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Meet the Cast of NOLI ME TANGERE Opera; Show Runs 10/4-6

New York, September 13, 2103--This year's The Outstanding Filipino Americans in New York Heritage Award recipient The Foundation for Filipino Artists Inc., together with executive committee members Loida Nicolas Lewis, Aida Bartolome, Jerry Sibal, Michael Dadap, Dr. Angie Cruz, Edwin Josue and Robert Perlstein, brings to New York Felipe Padilla de Leon, Philippine National Artist for Music, and Guillermo Tolentino's 1957 opera "Noli Me Tangere," based on the 1887 classic romantic novel by Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippines' national hero.

"Noli Me Tangere," the opera, plays at The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College (Lexington Avenue and East 68th Street) for a limited run only from Friday, October 4 to Sunday, October 6.

The musical presentation, an opera in Three Acts, follows the story of Juan Crisostomo Ibarra who returns to the Philippines after pursuing scholarly studies in Europe. He plans to open up a school and marry Maria Clara, his betrothed. However, parish priest Padre Damaso, the archenemy of the Ibarras, is out to hinder Crisostomo's plans, which creates "a dramatic storyline of forbidden love, betrayal and revenge."

"Noli Me Tangere," featuring musical direction by Dadap and sets and costumes by Sibal, stars world renowned Filipino opera singers Sal Malaki (Juan Crisostomo Ibarra), Antoni Mendezona (Maria Clara), Andrew Fernando (Padre Damaso), Robert Perla Gomez (Elias) and Maria Christina Navarro (Sisa) and young singer Kirby Asunto (Basilio).

For tickets ($60-$150), call 646-415-1853, email filartists@gmail.com or visit nolimetangereoperanyc.org.

The songs are sung in Tagalog; supertitles in English are provided.

Sal Malaki, Juan Crisostomo Ibarra

Sal Malaki, tenor, leads the pack of truly exceptional Filipino musical artists in "Noli Me Tangere." He plays Juan Crisostomo Ibarra, the opera's protagonist; according to many, Crisostomo reflects the ideologies of Jose Rizal.

Probably destined to play Crisostomo, Sal, nearly five months ago, held a concert to honor Rizal's 152nd birthdate in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, which the Philippine hero visited in 1887.

Sal is one of the most seasoned artists of the Los Angeles Opera Company, which is led by world-renowned tenor and conductor Maestro Placido Domingo. Last year, Sal officially made his 100th production with Los Angeles Opera--a very rare feat, which he achieved since joining the company in 1995.

Some of his career highlights include a Grammy Award for the Los Angeles Opera production of Kurt Weill's "The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny," which has a live DVD recording produced by EuroArts, directed by John Doyle and conducted by James Conlon; his portrayal of Giuseppe in Los Angeles Opera's production of Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata, also recorded for DVD, directed by Marta Domingo; and his portrayal of Uncle Yakuside in Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly.

Sal was also part of the highly successful concert tour in London, Paris and New York, led by Maestro Gustavo Dudamel, together with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Master Chorale, held earlier this year.

Antoni Mendezona, Maria Clara

Via this opera adaptation of "Noli Me Tangere," Antoni Mendezona, a Spanish-Filipina coloratura, looks forward to reliving her traditional, religious upbringing in the Philippines. So aptly, she plays Maria Clara, the fiancée of Crisostomo, who was raised to be God-fearing and loyal to her own family.

The young soprano believes that Maria Clara is the epitome of a perfect daughter. Even when Maria Clara later found out who her father was, she chooses to sacrifice her own personal happiness to protect the people she loves.

Antoni, a consummate performer, has been recognized internationally for her singing-with "images of heaven coming to mind when she [sings]."

Furthermore, her professional theater experience and impeccable musicianship have led her to step in twice at the last minute for two important American opera debuts: one in the European debut of Tobias Picker's "Emmeline," where she played Sophie, and the other in the New York premiere of Thomas Pasatieri's "The Hotel Casablanca," where she played Veronique, which garnered a rave review from The New York Times saying, "Mendezona, a last minute substitute as the hotel clerk Veronique, stole scenes with her pealing voice and bubbly personality."

Her other operatic roles include Despina in Cosi fan tutte, Amore in L'incoronazione di Poppea, Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Le Rossignol in L'enfant et les sortilèges, Elisa in Il Re Pastore, Sandman and Dew Fairy in Hansel and Gretel with Boheme Opera, Flora in "The Turn of the Screw" and Dorinda in Handel's Orlando with Sacramento Opera, among others.

