Of Leonor Rivera, Novelist and Martyr of My People Jose Rizal’s Long-Distance Love; My Own Long-Distance Love, English Conductor John Wilson; Eric Coates; and A Song by Rodgers and Hammerstein
How’s this for a coincidence? The man who gave my bonny — then a struggling young conductor of 24 — a wristwatch that belonged to his father was the same man who authored Rizal: Philippine Nationalist and Martyr, a well-researched, well-regarded Oxford Press bio of the legendary hero of the Filipinos, Dr Jose Rizal (1861–1896).* Something about you obviously touches the hearts of old men, John. The man’s name was Austin Coates (1922–1997), son of the English light music composer, Eric Coates (1886–1957). (Download his “Dancing Nights” conducted by my beloved John Wilson with the BBC Concert Orchestra here.)
Above: The pencil portrait of Leonor Rivera (1867–1893) done by her sweetheart, Jose Rizal. And here’s “No Other Love”, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, from Me & Juliet (Broadway, 1953) sung by Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel with the Leeds-based Northern Philharmonia aka The Orchestra of Opera North.
Novelist Rizal modeled the heroine of his first novel, Noli Me Tangere, after his distant but constant lover. Maria Clara represents the Ideal Filipina: beautiful, feminine, loving, faithful, pious and true; she also gives her name to our traditional dress.
Maria Clara is one of the most famous characters in Philippine literature and a perfect heroine for grand opera. (See “Antoni Mendezona Sings Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa from the Opera Noli Me Tangere”.)
It was Leonor’s letters, letters filled with love, sweet reminiscences, and encouragement, that kept Rizal going throughout his years in Europe, first as a lonely medical student, then as a crusading novelist. I can feel the exquisite pain of their long-distance romance when I hear the song above.
*Pinoy alert! The complete TV bio-series in Tagalog, Illustrado, is on the GMA channel on YouTube and can be accessed here.
© Cantara Christopher 2019