Marinela Neri Velez is a professional, expert, cognoscente, and aficionado of classical opera.
Better known as Girlie to her circle of friends, she has two passions in her life: opera and travel.
As a volunteer with the Los Angeles Music Center Opera, she was co-chair of final dress rehearsals. She witnessed the final recitals of opera divas Maria Callasand Renata Tebaldi, and the farewell opera performance of Beverly Sills in Die Fledermaus with Joan Sutherland.
Girlie travels constantly for opera: to Washington D.C. for theWorld Premier of Giancarlo Menotti’s GOYA with Plácido Domingo; Tulsa, Oklahoma for the US Premier of Rossini’s ARMIDA, and Kiev, Ukraine for the opera version of TARAS BULBA.
While working for the Music Department of Paramount Pictures Corp., she had the opportunity to watch the recording sessions of Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross and Sarah Vaughn; scoring sessions of John Williams, Maurice Jarre and Jerry Goldsmith. On the classical side, she attended concerts conducted byLeonard Bernstein, Carlos Kleiber, Zubin Mehta and Riccardo Muti.
Girlie is a regular fixture at Arena de Verona, Torre del Lago Puccini, and Rossini Opera Festival in Italy; Staatsoper unter den Linden in Berlin, Germany,and the Salzburg Festival in Austria.
In December, she attends opera performances at Teatro Real in Madrid,and Les Arts Reina Sofia GeneralitatValenciana (Valencia Opera), both in Spain; and the New Year’s Eve Operetta Die Fledermaus and New Year’s Day Concert at Vienna State Opera in Vienna, Austria.
Girlie was recently invited to attend a performance of Actéon by Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Pygmalion by Jean-Philippe Rameau at the Royal Opera in Versailles, France.
She is the only Filipino member of the International Council and a donor of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, a member of the Amici di Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, Italy and a benefactor of Opera Atelier in Toronto, Canada.
After she retired, Girlie started travelling non-stop and has visited 150 countries. The journey continues to this very day. She plans to visit many more in the future.
“She has always been an opera lover just like her parents who introduced her to the world of opera at a young age. It has always been a lifelong passion for her. She followed this through after her graduation from college and when she left the country to work in the US,” said long time bosom friend Vinny N. Veloso.
“In fact, she was present during her favorite tenor, Plácido Domingo's debut shot at the Met 50 years ago,” she added. “She was also back at the Met earlier this year to watch Plácido’s50th Golden Jubilee as a Met performer.”
With such a hectic opera schedule, one would surmise she has time for little else outside opera. But what many don’t know is Girlie is an avid patron of classical music for her home city of Cagayan de Oro.
On December 4, 2013, the MarinelaNeri Velez String Program was launched at the Lourdes College auditorium, when an announcement was made during Girlie’s December Rhapsody Concert. That night, the famed Manila Symphony Orchestra gave a performance that left the audience begging for more.
Girlie donated through the Paterno Velez Foundation (named after her late father) string instruments that included violins, cellos, violas and double basses for the Marinela Neri Velez String Orchestra.
The orchestra is a social enterprise and auditioned musically gifted indigent intermediate and high school students from the city’s public schools then trained them to play classical music in a string orchestra.
Initially based at Lourdes College, the orchestra later moved to the alma mater of her late father, the Misamis Oriental General Comprehensive High School to which she also donated a piano for the school’s use and training of musically gifted students.
Subsequently, the orchestra was renamed the Cagayan de Oro Symphony Orchestrain 2018 and is now based at Liceo de Cagayan Universitythrough an arrangement with another music patroness in Liceo, Chair Emerita Rafaelita Pelaez. The orchestra members are trained with the Liceo Music Conservatory of Music, Dance and Theatre under the watchful eye of renowned composer and conductor Horst Hans Backer.
In her latest endeavor, Ms. Velez sponsored A Recital featuring “The Filipino Baritone” Cipriáno Mercádo de Guzmán, Jr. with NAMCYA 2018 finalist Soprano Carmina Lourdes D. Atienza as guest artist with Consuelo M. Escudero at the piano.
