When I look back at my time as an online music reviewer who focuses mostly on opera, chamber music, Baroque music, classical music, concerts, folk music, and ballet, I accomplished certain things and got acquainted with different artists, and all of these facets have made me who I am today.
As an infant, I would end up listening to Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Gershwin, and orchestral music in general as opposed to vocal music, as I did not become an opera fan overnight. I was initially a fan of the Disney animated musical films and the live-action musical films like Sound of Music, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
From age five to age ten, I took ballet lessons, even though I knew for a fact that I was not going to end up as a danseur. On top of that, it became a holiday tradition for me to watch Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker on VHS starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland.
At age nine, I had my first violin lessons. With time, patience, and discipline I grew with this instrument. This was also the age where I was first introduced to Andrea Bocelli and Charlotte Church, though I did have my prior experiences with the Three Tenors and Maria Callas. Even more so, I had my first recorder lessons and I started to become familiar with the vocal types: sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and bass, which was especially useful for choir singing, which I also did sparingly when attending mass. I even had a go at singing as a boy soprano, even though I did realize how my voice was changing as an eleven-year-old and I can no longer sing treble.
Before and during the time I was ten, I exposed myself to the huge names in opera like Kiri Te Kanawa, Leontyne Price, Cesare Siepi, Hermann Prey, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Joan Sutherland, Renata Tebaldi, Lily Pons, Frederica von Stade, Montserrat Caballe, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Victoria de los Angeles, Giuseppe Taddei, Jussi Björling, Christa Ludwig, Jessye Norman, Ezio Pinza, Rise Stevens, Renata Scotto, Helen Traubel, Kirsten Flagstad, Anna Moffo, Richard Tucker, Grace Bumbry, Cecilia Bartoli, Bryn Terfel, Ruggero Raimondi, Roberto Alagna, Simon Keenlyside, Susan Graham, Alain Vanzo, Alain Fondary, Alain Vernhes, Gabriel Bacquier, Franco Corelli, Nicolai Gedda, Angela Gheorghiu, Jose van Dam, Cheryl Studer, Waltraud Meier, Siegfried Jerusalem, Giulietta Simionato, Fedora Barbieri, Ebe Stignani, Carla Gavazzi, Gigliola Frazzoni, Gina Cigna, Iris Adami Corradetti, Magda Olivero, Jessye Norman, Elena Obraztsova, Mirella Freni, Marilyn Horne, Brigitte Fassbender, Renée Fleming, Ruth Ann Swenson, Samuel Ramey, Agnes Baltsa, Edita Gruberova, Regina Resnik, Kathleen Battle, Barbara Hendricks, Regine Crespin, Beverly Sills, Shirley Verrett, Wolfgang Brendel, Lauritz Melchior, and many other huge names in opera. Even more so, I started to be a fan of Italian and French operas. I did not start warming to German operas until much later in my life. This came to a head when I begged my parents for us to go to Italy, so that we can see some opera and some places of great music. From there we had a tour all around Italy and we even passed by the Arena di Verona, though we did not get to see any opera. However, I did find a huge opera book I knew from the back of my mind I was going to love. Even more so, this was when I was my maternal grandmother’s most loyal concert buddy, although our days of going to concerts together became more sporadic in my teen years.
From age eleven to twelve, I got myself introduced to classical crossover artists like Amici Forever The Opera Band, OperaBabes, Mario Frangoulis, Josh Groban, Russell Watson, and Hayley Westenra. Yet I also got myself into the likes of Giorgio Tozzi, Nicola Zaccaria, Tito Gobbi, Mady Mesplé, Gwynne Howell, George London, Leonie Rysanek, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Olaf Bär, Lisa Della Casa, Catherine Malfitano, Milena Kitic, and Carmen Giannattasio. So much so, that during the time my maternal grandmother and I were in New York, I bought myself an opera magazine and this and I started to get myself familiarized with certain music review terminology. It was also at that moment we were either at the New York City Opera or the Metropolitan Opera House, that I saw a picture of Kathleen Battle. The tour guide was so amazed that an eleven-year-old boy like me can automatically recognize a face like hers. My gran and I even saw Alcina starring Christine Goerke and Madama Butterfly starring Chen-Sue Panariello and Brandon Jovanovich at the New York City Opera House.
