Maria Carpena y Evangelista
Maria Evangelista Carpena (22 October 1886 - 8 March 1915) was a singer and stage personality, and the Philippines's first recording artist. She is also known as the “Nightingale of the Zarzuela”.
Maria Carpena was born in Santa Rosa, Laguna. Her father, Camilo Carpena, was one of the leaseholders of friar lands in town and was a rice grower, leasing parcels to tenants; besides he was also a well known “tahor” (organizer of cockfights) and a cockfighting financier. Her mother, Maria Evangelista, came from Binyang and was the daughter of Santiago Evangelista who hailed from “Polo” or Meykawayan, Bulacan province, but nothing much is known about her. Eight children were born, Jose, the eldest, Valentina, Ireneo, Flaviana, Maria, Marcos, Macaria and Juan, the youngest. She was the fifth child among the siblings.
She sang in school and town activities and as a soloist in the church choir, attracting attention because of her charming voice and her soprano pitch. Her nephew, Amado C. Aristorenas claimed she could break a glass with her powerful voice. When she would sing at the town plaza her voice could be heard at their house several kilometers away. Unable to read notes, she learned the score by her ear, a practice commonly known as “oido”. She had her first stage appearance sometime in 1901, singing in a benefit concert at the Zorilla Theater when she was 15 years old.
Her father, a strict disciplinarian, vehemently forbade her to appear on stage. When she decided to pursue her career, her father disowned her, “hanggang magpantay and mga paa” (till death) a byword amongst the Carpena clan.
She sought refuge among the Sisters of Charity of Colegio de Sta. Rosa in Intramuros, a former beaterio known for taking care of orphaned Filipino girls where she helped in emrboidery and other chores. It was this time that she met and fell in love with Jose “Pepe” Alcantara, a sales agent and resident of Trozo, Sta. Cruz who had a shop for making kalesa on Azcarraga Street, Recto. She had two children with him, Jaime and Florita. It is said that Pepe's untimely death was announced to her in the middle of a performance and that she went with the show with tears flowing from her eyes.
Widowed at the age of eighteen with two children, she appeared on stage more often, signing in choirs and taking voice lessons under renowened Italian music Professor Enrico Capozzi. One of her early appearances was under the direction of Cirilio Samonte, an aficionado who came from Cavite staging Tagalog zarzuelas.
Carpena had an expected break when Don Severino Reyes, founder and director of the Gran Comania de Zarzuela Tagala, scouted her as a last-minute replacement for the leading lady of Minda Mora.
This was to become her debut as a features soloist at the Zorilla Theater in Manila 1902. Minda Mora achieved instant success, making her a celebrity overnight.
After discovering Victorino Carrion, Don Severino Reyes teamed Carpena with him in Walang Sugat which was shown at the Zorilla Theater on 14 June 1902, with Carpena in her role of Julia. From that time on the two artist appeared together on the stage. Sometimes she was paired with Andres Ciria Cruz as the tenor in Lukso ng Dugo and La Confianza Mata al Hombre. In the same casts were Estanislawa San Miguel, Antonia Bautista, and Hilaria Alvarez.
Carpena was considered one of the best signers of her time. Her solos and duets with Carrion accompanied by the Molina Orchestra were recorded at Victor Recording Company in America in 1908, through the invitation of Governor General Howard Taft, These solos included “Ang Mga Ibon”, a Tagalog valse; “Ang Bababing Naulol”, a Tagalog danza; “Cavalleria Rusticana and Ave Maria”; “Ang Maya”, another Tagalog valse and “Ang Geisha”, from the zarzuela La Venta de Filipinas al Japon. Her duets included “Maura y Felix” from Minda Mora; “Torcuato y Filotea” and “Filotea y Gonzalo” from Ang Pagaasawa ni San Pedro; “Yday y Timo” from Veni, Vidi, Vici; and “Tinang y Luis” from Lukso ng Dugo.
American anthropologist H. Otley Beyer remembered her as “A real nightingale. She would sing at the Luneta to about 20,000 people and her voice would be heard clear through the Manila Hotel.”
With her golden voice and pretty face, she had many admirers. One of them was a married man from a well-known family of Manila. Their affair resulted in a baby boy who was born on 12 March 1908 and baptized as Mauro Carpena.
Health problems detractred from Carpena's appearances and she developed goiter. She went to Hongkong and Shanghai with her son Mauro together with his father. After a long period of absence she came back to the limelight in 1915. On 7 March 1915, she had just completed her piece at the Zorilla Theater when she was stricken with severe abdominal pain. She was taken to San Juan de Dios Hospital and was later diagnosed to be suffering from acute appendicitis. Dr. Gregorio Singian, a famous military surgeon of that time, performed the surgery. The procedure was uneventful but her condition deteriorated after surgery. Maria Carpena died on the night of 8 March 1915. Lovers of music, friends and relatives attended her funeral on the morning of March 14, 1915.
While her remains lay in state at the Funeraria Nacional, the Oriental Orchestra played the rquiem mass and Chopin's funeral march directed respectively by Antonio Garcia and Jose Estella. As her remains were laid to rest at the Binondo Catholic Cemetery (La Loma Cemetery), Adonay's Liberame was performed under the composer's personal direction. Victorino Carrion sang the vocal solo in the piece. Among those who spoke for the “Luksang Parangal” were Dr. Dominador Gomez (1st Philippine Assembly 1907), Hermogenes Ilagan (Father of Tagalog Zarzuela) and Patricio Mariano (writer). Dr. Gomez said, “Just as the Filipino with its three stars is still concealed in a dark corner, so...Maria Carpena is the fourth star to be interred.”
After her tribute in 1997 began the long search for her original record until finally, a copy of her recording, “Ang Maya” was obtained by Ms. Antonia Tiongco from the Filipinas Heritage Library of the Ayala Foundation in Makati. Almost a century after her death, her relatives are searching for her remains to bring them back to Sta. Rosa, Laguna where she came from.
The City of Manila has named one of the streets in the district of Quiapo after Maria Carpena. Concert-tribute “Ala-ala Maria Carpena” held on 14 October 1997 at the Tanghalang Leandro Locsion, NCCA Bldg, Intramuros, Manila by Tribung Pilipino Cultural Foundation and the Tribung Pinoy, headed by Mr. Danny Dolor.
Pinakamaningning na Alagad ng Sining 2008 sa larangan ng Teatro (posthumous), iginawad ika-11 ng Marso sa Panlalawigang Sentro ng Kultura, Sta. Cruz. Laguna.
- de Guzman, Jovita V., Vicente A. Santiago, Remedios T. de Leon and Teresita E. Erestain. 'Women of Distinction; Biographical Essays on Outstanding Filipino Women of the Past and the Present. Philippines: Bukang Liwayway, 1967.
- Human Development Sector. Sulong Pilipina! Sulong Pilipinas! A Compilation of Filipino Women Centennial Awardees. National Centennial Commission – Women's Sector. Taft Avenue, Manila: 1999.