Thursday, July 10, 2014

*370. TEATRO SABINA: Where Zarzuelistas Take Centerstage

LIFE STAGES. The venerable Teatro Sabina of Bacolor, is the venue for the play, "Reina Malaya", produced and performed by students of Pampanga Trade School. Note the figure of Uncle Sam on the left, which would suggest that this play had a patriotic theme like many plays of the period. Ca. 1927.

In early 20th c. Pampanga, Bacolor’s first and premiere theatre – Teatro Sabina – was where Kapampangan actors and singers, playwrights and composers,  congregated to give vent to their new, artistic pursuits before an adoring town audience.

One such novel art form was the ‘zarzuela’, a play that was both sung and acted by performers,with dialogues and song lyrics in Kapampangan. The Kapampangan ‘zarzuela’ was a product of a brainstorm by the 3 leading poets and dramatists of their time: Proceso Pabalan (Byron) , Juan Crisostomo Soto (Crissot) and Felix Galura (Flauxgialer), who thought of combining declamations and songs in one stage play, sometime in 1900.

Previous to this, staged drama consisted of moro-moros and kumidyas, which only had straight and long dialogues that caused many an audience to sleep in the middle of a play. The group enrolled the services of composer Amado Gutierrez David to create song melodies, and soon, the first zarzuelas emerged from their prolific pens. Pabalan wrote his zarzuelas (Ing Managpe and Magparigaldigal) and Soto his ‘Paninap ng San Roque’.

The rehearsals for the ‘zarzuelas’ were held in the spacious residence of  Mateo Gutierrez-David, father of composer Amado and another zarzuelista—Jose Gutierrez-David, the future justice of the Supreme Court. The Gutierrez-David house is thus considered as the birthplace of Pampanga zarzuelas.

But a permanent venue was needed to accommodate the large repertory of actors, musicians and backstage hands – not to mention the audience. Luckily, Indang Sabina Joven, the unmarried sister of Pampanga’s governor, Don Ceferino Joven, had an idle plot of land in downtown Bacolor. With the help of her family, a theater was constructed that was to bear her name—Teatro Sabina. To further honor her, the performing troop called itself Compania Sabina, which toured all over Pampanga, Tarlac and even Manila.


Many zarzuelas—now considered classic—had their gala performances at Teatro Sabina, which was praised for its excellent acoustics, courtesy of water wells dug in strategic parts of the theater grounds. Pabalan had the privilege of having his zarzuela, “Ing Managpe” (The Patcher) staged first at the renowned theater on 13 September 1900, followed by Crissot’s ‘’Ing Paninap ng San Roque” (1901) and “Alang Dios” (1902).

Hundreds of zarzuelas were written and produced afterward, with many becoming word-of-mouth hits like “Ing Sultana”, “Mascota”, “Sigalut”, and “La Independencia”. Teatro Sabina became a popular venue for staging plays produced not only by professional theatre groups but also by drama guilds of nearby schools.


In 1909, the Teatro Sabina was reconstructed and remodelled. When inaugurated anew, a commemorative board was placed above the frontage of the stage, on the proscenium arch. It contained the names of Pampango dramatists and composers who played major roles in promoting the Kapampangan zarzuela: Proceso Pabalan, Juan Crisostomo Soto, Felix Galura, Pascual Gozun, Pablo Palma, Jose Prado, Amado Gutierrez-David and Jose Gutierrez-David.

The zarzuela era flourished for about 3 decades, thanks to Teatro Sabina.  The support from the Joven family continued until financial difficulties set in. The legendary theater ceased operations in the late ‘20s, ending the golden era of Kapampangan theater.

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