Speaking of being twelve, I acquainted myself with singers like Anna Netrebko, Marcelo Alvarez, Leontina Vaduva, Bruce Ford, Salvatore Licitra, Ryoko Sunakawa, Juan Diego Florez, Rolando Villazon, Erwin Schrott, Ana Maria Martinez, Adrianne Pieczonka, Alice Coote, Elizabeth Futral, Margaret Thompson, and Lawrence Brownlee, just to name a few. I even found myself admiring the Chinese lyric soprano, Ying Huang, whose CD of Italian opera arias I bought when I was in Manila for my fall break with my parents and siblings. I have enjoyed listening to it so much, and I hope to review it. During the time I was on a pilgrimage to Lourdes in France, Madrid, and Barcelona in Spain, and Frankfurt in Germany, I was able to pick up on languages so effectively, so much so, that I had a go in trying to speak Italian to a young Italian man by the name of Omero. He did correct me and these days, I might consider myself a tad bit fluent, all thanks to the bel canto and verismo operas I listen to and the conversations I hear on YouTube. By Christmas 2004, I was ecstatic to have been given that same book I saw in Italy when I was ten by my parents and maternal grandma. This became my reading material as this left me hooked from beginning to end. Everything about it was so fascinating such as learning about the histories of certain composers and operas, the styles, the singers, and a ton of other facets.
By the age of thirteen, I started getting myself familiarized with the German Fach system, which played a major role in my time as a growing opera fan, singer, and actor. I can very much distinguish a soubrette to a lyric coloratura soprano to a dramatic coloratura soprano to a light lyric soprano to a full lyric soprano to a spinto soprano to a dramatic soprano to a true Wagnerian soprano. The same can be said about how mezzo-sopranos are categorized, as well as the tenors, the countertenors, the baritones, the bass-baritones, and the basses. Heck, I learned that the term spinto means “pushed lyric” in Italian, which means that while the sopranos and tenors in that category have that full lyric sound in certain phrases the top notes and the overall emission are all placed forwardly and have this laser-like quality carrying itself above the orchestra. I even had two books before I became an adolescent, one which was about opera characters and the other which was about the discographies of different operas. As I read these two books, not only did my vocabulary end up being enriched in terms of the terminology used in music criticism, but I had a great yearning to learn more about the singers mentioned in all of the books I read so far. In my school, during one of our many English lessons, our task was to write a sort of dictionary of terms based on the things we are interested in. Since mine was about opera, I searched long and hard for terms and wrote them down. For that, I got a 98%. There was even one little activity we had, and the question asked was, what holiday would we like to celebrate that is our own, and I put down Operafest Day. My classmates and schoolmates and teachers all knew of my insurmountable passion for opera. I even got myself familiarized with the old school singers like Maria Barrientos, Mercedes Capsir, Miguel Fleta, Jose Mardonés, Felia Litvinne, Sigrid Onegin, Karin Branzell, Kerstin Thorborg, and Maria Cebotari.
At age fourteen, even if my desires of becoming an actor grew and grew, I had a go at singing again, only this time I was a bit more of an alto. Even more so, some of my previous artworks from arts and crafts were almost opera-based. I can remember drawing a picture of Isolde with the first words of the Liebestod, Mild und Leise. Outside of school, I bought some more CDs from Oxford like Gounod’s Faust starring Placido Domingo, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Mirella Freni, and Sir Thomas Allen, Bizet’s Carmen starring Marilyn Horne, James McCracken, Adriana Maliponte, and Tom Krause, and Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte starring Fritz Wunderlich, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Evelyn Lear, Roberta Peters, and Franz Crass. I even had a couple of CDs my parents gave to me when they were in Prague and I used to listen to these two other CDs like crazy, as I loved every single melody by the composers. Plus, I started to admire Margaret Harshaw and Astrid Varnay as the greatest Wagnerian sopranos of all time, aside from Birgit Nilsson, Helen Traubel, and Kirsten Flagstad.
Before and during the time I was fifteen, I had voice lessons, where I was trained to sing in the style of bel canto. I began with Italian art songs, including my most favorite one of all, Caro mio ben, and even some Italian crossover songs. To this day, I am extremely grateful for the training I had and for that during my High School years, I was always chosen to sing. So much so, that the founder of my former high school considered me the school Pavarotti. This was also the time where I was madly in love with Mozart’s Queen of the Night from Die Zauberflöte or The Magic Flute. I would listen to her two arias, O Zittre Nicht and Der Hölle Rache, especially the latter, incessantly. It was through these arias, that I started to admire Diana Damrau, one of the greatest interpreters of the Queen ever. Yes, there were also Cristina Deutekom, Edda Moser, Edita Gruberova, Hellen Kwon, Elena Mosuc, Anna-Kristiina Kaappola, Erika Miklosa, Tatiana Korovina, and Victoria Joyce but Frau Damrau had fire, passion, and so much drama, that she was always amazing. Even before I started High School, my dad and I were in London to see Pelleas et Melisande by Debussy and Beethoven’s Fidelio at the Royal Opera House and Britten’s Death in Venice at the English National Opera. In my free time, I also drew costume sketches for different opera characters for my own personal enjoyment, which was also something I did before I reached my adolescence.
