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Commemorating Verdi and Wagner

Damiano Binetti

Damiano Binetti

Albert Storace catches up with conductor Damiano Binetti ahead of an opera gala dedicated to two of the most well-loved classic composers.

“If I were to compare the effect their music has on me, I would say that despite his turbulent life and works, I find that Wagner tranquillises me. Verdi, who could be no less dramatic, is somehow more directly appealing and more alla mano, as we would say. But both are intensely very human.”

This is what Italian conductor Damiano Binetti said over a long, working dinner with his wife Radka Zemanova, director of Malta Art Events, the company that will be presenting Opera Gala at The Hilton, a concert in tribute to these two giants of opera. Binetti will conduct the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra.

Although based in the Czech Republic, Binetti spends a lot of time in Malta. He is well-known to local audiences, as every year he directs the orchestra during the brief BOV Opera Week at the Manoel Theatre.

This being the bicentenary year of the birth of Wagner (May 1813) and Verdi (October 1813), this energetic music director has put together a programme that is bound to attract opera buffs.

“We decided to invite foreign, as well as local singers to take part in this concert. On balance, mindful of local operatic tastes, there is more Verdi than Wagner. There will, of course, be two of Verdi’s best overtures: I Vespri Siciliani, which is very well-known locally, but less frequently performed than La Forza del Destino.”

The prelude to La Traviata, Binetti said, was somehow an inevitable choice because of its great pathos. In fact, it turned out to be difficult to finalise a definite selection – but then one also needed to adapt the choices to the singers’ repertoire and abilities.

“We engaged leading Ukrainian baritone Andrij Shkurhan, already well remembered locally for his Conte di Luna in Il Trovatore at the Manoel. Italian tenor Giacomo Patti and the Bulgarian-born, Malta-based and highly experienced soprano Andriana Yordanova will also perform. The local singers – soprano Claudia Tabone, alto May Caruana and bass Albert Buttigieg – vary in experience, but they are all very committed and talented.”

All singers will be performing Verdi, with the exception of Yordanova, who will sing Senta’s Ballad from Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, which Italians commonly call Il Vascello Fantasma.

This is one of two Wagner vocal excerpts that will be performed on the night, the other being the Wedding Chorus from Lohengrin, sung by The New Choral Singers, who will also be singing choruses by Verdi.

When it came to choosing orchestral pieces by Wagner, Binetti’s choice fell upon the overture to The Flying Dutchman and the prelude to Act I from Lohengrin, rather than that to Act III, as both are rarely performed locally.

“I delved into the archives of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra to find the scores and noticed what a lot of stuff there is in there. There are scores going back to the old days of the Teatru Rjal, and the Wagner vocal scores are in German, Italian and English, although singing Wagner in Italian was the convention at the time.”

Binetti is looking forward to this opportunity to honour “two great giants, so different in their respective styles yet so greatly influential upon their contemporaries and successors.

“These composers are able to make emotions rise and brains whirl. They are also so wise in their interpretation of human nature in musical terms.”

Is opera still relevant today to the younger generation? Do opera houses still exercise a kind of pull to the public or has modern technology had an eroding effect on audience attendance?

Answering all that took very long but there was a pro-and-con approach in Binetti’s replies, because one could see each divergent and conflicting point. Among the reasons for the decline of opera, he cites the economic crisis in many Western countries, not least in Italy; projection of self, where the cult of the music director and that of the artistic director holds exaggerated sway; and the politics of management.

“But we know that there are many opera lovers in Malta. We are working as a team and intend to give them a pleasant and unforgettable evening of exciting music,” Binetti concluded.

Opera Gala at The Hilton will be held on September 27 at 8pm. For more information, e-mail maltaartevents@gmail.com or call 7740 4040.

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