|UPDATED - A dazzling first night La Traviata|
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It was a moving experience. An evening lavish in infectious bel canto, thrilling bravura and striking characterization. A dazzling performance from the main singers to the last of the choristers. An innovative , almost a-historic staging of a period drama. Lavish costumes and surprisingly inspirational stage acting. Stirring, flawless choruses. An utterly pleasing orchestra. A stylishly attired audience that added grace to an elegantly renovated theatre. We have learned to expect no less from Teatru Astra.
Verdi’s ever popular La Traviata, staged Thursday, October 28, 2010, inaugurated the 2010 -edition of Festival Mediterranea under the patronage of His Excellency Mr Anton Tabone. The Acting-President of Malta and Mrs Tabone, the Hon. Giovanna Debono, Minister for Gozo, Mayor Dr Samuel Azzopardi, Members of Parliament and representatives from the world of culture were hosted by Mr Paul Zammit, President of the La Stella Philharmonic Society, and Mrs Zammit, for an evening rich in cultural content, local achievement and enthusiastic response to excellence.
I occupied a thoroughly honourable seat in the theatre but sitting in the second row is of dubious helpfulness for a balanced reception of the combined vocal and orchestral music being performed within the four meters into the centre stage. On balance however I could enjoy the clarity of the voices, the expressions on the faces of the actors, the dynamics of Mro Joseph Vella’s musical direction and the individual performance of the nearer members of the orchestra. In this, also, a truly enjoyable experience.
Gozitan-born Miriam Cauchi is without doubt Malta’s star soprano. Her Violetta was indeed the woman gone astray according to Alexandre Dumas’ La dame aux Camélias, but there was nothing astray in her performance. Her stage presence was a sequence of emotive pathos and contagious elation, skillful coloraturas and poignant interaction with the audience.
Marco Chingari is by now “our” opera baritone, likable in everything, from his professional singing to his generous friendship. Where the tenor is still relatively new to Teatru Astra, Marco Chingari was an accomplished baritone way before his arrival on Gozo several years ago. His Germont filled the stage not only with his dominant presence but also with his no less sonorous voice – rich, resonant, skillfully superior.
The other roles, performed respectively by local and foreign singers, were, all of them, creditable. I mention Dorienne Portelli , Georgina Gauci and Mario Portelli because they hail from Gozo. But all of them would deserve mention. Ms Portelli is a long-standing member and soloist of the renowned Laudate Pueri Choir.
Dr Maria Frendo, chorus mistress, deserves credit much more than is usually gives to chorus masters. Her ability to create is not that of fashioning choirs ex nihilo – though she would not be beyond it - but of bring about, ex sacro, opera choruses that could be the boast of any of the finer opera houses in Europe. Opera choruses do not exist in the Maltese islands, but Maria can actually fashion them from choristers whose abilty to sing is indubitable but mostly confined to church music. The Laudate Pueri Choir of St George’s in fact constituted the core of the La Traviata opera chorus and what a chorus it was! The Italian addition to its tenor and bass section numbered eight; together with some male choristers from Malta who beefed it up, what a fine contribution to La Traviata it made!
Mro Joseph Vella, the musical director, needs no new laurels, but for La Traviata, which he directed at Teatru Astra for the second time in twenty years, we cannot help but crown him anew. The Malta Philharmonic Orchestra shares in the glory!
The work backstage must have been massive. The setting, lighting, wardrobe, stage make-up, rehearsing, ushering, cleaning… all the people involved deserve open praise. The opera booklet, so finely designed and full of information, added to the evening’s lustre.
All members of the hardworking team behind Festival Mediterranea deserve infinite credit for what we, La Traviata’s patrons at Teatru Astra, absolutely enjoyed. The pleasure is bound to repeat itself on Saturday.
La Traviata at the Astra sees Gozitan soprano Miriam Cauchi in the leading role of Violetta, Italian tenor Alessandro Liberatore as Alfredo and Italian baritone Marco Chingari as Germont. Other members of the cast include Georgina Gauci as Flora, Dorienne Portelli as Annina, Frans Mangion as Gaston, Joseph Lia as Barone Douphol, Giampiero Cicino as Marchese d’Obigny, Kenneth Scicluna as Dottore Grenvil, Mario Portelli as Giuseppe, Violetta’s servant while Armando Tomasello sings the part of the Commissionaire. The Malta Philharmonic Orchestra will again be directed by Joseph Vella. The Teatru Astra Opera Chorus is trained by Maria Frendo. Choreography, prepared by Felix Busuttil, involves the participation of male members of the YADA Dance Company.
The stage is designed by scenographer Mauro Tinti, built by volunteers Carmel Zammit and Emanuel J. Farrugia and their teams, and decorated by scenic artist Joseph Cauchi and his aides. The costumes have been designed by Luca Canfora Manuel Grima and George Farrugia, Astra Theatre’s wardrobe masters. Stage light setting is entrusted to George Zammit.