as Ibarra and Cora Alforja as Maria Clara.

Now in its  40th year of staging as “Ibarra” by Tanghalang Una Obra,  Fleras’ work is now considered the longest-running theater classic in Philippine history.

The 2023 production directed by Frannie Zamora is top-billed by actor Piolo Pascual as Ibarra and  Myramae Meneses as Maria Clara.

In 2015, it became a full-blast musical adaptation by Gantimpala Theater with music composed by Joed Balsamo. There were only three songs in the 1980 version.

In 1980,  Alforja was Maria Clara, Susan Africa  was Sisa,  Lorli Villanieva was Donya Victorina. There was no Donya Consolacion.

In 2023,  Meneses is Maria Clara,  Nicole Laurel Asensio is Sisa,  Carla Guevara Laforteza is Doña Victorina and  Meldea Chua  is Doña Consolacion.

Maria Clara was played by Cora Alforja (1980), Cherrie Pie Picache (1994), Adriana Agcaoili (1999, 2000),  Monica Llamas (2007), Fame Flores  (2008, 2009), Meliza Reyes (2009, 2010),   Ellrica Laguardia (2013), CJ Mangahis (2013),  Cris Pastor (2011, 2012, 2014), KL Dizon (2016), Dea Formacil (2017), Andrea Manuel (2018), Rare Jireh Columna (2019) and Myramae Meneses (2015, 2023).

Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786

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