One of the greatest Filipino vocal talents, National Artist for Music Jovita Fuentes was also the first Filipino international star in the world of opera.
Born on February 15, 1895 to Canuto and Dolores Flores in Capiz (now Roxas City), and Jovita was exposed to music at age five, when she learned to sing habaneras and danzas. She learned to play the piano with the help of the town organist, after which she moved to Manila to study at the Colegio de Santa Isabel. During her school vacations, she organized the showing of sarswelas and operettas with friends and neighbors.
After college, she underwent formal voice training with Salvina Fornari, an Italian singer residing in Manila. She also became a voice teacher herself from 1919 to 1924 at the University of the Philippines Conservatory of Music. She then left for Milan, Italy, to hone her skills in opera singing and acting as well. She studied under some of the more prominent voice teachers in Italy, such as Arturo Cadore and Luigi Lucenti.
In April 1925, Fuentes made her international debut as Cio Cio San in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, staged in Italy’s Teatro Municipale di Piacenza. She then went on to perform in the Philippines, the United States, and Europe, where her fame spread and where she essayed the lead roles in major operas—Mimi in Puccini’s La Bohème, Iris in Mascagni’s Iris, and Salome in Strauss’s Salome. Her performance in the New York production of Madama Butterfly was also highly acclaimed.
Jovita Fuentes gave her final recital in Manila in 1945. In 1955, she retired from the concert stage and focused on voice teaching. She also became an active advocate of music and the arts. She founded various music associations such as Asociacion Musical de Filipinas, the Bach Society of the Philippines, and the Artists’ Guild of the Philippines.
It was during a concert sponsored by the Asociacion, with the goal of promoting folk songs from different regions of the country, where Fuentes first performed in public, the folk song Ay! Kalisud (Ah, Misery). She had recorded this song for Odeon Records in Germany in 1928.
Fuentes garnered numerous other awards and citations, including the Presidential Medal of Merit in Music in 1958 and was recognized as National Artist in music in 1976. She passed away in Manila on August 7, 1978.
Chung, Lilia Hernandez (1979). Jovita Fuentes: A lifetime of music. The Jovita Fuentes Musicultural Society.
Felipe, Vilma R. Santiago (1998). Prima Diva. In The National Artists of the Philippines (pp.152-157). Pasig City : Anvil Publishing.
Tiongson, Nicanor (Ed.). (1994). CCP encyclopedia of Philippine art (Vol. 6: Philippine music). Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines.