Due to its geographical position, Malta, a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, has come under a considerable influence of Italian culture, opera in particular. As early as 1631 a number of artists, including singers and musicians arrived in Malta from nearby Syracuse to stage drammi per musica at the invitation of the Italian Knights of the Order. Since 1736, the Manoel Theatre in Valletta (Europe’s third-oldest working theatre), or Teatro Pubblico, as it was then known, presented baroque operas including those by Maltese composer Nicolò Isuoard (1775-1818). Then, on 9 October 1866, a more spacious Royal Opera House in Valletta (designed by Edward Middleton Barry) was officially inaugurated.
With the destruction of the Royal Opera House during World War II, Malta lost its place as an operatic hub in the Mediterranean. After the war, various opera companies continued to present fairly acceptable productions in smaller theatres such as the Orpheum in Gzira, Gaiety in Sliema, Radio City in Hamrun and obviously the Manoel Theatre.
This vacuum was partially filled through the inauguration of Gozo’s Aurora Opera House on 9 October 1976. This was quite an important and unique event on the Maltese islands – the rebirth of opera on these islands. The first opera ever in Gozo, Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, was presented here on 7 and 8 January 1977. The Astra Theatre, originally inaugurated on 20 January 1968, ventured in the realm of operatic production on 15 and 16 September 1978 with Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto and Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia respectively.
Throughout the years, a number of world renowned singers have featured in both opera houses namely: Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, Aldo Protti, Ghena Dimitrova, Nicola Martinucci, Raina Kabaivanska, Eva Marton, Maria Guleghina, Juan Pons, and the Maltese Miriam Gauci and Joseph Calleja amongst others.
by Joseph Debrincat
Video / Sound Clips:
“Tre Sbirri, una carrozza…” from Tosca by Giacomo Puccini – Aurora Opera House (2020). Luca Gallo (Scarpia), Aurora Opera Chorus, Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, Colin Attard (conductor), Luke Azzopardi (costumes), Andrew Borg Wirth (set designs),Vivien Hewitt (stage director). Video Credits: PBS Ltd, Malta.
“Love Duet” and “Un bel dì” from Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini – Astra Theatre (2012). Daniela Dessì (Cio-Cio San), Fabio Armiliato (Pinkerton), Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, Joseph Vella (conductor), George Farrugia & Manuel Grima (costumes), Joseph Cauchi (scenography), Enrico Stinchelli (artistic director). Video Credits: CVC Media & PBS Ltd, Malta.
Photo credits: Joe Attard