Let there be light

There is a rumour doing the rounds that, should criticism of the government's brief for the City Gate project persist, the government may even abort it or, rather, the opera house site part of it. While I am certain that it is unfounded, this rumour somewhat reflects the kind of light in which this present Administration is viewed: a baleful if not malignant light which is a far cry to that strong beam of goodwill with which Lawrence Gonzi was welcomed in March last year.

In just 18 months, the credit crunch has taken its toll. Our deficit has soared to a whopping €300 million and the powers that be in Brussels have decreed that in one short year we are to bring it in line with EU regulations, which saw Minister Tonio Fenech scurrying off to Chocolatelandia like the White Rabbit in a total tizzy and returned declaring that he would have to remove W&E subsidies. Our only way out is to sell ourselves to Bill Gates.

Meanwhile, the government, with pennants flying and trumpets blowing, announced Renzo Piano's blueprint for Valletta and, if their perennial apologists are anything to go by, are in a right royal miff because it was not received with the right amount of adulation. What on earth did they expect? After waiting for 67 years for something to happen on the opera house site, the government's brief to Mr Piano was devoid of any thought, sensitivity and without reflection as to what the long-term consequences of this open-air theatre that we need like a hole in the head will mean with regard to Maltese culture or the lack of it. As long as Parliament was designed, a green one to boot, in Mr Piano's magically inimitable style everything else could go hang, which it looks precisely as if it might have to do.

Last Tuesday, La Traviata, starring Renee Fleming and our own Joseph Calleja, was transmitted live from Covent Garden to an enthusiastic and numerous paying audience at Argotti Gardens. A son of Malta has really made it to the top echelons and will, any minute now, reach iconic status. A suggestion, which, I hope, the ministry will take up should this lovely event happen again, is that it should be shown free of charge in all the towns and villages in Malta that have a suitable open space.

So inordinately proud of Joseph Calleja should we be that I would have thought that this was the logical thing to do... La Traviata was seen simultaneously all over the UK and in goodness knows how many cinemas in Europe, which already shows what high esteem opera is held and how other governments see the wisdom of popularising it even further.

This was an exercise that took up the trend set by Pavarotti, Carreras and Domingo when they performed together in that unforgettable Three Tenors Concert in Rome 19 years ago and which I had the unforgettable privilege of attending. In those days one could hear men attempting to sing Nessun Dorma in the shower as they lathered themselves: so much for the irrelevance and mustiness of opera Lou Bondì.

Despite this I would like to clarify that Malta cannot afford or sustain a traditional opera house and we must resign ourselves to the fact that we have missed the boat on that one.

The use of the opera house site as a multipurpose theatre is also limited as, let's face, it is not all that big. It can, however, be designed as a concert hall for symphonic music on the lines of Mr Piano's lovely Sala della Musica in Parma, which, with very little alteration, could be adapted to our opera house site. We do not have a concert hall but have an orchestra.

I did not come across the Sala della Musica when I googled it and the couple of shots that materialised did not look all that remarkable but when you visit the Piano Project Exhibition in Auberge de Provence I will ask you to leaf through the two gorgeous books about Mr Piano on display at the side and look it up. It is splendid in its simplicity. Compare it to the proposed design and come to your own conclusions.

One little correction is required with reference to Minister Dolores Cristina's speech in Parliament last week regarding what she referred to as a Museum of Contemporary Art. While acknowledging that we do need a contemporary art museum I would like to point out that we need a Museum of Modern Art even more as we have almost two centuries of Maltese art that are practically unaccounted for. Today's contem-poraries, Mrs Cristina, are to- morrow's moderns.

In another nine years Malta or Valletta, not sure yet which and how, will be designated EU cultural capital. Will we get a Tate Modern-like Liverpool? I wonder.

A distinction must be made between merely conserving what we are lucky enough to have and encouraging what must still be created. Culture is a living thing through which the past must interact with the present to create a bright and vibrant future for generations yet to come. This is why the lacuna must be filled. Go for it before it's too late.

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