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Review: Transcending age and custom

Every year at around this time, for longer than I care to remember, the two band clubs in Victoria put up an operatic production within days of each other.

In this way they create a mini opera season whereupon opera aficionados starved of the genre in Malta traipse off to the sister island in their gladrags to enjoy a Tosca or an Aida in the two opera houses sited within yards of each other. It is a tradition we cannot do without.

When it started in the 1970s we all thought it would be a one off, yet the scene on the Gozo ferry remains as inimitably original as it was then.

Presidents, acting and ex, judges, politicos, diplomats and operalovers mingle with members of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra in the cafeteria.

It is a wonderful sight to see men in dark suits and ladies in silk and stilettos sitting around in the boat’s lounge where usually shorts, jeans and T-shirts are the order of day. I would not miss it for the world.

I have crossed in the foulest of weather and sweltered in the most horrendous siroccos, but as soon as I hear ReconditaArmonia or Tacea LaNottePlacida, all physical discomfort fades into insignificance.

The Leone Philharmonic Society this year put up a creditable and enjoyable performance of Bizet’s Carmen at the Aurora theatre.

With Colin Attard directing the MPO and with the artistic direction of Novella Tabili, this was a formula that has been tried and tested. Year after year we have seen visually traditional productions which are reliably successful l hugely enjoyable.

On the organisational side, it may be a good idea to think of installing a lift to the auditorium for older people, have subtitles when the opera is in any other language than Italian, and possibly put the production forward to November or early December as it used to be in order to avoid being casseroled.

Overall, the direction was pleasant but needed to be tighter musically, especially in such a long fouract opera. Attard’s appearances on the podium as a conductor are restricted to this one annual event, and he acquitted himself well.

The well-known and well-loved melodies of Bizet’s rather sordid melodrama by Prosper Merimee, were nicely rounded, and one heard an occasional “ Bravu Ċirillu” emanating from the audience.

Despite the great choruses and the Habaneras and Seguidillas, Carmen’s story remains an unsavoury tale of a femme fatale who, as they say, “had it coming to her”, in stark contrast to her antithesis Michaela.

It is the story of a man who is guided by his loins, who has no pride, who grovels and fawns at the feet of this amoral, who makes no bones about telling him she does not love him and never did, and lets her use and abuse him.

Although Don Jose’s arias are spinechillingly lovely, he remains, along with that unspeakable Pinkerton, my most unfavourite male lead in all opera.

Of Carmen herself I have mixed feelings. Most of the time she’s honest, in the sense that she never pretends to be anything but a sexy tramp; sexy in this case being the operative word.

For the last couple of decades, Carmens have had to be highly sexed and provocative; a far cry from the Carmens of my childhood where wearing a spotted frilly dress, a mantilla and clamping on the stem of a red rose between one’s teeth was considered to be the height of sexual provocation.

Tea Demurishvili is not sylphlike or svelte but rather like a Malmaison Rose. She did manage to convey a great deal of the character without resorting to cheap posturing.

I liked her strength and her determination to balance the character and also her supreme efforts to portray Carmen as a rebel. Vocally she was superb; a pleasure to listen to.

Mario Malagnini’s Don Jose was not so convincing. For one thing, he was a bit too long in the tooth to be as foolish as Don Jose , whom I have always considered being young, but in opera that is neither here nor there . His top notes were like electrical storms but his voice lacked nuance and modulation.

The prize for vocal amazement goes to Andriana Yordanova whose Michaela was sheer delight. The expression was perfect and the dynamics amazing. Yordanova was vocally the most accomplished performer of the evening.

I must say I did enjoy the quintet in Act Two immensely, Carmen, Frasquita and Mercedes, played by Claudia Tabone and Giuseppina Trotta and the two smugglers El Remendado and El Dancairo which was punchy and tight and delivered with great precision and above all gusto and which will remain along with Michaela’s arias the highlight of this most enjoyable production.

Above all, it is the wonderful melodic inventiveness and the beauty of the score that takes the final bow in Carmen. Bizet was a splendiferous melodist and an amazing orchestrator.

This is what makes Carmen so unforgettable; transcending age and custom, its tunes will forever be hummed, whistled and crooned as long as opera still exists as a genre, which if my knowledge of what goes on beyond our opera-starved shores serves me right, will be for a very long time to come.

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