Andrew Fernando, Padre Damaso

Andrew Fernando, baritone, tackles for the first time the infamous role of Padre Damaso, a Franciscan Spanish priest who is an adversary of Don Rafael Ibarra, Crisostomo's father.

For Andrew, Padre Damaso is a conflicted man: He should lead a life of holiness; however, his heart and mind is full of evil thoughts.

First Prize winner of the prestigious Loren L. Zachary National Vocal Competition in the United States and an alumnus of the world-renowned San Francisco Opera Merola program, Andrew has appeared in numerous operas, playing notable roles such as Marcello in La Boheme; Dr. Falke in Die Fledermaus; Slook in La Cambiale di Matrinonio; Baron de Gondremark in La Vie Parisienne; the title role in Gianni Schicchi; Doctor Malatesta in Don Pasquale; The African King in Angelique; and the title role in Rigoletto; among others.

He has also performed as a principal artist with San Francisco Opera Merola, Opera Pacific, Eugene Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Singapore Lyric Opera, The Orange County Performing Arts Center, The Cultural Center of the Philippines, Pacific Symphony Orchestra, Macau Sinfonietta, The Hong Kong Arts Festival/Los Angeles Opera, The Hong Kong Urban Council, First Act Opera of England, Bangkok Symphony Orchestra, The Walt Disney Hall, Syrinx Concerts Orchestra of France and many others.

The Los Angeles Times has once hailed him, "The young singer to watch."

Roberto Perlas Gomez, Elias

Roberto Perlas Gomez, who plays Elias, the radical friend of Crisostomo, is no stranger to the life and work of Jose Rizal because he created the title role in "Rizal: Mga Huling Araw," an opera commemorating the final days of the Philippine national hero during his centennial death anniversary in 1995.

With more than 90 operatic roles to his credit, Roberto, baritone, has performed extensively throughout the United States, especially in California, where he has played multiple leading roles with most of the regional companies in that state. He has also played numerous supporting roles with Michigan Opera, Los Angeles Opera, San Diego Opera and San Francisco Opera.

Roberto recently made his European debut at Arena di Verona via the Italian premiere of John Adams' "Nixon in China." He played Chou En-lai, the Chinese prime minister, a role he reprised with Long Beach Opera to rave reviews.

He is set to join the cast in Long Beach Opera's upcoming production of "King Gesar," an opera that tells the story of the legendary Tibetan warrior king, Gesar of Ling. With Long Beach Opera, he last played the roles of the Theater Director and the Gendarme in the company's production of Francis Poulenc's "The Breasts of Tiresias."

Roberto believes that the Filipino-American audience embraces the opera in much the same way as other cultures.

Maria Christina Navarro, Sisa

Not a stranger to Filipino operas-she recently played the title role in Dr. Ramon Geluz's "Karim and Jasmin"-Maria Christina Navarro tackles the tragic character of Sisa, the mother of sacristans Basilio and Crispin, whom a co-worker accused of stealing two gold pieces.

Maria Christina finds Sisa a highly complex role: A selfless mother, who is a victim of physical and societal abuse- an easy and helpless prey of the condescending friars, brutal civil guards and her cruel husband.

Maria Christina, soprano, has performed in Switzerland, Austria, the United States and the Philippines. Her most notable performances were with Biel Conservatory, Basel and Baden Theaters, Stadtorchester Solothurn, Children's Orchestra Society of New York, Kalamazoo Symphony of Michigan, Pacific Symphony, Filipino-American Symphony Orchestra, Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra and Filipino Artist Series.

She has also provided background vocals for Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli and American country music artist Reba McEntire; and joined the cast of the West Coast tour of "Lord of the Rings," in concert, with the Munich Symphony Orchestra two years ago.

Maria Christina, a past first-prize winner at the National Music Competition for Young Artists in the Philippines, is an alumna of University of the Philippines and Biel Conservatory in Switzerland.

Kirby Asunto, Basilio

Voted as one of the most outstanding Filipino Americans in New York last year, 14-year-old Kirby Asunto plays Basilio, the oldest son of Sisa.

Guided by her mother, Kirby started singing when she was about two years old; her biggest singing stint so far was singing the Philippine national anthem at the Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley boxing match held at MGM Las Vegas, Nevada last year.

Through her singing, she wishes to touch many lives and give back to the community by helping people in need.

Kirby is poised to launch her debut album, under ABS-CBN's Star Records, in December.

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