Angelica Fenech

The History of Opera in Malta - Part 3

In last week’s blog we concentrated on the first period of Teatru Manoel (from 1732 when it was inaugurated till 1790). In today’s blog, the third in this series on the history of opera performance in Malta we shall take a look at Teatru Manoel during the nineteenth century.

During 1796-97, Nicolo Isouard's operas were performed, namely : Il Barbiere di Siviglia which was written to a libretto by Pierre Beaumarchais, Rinaldo D'Asti and Il Bottaio. During the season 1797-1798 the operas by Isourd performed were L'Improvvisata in Campagna, I Due Avari and Il Barone di Alba Chiara.

In 1798 the French armies expelled the Knights of St. John from Malta and Isouard was placed in charge of the theatre.

The French stayed in Malta only for 2 years as in 1800 the islands were taken over by the British Empire.

Throughout the 19th century, the Manoel underwent a lot of refurbishment, mainly to enlarge itself. By 1825, the stage had been enlarged. There was a celebratory performance of Luigi Mayr's opera Elisa, to celebrate the renovations that have been successfully done at the theatre.

During that time, the impressarios were obliged to alternate operas with plays during the opera season, in fact for many years the contracts used to mention their obligation to present both operas and plays.
Both opera buffa and opera seria were performed in the early decades of the nineteenth century . The first of which there are records of was Luigi Cherubini's Eliza. This was in the very first season 1801-1802. Another opera seria , Paisello's Andromaca was performed in 1806-1807, and during the same season other comic operas of Paisello' were performed , such as Nina, Ossia La pazza per Amore . Click here to view a modern performance of this opera.

Domenico Cimarosa's Il Matrimonio Segreto and Le Trame Deluse ( 1812-13) were also presented in the early years.

During this time, there was also an agreement for the number of new operas to be premiered to be four. Many of them were not so new, for example Gioachino Rossini 's Cenerentola was performed at the Manoel in 1820 but it had already been premiered in 1817. Click here to view a modern performance of this opera. Vincenzo Bellini's , Il Pirata was performed in 1829 but it had already been premiered in Milan in 1827 while Gaetano Donizetti's L'Ajo nell’Imbarazzo ( which was first performed in Rome in 1824) was performed in 1826 at the Manoel.

This was the period when Rossini's operas were very popular. In fact ,it is recorded that 18 of them were performed by 1830. Il Barbiere di Siviglia was first performed in Malta on 1st July 1820, and it showed at the Manoel 35 times during the nineteenth century, appearing every season between 1825-28 and 1850-51. Click here to watch a modern performance of this opera. Other works, such as : La Cenerentola, Elisabetta Regina d'Inghilterra and La Gazza Ladra appeared only in three or four seasons, while others like Semiramide and Riccardo e Zoraide appeared only once.

By 1813-15, There was a contract which said that all performances had to be approved by the authorities. As a consequence, Verdi's Nabucco in 1844 and Rigoletto (first performed on 8th January 1853) were regarded as indecent and immoral.

The composers that dominated that era at the Manoel were : Gaetano Donizetti, whose only rival from 1820-1840 was Vincenzo Bellini, and then there was Giuseppe Verdi as the third contestant after 1844.
Donizetti's L'Elisir D'amore was first performed in 1835, Lucia di Lammermoor in 1837, La Favorita in 1842 and Don Pasquale in 1844. La Sonnambula and Norma by Bellini, were first performed in 1834. These were extremely popular at the time, and some of them are still popular with the Maltese till this day.

Music by non-Italian composers were somehow viewed with suspicion, and thus their works were rarely performed. For instance, Mozart had only one of his operas that was performed at the Manoel throughout the ninetheenth century – Don Giovanni.

Some of Giuseppe Verdi’s 's greatest works were first performed at the Manoel during this time: Il Trovatore (1853),and Un Ballo in Maschera ( 1861).
La Traviata was first performed in Malta, in 1856, and it was much praised by the correre Mercantile di Malta. This is one of the most famous operas of all time and is regularly performed to the present day. Click here to view a modern performance. During that time , there were some changes done to the opera regulations, regarding scenes, costumes, orchestra and lighting.

The earliest Maltese opera to appear at the Manoel in this century, was Vincenzo Bugeja's Lodoiska . The opera's libretto was very much praised as well as the cast that took part : Camilla Darbois, Carlo Leonardis and Filippo Tati.

The second Maltese Opera to be performed at the Manoel, was Alessandro Curmi's Rob Roy which was performed in the 1832-33 season. Another opera by Curmi Il Proscritto di Messina was presented in 1842-43. The last opera by a Maltese composer, during the same period, was the comic opera La Mezza Notte by Paolo Nani.

In next week’s blog we shall take a look at the construction of the Royal Opera House which opened in 1866 and the works performed there in the 19th Century.