During the rest of my teen years, my free time became all about reading books, researching Wikipedia articles, watching YouTube videos all based on opera, and even, going through archives of different opera houses, mostly the Met and La Scala, as I got myself completely familiarized with not only the singers, but the conductors, the designers, and everyone who made certain productions happen. In fact, I even found myself listening to Charles Handelman’s opera podcasts, and he’s one of the most down-to-earth gentlemen I have ever heard and my most favorite podcasts were his Entweihte Götter and Hojotoho collections and I tuned into it ever since I was only sixteen years old. I even branched myself out into singing Lieder in their original languages, show tunes, and folk songs. I was still very much loyal to the violin, as I ended up in my high school’s string ensemble. However, I knew deep down that I was not meant to make a living as a violinist in an orchestra. I wanted to act, sing, and voice act. I wanted to dance as well, but I was and will always be no Gene Kelly nor Mikhail Baryshnikov. In my ICT or Computer Class, I made a website dedicated to Mozart’s Queen of the Night with the title Der Hölle Rache, based on that famous aria. I even made an animation video of Richard Strauss’s Elektra doing her monologue, Allein weh ganz allein, without sound. Even more so, my desires to end up in Europe grew much stronger as evidenced by the fact that I wanted to go to places like Dresden and Mycenae and not just London or Oxford. I also got myself to love more German operas and operettas mostly by Richard Strauss, Richard Wagner, Aribert Reimann, Alban Berg, Johann Strauss, and Franz Lehar. I loved Elektra so much, that as a prop in one of my many LitMus plays for English, I wrote on a piece of colored paper, something like, “You are invited to catch Richard Strauss’s Elektra at the Metropolitan Opera House starring Eva Johansson as Elektra and Gabriele Schnaut as Klytämnestra.” As a matter of fact, the performance by Frau Johansson and Frau Schnaut as Elektra and Klytämnestra did happen, not in New York, but in Dresden in the Semperoper. Speaking of Elektra, I was madly in love with Leonie Rysanek in that role as she sang alongside Astrid Varnay and Catarina Ligendza in a filmed version directed by Götz Friedrich. In Values class, I even made a scrapbook, where there was one part that I placed pictures of some of my favorite opera singers and they include Helga Dernesch, Marjorie Lawrence, Hans Beirer, Aureliano Pertile, Ingrid Bjoner, Astrid Varnay, and Irene Dalis. Before my junior year ended, I did a research paper about Wagner’s Lohengrin. For that, I went through different websites, scoured the discography, and got myself familiarized with the different singers who sang Lohengrin, Elsa, Telramund, Ortrud, Heinrich der Vogler, and the Herald. I also knew, which Fach each role was categorized into. In the end, I ended up getting a 95%. Even in Computer Class, one of my projects consisted of dramatic sopranos, more appropriately the Zwischenfachsängerinnen, who sang roles like Amneris, Brünnhilde, Ortrud, Elektra, Isolde, Sieglinde, Kundry, Venus, and Carmen. I guess it’s no wonder why I ended up graduating high school not only with honors but also with a Best in Performing Arts Award, as well as a Violinist of the Year award.
My love for vocal music, especially opera, carried through all the way to my acting school years. I found myself singing In Fernem Land from Lohengrin and a part of Cinema Paradiso when I was nineteen, and I was still an aspiring actor wanting to get myself out there on YouTube. After graduating from my film school and moving to Berlin, I was still on the aspiring actor route. That was until the night before my twenty-first birthday, did I make my first vlog-style review of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia starring Edita Gruberova and Pavol Breslik at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. From there, my reviewing career took off. With every review I did, I got noticed a lot more by some singers and music fans. Some of the best moments in my life as an online music reviewer were the chances I got to meet my most favorite singers. In Salzburg, Anna Prohaska immediately recognized me as the guy with the vlogs and remarked of how informative my videos are, as I had an autograph from her. I even collected autographs from Waltraud Meier, Diana Damrau, Pavol Breslik, Evelin Novak, Thomas Hampson, Stephan Rügamer, Anna Samuil, Evelyn Herlitzius, Ildar Abdrazakov, Rolando Villazon, and Yosep Kang.
Now at age twenty-five going on twenty-six, my desires in the field of music keep on flourishing. My biggest ambitions as someone who is a music reviewer and is completely passionate about opera, ballet, musicals, and concerts are to be a host for the Met Live in HD broadcasts, the Royal Opera House live streams, and hopefully, if Canada wills it, be a host for any of the Canadian Opera Company’s productions. It truly does not matter, if I do it in front of the camera or via the radio, I am this gutsy to do something like this. Yes, I am still keeping my reviewer, actor, singer, and voice actor career alive and healthy but somewhere along the line, I really want to take the opportunity to host any Live in HD production as a huge step to take and it’s quite a huge dream I have.
To wrap this up, I want to thank my parents, my siblings, my teachers, my colleagues, my friends, and all of the singers who have been inspiring me in my twenty-five going twenty-six years of living. You have all meant so well not only in my career but also in my life. Blessed be and don’t stop the music.