Nat'l Artist for Music Fides Cuyugan-Asensio grateful for recognition but laments uphill battle in PH opera scene

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 24) — Newly proclaimed National Artist for Music Fides Cuyugan-Asensio is grateful for her recent recognition in her field, but admits the future of Philippine opera seems to be "very bleak."

Cuyugan-Asensio, an opera singer, teacher, stage and film actor, and librettist, shared how she felt when Malacañang declared her as one of the new National Artists earlier this month, along with other prominent personalities and stalwarts of Philippine arts and culture.

"I am elated, excited and all those things. And grateful of course," she said in an interview on CNN Philippines' New Day that aired on Friday.

Cuyugan-Asensio shared that for years, she did hope she would eventually get the honor, describing it as "the most coveted and prestigious award that one can get."

But getting the title also meant she needs to do more for the local music and opera scenes, which are lacking support, she said.

She added that those who want to be well-versed in the field also need to study more about its history before doing a more contemporary interpretation of it.

"It's very bleak, in the Philippines, rather bleak," she confided, referring to opera.

"There's a certain lady named Ana (Guillen) Feleo, who is trying to do something about it and working with me, very active and trying to do opera, but it's all the way uphill," she said.

"Because people think that opera is sang in a foreign language," she added, "that's why I wrote some in English and some in Filipino."

Opera was first staged in the Philippines in the late 1870s through the zarzuela, a Spanish art and music form that involves spoken and sung words.

Cuyugan-Asensio was the first Filipino voice scholar who graduated at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA in 1955. Since then, she became one of the leading performers and producers of opera in the Philippines.

She sang as coloratura soprano and appeared in the world premieres of Filipino operas such as Ramon Santos' Mapulang Bituin, Kasilag's Dularawan, and also voiced Sisa in Felipe de Leon's Noli Me Tangere in the 1950s and 1960s.

She also directed productions of several Filipino and Western operas.

Cuyugan-Asensio said one of her favorite works is the "Mayo Bisperas ng Liwanag," which she wrote as an opera piece inspired by the short story May Day Eve by National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin.

"Nick Joaquin, the writer of May Day Eve, loved it so much," she recounted. "He said, 'this is better than my story.'"

Cuyugan-Asensio advised aspiring opera singers to follow all the necessary health rules such as avoiding people with colds and not smoking to keep their singing voice intact.

"Just follow your dream," she said. "Don't let anything stop you."