Gray Gardens

Gray Gardens


Forests in Batangas turned gray, covered in ash from the eruption of Taal Volcano

Five days after Taal erupted, at a preview of the Gaetano Donizetti opera “Lucia di Lammermoor,” to run on Jan. 31 (8 p.m. gala) and on Feb. 2 (3 p.m. matinee) at the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, I found a new way to frame what had for days been assaulting me with a kind of survivor’s guilt.

When someone asked why they chose to bring a dramma tragico like “Lucia di Lammermoor” to Manila at a time like this, instead of something more upbeat and uplifting like “L’Elisir d’Amore,” also by Donizetti, assistant director and Cambodian prince, Sisowath Monipong, said that while we all wanted happy moments, the difficult moments had a purpose too, explaining that it was through these difficult moments that we learned.

An aerial view shows buildings covered in ash from the eruption of the Taal volcano, in the village of Buso Buso, near Laurel on January 17, 2020. - The threat of the Philippines' Taal volcano unleashing a potentially catastrophic eruption remains high, authorities warned on January 16, saying it was showing dangerous signs despite a "lull" in spewing ash. (Photo by Ed JONES / AFP)

An aerial view shows buildings covered in ash from the eruption of the Taal volcano, in the village of Buso Buso, near Laurel (Photo by Ed Jones)

Incidentally, in an earlier conversation, we were talking about the “Lucia di Lammermoor” poster, in which we noted that the image of what appeared to be a wedding gown struck with a dagger resembled Taal in a temper.

Someone asked, “Is it appropriate?” And I said, “Well, it is our reality for now. It is under these circumstances that we now need to find love, happiness, and meaning.”

A favorite among opera lovers for “its vivid heroine, beautiful orchestration, gothic story, and psychologically realistic portrayal of a woman on the brink of collapse,” the three-act Donizetti opera stars Filipino bel canto style opera artist Arthur Espiritu and Armenian-French soprano Melody Louledjian in the lead roles under the direction of Vincenzo Grisostomi Travaglini.


Cambodian prince Sisowath Monipong, show director Vincenzo Grisostomi Travaglini, Armenian-French soprano Melody Louledjia, show producer Nedy Tantoco, and the author

I don’t know if I ever will get to watch its gala on Jan. 31, though I sure hope—and pray—I will.

In the meantime, I’m looking at all this gray that has blanketed so much of Taal and that threatens to blanket it and every other place to which the wind blows until God knows when.

Gray is a color that is as neutral as it is rife with shades of meaning, all those intermediate colors between black and white. It is the color of ash that now permeates our time, floating with all its invisible dangers in the air as it coats our lives with layers upon layers of dust.

There is so much that needs to be done, even as authorities studying the volcanic activities have yet to bring down the alert level enough to signal to us that it is time to move to recovery phase.

But art does reflect on life being what it is and yet it elevates us just as well as it forewarns us, it delights us just as well as it gives us every opportunity to get intimate with pain and sorrow and loss and death.

Life these days appears more tragic than what the stars have in store for the bride of Lammermoor, but the story of our life, unlike the latter’s, never ends, a never-ending tale of the same trials and triumphs, sanity and madness, joy and anguish, gains and losses that each of us has to go through because it is how it is to be human—and it is how it is to be alive.