Reuben Pace

The History of Opera in Malta - Part 7

In last week’s blog we covered the activities around Teatru Manoel when the Royal Opera House was still up and running. In today’s blog we shall take a look at what happened at Teatru Manoel after World War 2 with the Royal Opera House now sadly reduced to a heap of stones.

Despite the numerous alterations Manoel Theatre had over the past years, it still retained many of its old architectural features, such as the white carrara marble staircase, shell-shaped niches and Viennese chandeliers. After the destruction of the Royal Opera House in 1942, the Manoel Theatre was expropriated by the Government in 1956 and was quickly restored . It was reopened in December 1960 with a performance of the ballet Coppélia. Eventually, the ceiling was also restored, and its inauguration took place in October 3rd, 2006.

During the early and mid 1960's , opera was presented mostly by the impresaria Inez Cantoni .There were short opera seasons every November. In the 1962 -63 season there was Puccini's Manon Lescaut , which featured the famous soprano Magda Olivero. She also took part the in the following two operas : Mascagni's Iris and Puccini's Tosca.

During the 1964-65 seasons there was yet another great soprano Rossana Carteri who sang Violetta in La Traviata. In 1969 there was a production of Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel , a work which was rarely performed in Malta. That year it was performed in English by the Vernon-Brice Opera Group from the Hove Academy of Music. Click here to watch a production of this opera.

The late 1980's , was a time in which the theatre made great efforts to put up more opera productions. The Associazione Mattia Battisti, a professional Italian opera company , was appointed to present a series of operas. Their most successful productions were: Rigoletto (1988) and Don Pasquale (1989). During this period , there were also opera productions by famous Maltese theatre people, such as Il Barbiere di Siviglia directed by Joe Friggieri, and Fedora by Umberto Giordano directed by John Schranz.

In the early 1990's Le Nozze di Figaro (1991) and La Cenerentola (1992) were presented as the theatre's commemorations of the Mozart and Rossini's centenaries.

Operas by contemporary Maltese composers also appeared in this period, such as : Carmelo Pace's Caterina Desguanez ( 1965, revived in 1980) I martiri (1967 revived in 1989 and 1999) , Angelica (1973) and Ipogeana (1976). The composer Charles Camilleri presented his ' Il- Wegħda ' ( the promise) in 1986, on a libretto written by Joe Friggieri in the Maltese language. In 1993 there was another opera Compostela, whose libretto was written by Peter Serracino Inglott.

Later on during the 1990's , there were notable productions of Puccini's La Boheme, featuring the well known soprano Cecilia Gasdia as Mimi' and the Maltese Lydia Caruana as Musetta. Caruana had achieved yet another success as Norina in Donizetti's Don Pasquale in 1997. During 1999, there was Il Barbiere di Siviglia directed by Enrico Stinchelli, Puccini's Tosca with baritone Ko Seng-Hyun as Scarpia, and Bellini's Norma, with Fiorenza Cedolins in the main role.

In the same year, the Bank of Valletta, started it's annual sponsorship of a short opera festival in March at the Manoel Theatre, it usually consisted of 2 opera productions and a concert of opera music. Operas performed over the years have included famous classics such as Verdi's Falstaff, La Traviata, Donizetti's Elisir D'Amore and Rossini's Cenerentola. Another talented Maltese soprano , Miriam Gauchi, starred during the 1990's. She has achieved both national and international success.

In next week’s last blog in this series we shall take a look at the productions put up at the Manoel Theatre in the new millenium.