Islander in the City by Pablo A. Tariman:


Soprano Mheco Manlangit with Tribune columnist.

Some five years ago, Mheco Manlangit stunned observers in the last masterclass of Romanian diva Nelly Miricioiu when she brought the house down with a tough aria from Donizetti’s Linda di Chamonix.

The voice – though not yet in full bloom – was pure gold, the agility way above ordinary and most of all, she could act.

Then only 24, Manlangit had the promise of a future Joan Sutherland and true enough, she wanted to sing Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor as one of her goals.

She bagged the second prize in a Singapore international voice competition and made heads turn in a culminating concert of a gathering of international music talents in Perugia, Italy.

Shortly after finishing a degree in music at the UST Conservatory of Music, she headed for New York University Steinhardt where she just finished a master’s degree in vocal performance.

Earlier, she won first prize in the Jovita Fuentes national voice competition in Roxas City where this music writer and tenor Arthur Espiritu were in the jury.

Last Saturday (August 27), Manlangit regaled her post-pandemic audience with songs in a homecoming concert.

In this interview, she talks about her stints at NYU Steinhardt where her teacher is the distinguished tenor Scott Murphree. Her mentor’s operatic roles included Tamino (Die Zauberflöte), Ferrando (Così fan tutte), Don Ottavio (Don Giovanni), Alessandro (Il re pastore), and Le Chevalier de la Force (Dialogues de Carmélites).

Revealed Manlangit: “My time at NYU Steinhardt enlightened me that theater is theater and that there should be no great divide between opera and musical theater and either one is superior to the other. Theater is creating catharsis between the artist and the audience. I loved the acting classes for singers where we were asked to do monologues and scenes from various operas.”

In the opera workshop, they were challenged to re-imagine their arias in different settings. She couldn’t help laughing when she transformed one opera heroine into a Mexican telenovela villainess.

She realized that most of her lessons with Dr. Murphree were more like confirmation of the skills she already learned from her UST mentor, Dr. Eugene de los Santos. “My favorite pointer that I learned from Dr. Murphree was to plié (yes, the plié in ballet which means to bend) through melismatic passages (a musical style that allows several notes to be sung in one syllable of text) and big leaps. Other coaches helped me to be more accurate in my intonation especially with my post-Romantic pieces.”

Murphree has also served on the voice faculties of the University of Connecticut and the Yale School of Drama.

The aria closest to her heart is Je veux vivre dans le rêve from Gounod’s Romeo et Juliet. “The aria reminds me of how exhilarating it is to move out and dedicate my entire life to the arts epicenter which is New York.”

In the Big Apple, she got to work with singers from all over the world and venture into singing outside of opera – the musical theater. “It is fun while it teaches you that text and acting are important. That music is more than just making beautiful sounds. First and foremost, it should touch the soul of the audience.”

On her first semester in NYU Steinhardt, she got to sing Lady Billows (from the opera Albert Herring by Benjamin Britten) and Fiordiligi (from Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte).

During the pandemic, the school had to close and Zoom lessons became the order of the day.

After two semesters, the limited face to face classes resumed. “We had to show negative COVID tests every two weeks. Your mask should be on during classes and six feet apart from our teacher. We also had voice lessons in two studios connected by this special microphone and a computer. I’m really blessed to have access to a very good therapist who really cared for musicians like myself.”

Next academic move next fall is entering a DMA program at Stony Brook University. “I will be opening my voice studio here in Manila and Jersey City in the near future.”

The lyric soprano always has to remind herself over and over to have a thorough understanding of what one’s instrument can do. “It pays to know not go beyond your vocal capabilities.”

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