San Francisco Girls Chorus
One of the San Francisco Girls Chorus’s ensembles

Editor’s Note (June 20): The premiere performances of Tomorrow’s Memories: A Little Manila Diary have been canceled due to coronavirus cases among the cast and crew.

The San Francisco Girls Chorus presents the world premiere of a commissioned semistaged opera, Tomorrow’s Memories: A Little Manila Diary, June 22–25, in the Magic Theatre.

The work is based on Tomorrow’s Memories, A Diary, 1924–1928, the diary of Filipina immigrant Angeles Monrayo. The performances will be led by SFGC Artistic Director Valérie Sainte-Agathe and features Filipino American guest artists, including stage director Sean San José, guitarist Florante Aguilar, violinist Patti Kilroy, and percussionist Levy Lorenzo.

Composed by Matthew Welch, the project has been two years in the making. During the pandemic, SFGC presented excerpts from the work, including the June 2020 virtual performance of Scene 1 as part of its “Songs from the Archipelago” concert and the December 2020 virtual performance of Scene 4 as part of its “Island Holiday” concert.

“The journey of this strong and resilient young woman resonates with our singers who are about the same age,” Sainte-Agathe told SF Classical Voice.

“The challenges she faced are also the ones our generation still faces: discrimination and violence simply because they are women or because they are coming from another country. It is powerful to highlight how she overcomes all those challenges and creates a new life for herself and her family.”

Recently, SFGC launched a Community Book Club that included six monthly events from December 2021 through May 2022, designed to stimulate awareness, education, and conversation about the diary. Each session explored a different theme from the diary and its relationship with the choral-opera and included numerous appearances by partner organizations, speakers, and members of the artistic team.

The University of Hawaii edition of the book
The University of Hawaii edition of the book on which the opera is based

Angeles Monrayo (1912–2000) began her diary in 1924, a few months before she and her father and older brother moved from a sugar plantation in Waipahu to Pablo Manlapit’s strike camp in Honolulu.

The family originally moved from Angeles’s native birthplace in Romblon in the Visayas and, after their stay in Hawaii, settled in Stockton, California, in a neighborhood known then as Little Manila.

“Her tale is set as a metaphor,” says Welch, the composer, “for the unique cultural forming of [the] Philippine American diaspora and also as a mirror held up to our current sociopolitical issues of equality in immigration, labor, gender, and culture.”

The writing reflects a young Filipina girl’s view of life in Hawaii and central California in the first decades of the 20th century — a significant and often turbulent period for immigrant and migrant labor in both settings.

The diary leads into the heart of a Filipino family as its members come to terms with poverty and racism and as they struggle to build new lives in a new world. But even as Angeles recounts the hardships of immigrant life, her diary of “everyday things” never lets the reader forget that she and the people around her went to school and church, enjoyed music and dancing, told jokes, went to the movies, and fell in love.

The substantial and illuminating introduction to the book is by Rizaline R. Raymundo, Angeles’s daughter. Granddaughter Patricia An Liston-Abujen has participated in the development of the opera, and she told the singers:

“All I ask, I dearly request, that every young woman performing in this choral-opera incorporate the emotions of innocence and hope they have had in their voices. My grandmother, in her quiet times, had a smile that reflected her hope and innocence to her last breath.”

Composer and soloists
Patti Kilroy, violin (top left); Levy Lorenzo, percussion (bottom left); composer Matthew Welch (center); stage director Sean San José (top right); Florante Aguilar, guitar (bottom right)

Welch told SFCV:

I had been commissioned by SFGC a few years prior with a work for bagpipe soloist (myself) and the [organization’s] premier choir. Following this, I was heavily involved in research about my own family that had been in American-Colonial Philippines for three generations until internment in WWII Uni Santo Thomas Internment Camp in Manila and [also involved in] a vast study of Philippine musical communities, forms, and materials on an Asian Cultural Council Grant.

When I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, Valerie wanted to commission me for a new opera that extended both my research in [Philippines-United States] relations and experimental opera.

An opera for a young girls’ chorus seemed quite an inspiring platform that had little repertoire, so my idea for this opera really has no model, whereas previous operas of mine were engaging and disassembling the tropes of the genre.

Personally, for me the diary presents such intimate accounts of personal history, and Angeles Monrayo’s diary is an anomalous artifact very critical to documenting the experience of many other Filipino Americans. My strategy was to create the libretto from the actual words of the diary — a thread that represents the essence and detail at once and resonates with the experiences of the many. Additionally, Monrayo comes of age in the diary, presenting change and growth to individuation along with a blossoming command of her writing.

The music tries to illustrate both the feelings of a child and the intersections of sound in 1920s Filipino American communities.”