One little-known fact about Pandacan is that it has been dubbed the “Little Italy” and “Little Venice” partly because of its topography being surrounded by a river and esteros or creeks and also because of it being the center of arts and culture especially during the 19th-early 20th century. In fact, Pandacan was known as the cradle of Italian operas in the country as this district was the center of opera and orchestral music performance in and around Manila, and perhaps the country as well.
One of the foremost figures of music based in Pandacan is Ladislao Bonus, who is also known as “the father of the Philippine Opera.” He was able to establish the first Philippine opera company in Pandacan in 1887, was part of the Manila Cathedral and Marikina orchestras among others, and has written musical scores for a number of zarzuelas as well. Today, a memorial to him exists along a street named after one of the first members of his opera company, Teodora San Luis.
But Pandacan’s association with the arts will always be known thanks to its association with the prominent Filipino poet (dubbed by some as the Philippines’ Shakespeare) Francisco Balagtas who made Pandacan his home. It was here when fell in love with a lady named Maria Asuncion Rivera and tried to win her hand, but failed after being put to jail by a rival in an effort to get rid of the competition, so to speak. Imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, Balagtas turned his attention into writing an epic dedicated to Rivera whom he called Celia and immortalizing as well the place he called home. This would be the masterpiece we know today as “Florante at Laura.”
Pandacan, in return, would immortalize its adopted son with a prominent plaza named after him, aptly located along the Beata River which he wrote about, and naming many of its streets after him, Celia, and the various characters of “Florante at Laura.”
to be continued…
© The Urban Roamer