University of Wisconsin - Madison
Breaking the Glass: Musical Labor and the Tagalog Diva in the Work of Atang de la Rama
During the early American colonial period in the Philippines, zarzuelas in various local languages became the main form of popular entertainment. Through the novelty of the sung vernacular and the steady stream of Filipino performers and composers, the inherited Spanish genre opened up a new space for local productions. Playwrights sought to create a world that mirrored the dramas of working class urbanites with the goals of educating its local audience and maintaining the largely patriarchal social order of early twentieth-century Manila.
This presentation focuses on the performer as an active contributor to the creation and development of the Tagalog zarzuelas. Through the work of Honorata “Atang” de la Rama, particularly her performance in Dalagang Bukid (“The Country Maiden”), the zarzuela stage in Manila gained new momentum in the 1920s. Throughout her career, she portrayed roles that encompassed various stereotypes of women: from the virtuous Filipina to the manipulative and flirtatious female often depicted as products of urban modernization. Yet a closer look at de la Rama’s performance reveals the artist’s renegotiation of gendered identities inscribed by its male authors. Through a variety of sources including rare recordings, newspaper reviews, published interviews, and de la Rama’s own writings, this talk amplifies Atang’s musical and metaphorical “voice” to address the important role of women in the production of Tagalog zarzuelas beyond their representations onstage.