Noli Me Tangere, The Opera—but with a Pinoy New Yorker's flair and chutzpah 2
The Noli in New York (left) and Sibal, the events specialist turned theater producer. Photograph by Aldwin Ku

Noli Me Tangere, The Opera—but with a Pinoy New Yorker's flair and chutzpah

Known to put together dramatic events in the Big Apple, the multi-slasher Jerry Sibal tried his hand at theater production by staging the Rizal masterpiece in the US. Next month, Manila will be able to see it when the show runs for a limited time at the CCP.
Dennis Ladaw | Feb 19 2019

“To have a memorable party in New York, you have to be inventive,” says Jerry Sibal. “Whether it is a wedding, a corporate celebration, or a grand opening, you have to adopt a theme and you take it to an even higher level. There’s no scrimping on the details. It has to be theatrical.”

Born and raised in Manila, the event designer moved to NYC to make it big there. He designs some of the most resplendent events in the city. Sibal and his husband Edwin Josue own and manage Design Fusion, one of the city’s sought-after firms, especially for those who want to throw a memorable party. 

Noli Me Tangere, The Opera—but with a Pinoy New Yorker's flair and chutzpah 3
Jerry Sibal, who has built a name for himself in the US for his lavish events, brings back Noli Me Tangere The Opera to CCP.

He likens his work to that of putting together something on Broadway. “A keen eye for the visual arts and performing arts is a must. Just remember that you’re out to impress a discerning group of New Yorkers,” he says.

Sibal staged Noli Me Tangere, The Opera in New York, and he is bringing it to Manila in March.


Empire state of mind

Sibal made the big move to the Big Apple back in the early 1990s. It was not the best of times. Manila was besieged by political unrest and endless power interruptions. He wanted out so he made New York his permanent address. In Manila, he was active in the arts studying architecture, teaching traditional Chinese painting, and delving into floral design. Like many artists, he entertained the inkling that he was born to thrive in the city that never sleeps.

“It’s perfect for anyone who has the passion for the arts. It’s the center of everything that has to do with art—opera, fashion, ballet, visual arts, and theater. It’s my favorite place,” he says.

Noli Me Tangere, The Opera—but with a Pinoy New Yorker's flair and chutzpah 4
Noli Opera NYC, the first Filipino opera with costume and set design by Jerry Sibal. Photograph by Troi Santos

But it wasn’t going to be easy to establish himself as an architect. So he found work in a firm that specialized in designing special events. This new field proved the ideal fit. His talent for elegant floral arrangements was put to good use. He loved the work so much, he and his husband decided to start Design Fusion. Lavish floral arrangements became their signature and they certainly made the difference in the sumptuous parties of Virgin Airways, the Wynn chain of hotels, and legendary mezzo soprano opera singer Marilyn Horne, among others.

The New York run of Noli Me Tangere, The Opera was Sibal’s first foray into theater. Based on the revered novel of Dr. Jose P. Rizal, the opera was adapted by the acclaimed composer and National Artist Felipe de Leon and lyricist Guillermo Tolentino. Sibal discovered the opera when his friend Loida Nicolas Lewis urged him to see a production being staged in Chicago. He was impressed by the material.

Noli Me Tangere, The Opera—but with a Pinoy New Yorker's flair and chutzpah 5
Photograph from @noliopera on Instagram

Also astounding was the pedigree of this musical Noli. “Imagine two great Filipino artists adapting the work of a national hero. It can’t get any better than that. And I wondered, why isn’t this well-known? How come it hasn’t been staged in Manila for so long? It’s a masterpiece and something Filipinos should be proud of,” says Sibal.


Stage presence

The opera became the event specialist's new advocacy and he and his husband established another company, J&S Productions, J and S being the initials of their last names. Using his own money, Sibal went to stage the Noli, an ambitious project for a first-time producer. He designed the sets and costumes and hired a cast composed of Filipino opera singers. The $600,000 budgets seemed enormous but it was just enough to finance three performances.

The opera lost money, but Sibal wasn’t discouraged. He didn’t lose his shirt anyway and having staged an opera in New York considerably enhanced his credentials. He later brought the production to Washington D.C. and then to Manila. He’s presenting it again at the CCP on March 8 to 10. He wants the opera to be an annual tradition.


Our design theme; "A Historic Relay to the New Generation" #aneventtoremember #jerrysibal

A post shared by Jerry Sibal Design (@jerrysibal) on

“I want more Filipinos, especially the younger generation, to experience this,” he urges. “We’re offering discounted tickets to students. They need to see this.”

This month has been a hectic time for Jerry Sibal. He’s co-directing Noli and he’s been busy casting the players. He’s also designing a new set and new costumes for the cast. At the same time, he’s preparing for his master class on floral design and event designing which will be  held at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati. (He designed the hotel’s Christmas décor last year.) The three-day class is happening on March 20 to 23, just two weeks after the opera ends its three-day run at the CCP.


Candlelit dining w/ turquoise lighting photo: Moon Lee Photography #aneventtoremember #jerrysibal

A post shared by Jerry Sibal Design (@jerrysibal) on

Both projects are tremendous undertakings yet Sibal remains calm. He’s not the typical theater diva or intimidating class mentor. He’s always gentle, both to his cast and to his staff. Although he’s producing a tragic opera, he is proud he doesn’t have any sort of drama when it comes to work. After all, drama isn’t for the everyday. It’s for moments and vessels that can appropriately showcase it. It craves an event. It belongs on a stage. 


For more information on the March 2019 run of Noli Me Tangere The Opera, please visit their facebook page. To see more of Jerry Sibal’s designs, visit his Instagram.