By By Pablo A. Tariman
MY LITTLE KNOWN QUEZON CONNECTIONS
posted 26-Jun-2019  ·  
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The 7-foot bouquet given by President Quezon to sopra-no Mercedes Matias Santiago after a dramatic perfor-mance of Bellini’s La Sonnambula at the Manila Grand Opera House.

Matthew Rosen’s “Quezon’s Game” is enjoying a round of critical acclaim in Metro Manila and the provinces.

One couldn’t help recalling my cultural Quezon connections.

Maestra Mercedes Matias Santiago, the first Filipina soprano to sing Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, taught voice lessons to the former first lady, Mrs. Aurora Quezon.

When she sang the role of Amina in Bellini’s La Sonnambula at the Manila Grand Opera House in the middle 1930s, President Quezon was in the audience. But a blackout hit the opera in the Sleepwalking Scene. There was a long intermission. The opera resumed at 3 a.m. when power was restored.

After that dramatic performance of the Bellini opera, President Quezon sent Maestra Santiago a 7-foot bouquet with the inscription,Ruiseñor de Filipinas (Nightingale of the Philippines).

It was also President Quezon who recommended that Maestra Santiago be given a teaching position at the UP College of Music founded in 1916. The Maestra’s student assistant was no other than the young Lucrecia Kasilag who would become CCP president and National Artist for Music.

When I learned that the Pasig Museum was frequented by President Quezon in the late 30s when it was still the mansion owned by Don Fortunato Concepcion (his daughter Vina Conception was married to actor Luiz Gonzales), I decided to convert the living room into a recital hall and founded the yearly Pasig Summer Music Festival which lasted five years.  Among the performers were pianists Cecile Licad, Mary Anne Espina, Najib Ismail, tenors Otoniel Gonzaga, Nolyn Cabahug and Lemuel de la Cruz, violinists Diomedes Saraza Jr. and Chino Gutierrez, among others.

Opposite the Pasig Museum is the present Pasig town church across Plaza Rizal and Pasig Museum. It was in this church that the American Commission headed by William Howard Taft met on June 11, 1901 creating the new province of Rizal and made Pasig its capital.

In the early 90s, Sen Helena Benitez hosted a welcome dinner for mezzo soprano Liang Ning (the first Chinese opera singer to make a debut at La Scala di Milan). It was held at the Mira Nila ancestral house in Quezon City. Built by Conrado Benitez and his wife Francisca in 1929, the Mira Nila house hosted the first reception for the first Commonwealth officials led by President Quezon who donated two chairs with presidential seal in the main hall. Among the guests were the future National Artist for Music Lucrecia Kasilag, music critic Tony Hila and tenor Gary del Rosario and yours truly.

Sometime last year, two Lopez heritage houses in Jaro, Iloilo City fascinated me: the Boat House mansion of Don Eugenio Lopez and the Nelly Garden of Don Vicente Lopez.

Of the two mansions, I have a special preference for the Nelly Garden which looked like the mansion in the classic film, Gone With The Wind.

After checking the state of the piano and the seating capacity, I decided that the Nelly Garden would be my next recital venue for an all-Chopin recital of Cecile Licad. It happened last November 29,2018 and the Lopez mansion crowd gave the pianist three standing ovations. It turned out my new concert venue served as elegant setting for receptions and meetings with Governor-Generals of the Philippines including Frank Murphy and Teddy Roosevelt Jr. (On top of that, two famous women used one guest room of Nelly Garden: former First Lady Imelda Marcos and late president Cory Aquino.)

Talk of Quezon connections, it turned out Iloilo City was born in August of 1937 with the signing of the charter by President Quezon after the National Assembly had created the four cities of Iloilo, Cebu, Zamboanga and Davao. Present at the ceremony last October 20 were Assemblymen Pedro Gil, Tomas Confesor, Victorino Salcedo, Ruperto Montinola, Jose Zulueta, Speaker Gil Montilla, Sec. Elpidio Quirino, Jose Aldeguer, and newspapermen from Iloilo.

I covered the 80th Iloilo City Charter Day presentation featuring the Manila Symphony Orchestra which performed at the historic Molo Church and Iloilo City Convention Center.

After an evening of Bach and Beatles, over a thousand Ilonggos led by Senator Franklin Drilon gave the orchestra a rousing standing ovation. It marked the first time a symphony orchestra was heard in Molo Church. “Music has charm and it contributes to the refinement of the soul," said Drilon in his welcome remarks.

I also learned that President Quezon was baptismal godfather of Presy Lopez Psinakis, daughter of Don Eugenio “Eñing” Hofileña Lopez, Sr. and Pacita “Nitang” Moreno Lopez.

The baptism coincided with the inauguration of “The Boathouse,” his modernist mansion in Iloilo City, designed by Architect Fernando H. Ocampo. President Quezon stood as godfather and the beautiful Aurora Reyes Recto, Claro M. Recto’s second wife, as godmother. (Source: Phoenix: The Saga of the Lopez Family)

Two years later, Don Fernando Lopez invited President Quezon as special guest in the baptism of his daughter Milagros. On the day of the baptism, Pres. Quezon disembarked at the Iloilo City waterfront met by ten thousand cheering welcomers. He drove straight to the Jaro Cathedral with an entourage of 30 cars. Later he attended dinner dance at Don Fernando's mansion.

Rosen’s “Quezon Game” gave us time to recall the little-known chapter of the late president’s life and times.

Reflecting on the house he once frequented from Pasig Museum to Iloilo’s Lopez mansions, one likes to remember the man for what he once said and I thought that was one message we sorely need these days:  “I want our people to be like the molave tree, strong and resilient, standing on the hillsides, unafraid of the rising tide, lightning and the storm, confident of its strength.”


Pablo Tariman with soprano Mercedes Matias Santiago in her old age. She was the voice teacher of Mrs. Aurora Quezon
The author in the living room of Iloilo's Nelly Garden he converted into a recital hall. It served as a venue for receptions and meetings with people President Quezon had to deal with during his Commonwealth term.
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