Held at the Lambago Hall of N Hotel last July 7th for an exclusive audience of a hundred of Cagayan de Oro’s classical music aficionados, the event was touted as the commencement of a regular season of classical music performances in Cagayan de Oro featuring Cagayan de Oro’s best musicians and visiting maestros as well.
De Guzman is a multi-awarded Filipino Classical singer having won 7 International Vocal Competitions in New York, London, Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama, and Bangkok. He is a two-time 1st Prize Winner of the 2016 and 2017 American Protégé International Vocal Competition at Carnegie Hall (Weill) in New York City, USA, the first Filipino to win twice in that competition.
He has twice been awarded the Ani Ng Dangal (2018 and 2019) Philippine National Arts Recognition) by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (Office of the President of the Philippines) which recognizes Filipino artists for their wins in overseas competitions.
Zip finished two Masters Degree in Music: Master Oficicialen Interpretación de Ópera at Conservatori Superior de Música del Liceu in Barcelona, Spain under the tutelage of renowned Baritone Joan Martin-Royo; and Opera Interpretation under renowned Mezzo Soprano Maestra Teresa Berganza.
He also finished Master of Music in Vocal Performance with the highest distinction(St. Cecilia Award equivalent to Summa cum Laude)atElisabeth University of Music Japanunder Baritone HiroharuOrikawawith full scholarship grant through the Loyola Memorial Foundation and Japan Association of Catholic Universities.
For this recital, we were treated to an awesome demonstration of Zip’s vocal range and linguistics which has made him a multi-awarded vocalist here and abroad, from Bizet’s Toreador, En Garde! (from Carmen); Jurame (a Mexican love song composed y Maria Grever), O Sole Mio (by Eduardo di Capua), Santa Lucia (by Teodoro Cottrau), Agustin Lara’s immortal Granada, Stars(by Claude Michel Schonberg from Les Miserables), I Have Dreamed (from Rogers and Hammerstein’sThe King and I) and Balikbayan (by Ernani C. Cuenco).
Guest artist Carmina Lourdes D. Atienza, all 17 years of her, is a senior high student at Corpus Christi school and also plays violin with the Cagayan de Oro Symphony Orchestra.
She started voice lessons in 2012 with Maestro Benjamin Santos and MaestroMarvin Gayramonfrom 2016 to 2017. She next studied classical singing with Maestro Michael Paseno of the Liceo de Cagayan Music Conservatory and recently garnered 3rd prize at the 2018 NAMCYA(National Music Competition for Young Artists). Although she will be a BS Computer Science freshman at the Ateneo de Manila this August, Carmina plans to cross-enroll at University of the Philippines-Dilimanto continue her classical music training. She is the second child of Martin Ch. Atienza and Sheilah del Fierro-Atienza.
We were regaled by Carmina with her rendition of Art is Calling for Me (from Victor August Herbert’s 1911 hit operetta The Enchantress); and were in for a treat with her duets with Zip: All I Ask of You (from Phantom of the Opera) by Andrew Lloyd Weber; and Lippen Schweigen (from The Merry Widow) by Franz Lehar.
For their encore, the pair rendered a trio of Filipino favorites including the immortal Bisayan love song Usahay (recently correctly credited to its original composer the late Gregorio Responso Labja); Ikaw Ang Mahal Ko, a romantic ballad by VST & Co. (penned by songwriter Joey de Leon with music by Tito Sotto andSpanky Rigor) and Mike Velarde’s Dahil Sa Iyo written in 1938 for the movie, Bituing Marikit and sung by the King of the Philippine Movies Rogelio de la Rosa.
So after this Recital, what’s next for Cagayan de Oro Opera Cognoscente?
Travels to countries she hasn’t been to yet, and of course, another set of operas to enjoy. August is opera tour time in Europe.
The Cagayan de Oro Symphony Orchestra will be recruiting more members from the Cagayan de Oro community for the additional instruments Girlie plans to augment it with.