Angelica Fenech

The History of Opera in Malta - Part 5

In last week’s blog the activities revolving around the Royal opera house in the 19th century were covered. In today’s blog we shall take a look at what happened at the Royal Opera House in the twenthieth century.

The government used to call for tenders for the lease of the Opera house. This was a way to ensure that the Opera house was kept alive and managed in a feasible manner. Impresarios used to stand by the condition that they had to stage a number of operas every theatrical season, but they were also free to organise other events. Anton Nani was appointed impresario in 1885 , and he held his position for four seasons. Other impresarios that were responsible for various opera seasons between 1902- 1939 were : Luigi Pace Balzan (who was also active politically), Emanuel Said, Augusto German, and Giuseppe Farrugia. It is interesting to note that in 1935 Giuseppe Farrugia obtained the permission to be able to use the Royal Opera House as a cinema. During the Strickland administration , the season was managed by an impresa governativa.

The impresa was responsible to appoint singers, a conductor and to present not less than 12 different operas, and to choose four more operas from a list of 30 operas, which was part of the conditions of the contract of lease, making a total of 16 operas. The 1925/26 season had 20 operas and it starred two new works : Mascagni’s Silvano (click here to listen to a Barcarolle from this opera) and Umberto Giordano’s La Cena Delle Beffe.

It is registered that during the first season of 1866, 15 different operas were held. October 1891 saw the first performance in Malta of the opera Cavalleria Rusticana (by Mascagni). An interesting opera which was new to Malta was the opera Cecilia by Maestro Licinio Refice and was also directed by the composer himself.

Some of the singers, who performed at the Royal Opera House during this period were: the tenor Angelo Alguzino, who was eventually substituted by Aldieri since Alguzino died in Malta on 21 February 1901. Then there was also the tenor Attilio Maurini , tenor Nino Peria and comprimaria Elvira Rammer. One opera singer was an ex-British military officer, tenore Enrico Benevento who stayed on during the 1911-12 season till the end of February 1912.

During the 1918-19 season, the part of Basso was performed by the Maltese singer Giuseppe Satariano in the operas: Madame Butterfly (Puccini) and La Forza del Destino (Verdi).

During the 1921-22 season the Maltese tenore Niccolo’ Baldacchino performed in five operas : Aida, Cavalleria Rusticana, Ernani, Pagliacci and Carmen (Georges Bizet). Click here to listen to a rare recording of this tenor.

During the 1933-34 season, the role of Rigoletto was performed by the Maltese baritone Giuseppe Satariano with great success. The opera was performed five times and the fifth performance was held in honour of the Maltese baritone. The Theatre was a full house, and after the second Act, he sang an extra part, the part of the factotum of the Barbiere, and then he was showered with gifts and loud applauses and shouts of ‘ Bravo!’. During that same season, The Maltese Opera singer Edwin Craig made his debut in the part of Mario Cavaradossi in the opera Tosca (Puccini).

The Royal Opera House in Valletta was hit by bombs and was destroyed during the second World War, on April 7, 1942.

In next week’s blog we shall take a look at the continued use of the Manoel Theatre, while the Royal Opera House was still operational.