Opera News

Falstaff News 5The gamble
 paid off...


As the opera Falstaff is now past, the first review is out. The daily Times of Malta has published its review as is customary, on the first Wednesday following the performance, this year, with two accompanying images of Anthony Mario Bajada. Critic Albert G. Storace acclaims our production of Falstaff in the following review entitled: The Gamble Paid Off…
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The Times of Malta
Wednesday 16th October 2013
The Gamble Paid Off…
By Albert G. Storace
Various soloists;
Aurora Opera Chorus;
Malta Philharmonic Orchestra/dir.
Colin Attard
Aurora Opera House
Despite the heat and humidity, I managed to enjoy to the full a rare performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s final masterpiece and that wonder of comic opera, Falstaff.
It is not easy to stage and it is not mainstream Verdi, so knowing local tastes, Aurora gambled. But fortune favours the brave and the gamble brought success and the large opera house was almost full.
Those who ventured to follow this very fine production drawn by the name Verdi and curiosity, were easily converted; they were convinced too by its sheer sparkle and mobility, with the well-etched characters revealing Verdi’s deep insight into human behaviour. At almost 80 years of age, he was inspired by a similarly great observer, Shakespeare, whose lyrics were so expertly crafted by Boito, the master librettist and Verdi’s equal as man of theatre.
This event was one of the best Aurora has ever staged, raising standards still higher and making yardsticks still wider. There was that energetic unifying force that is personified in Colin Attard, who believed so much in going ahead with this project to mark the composer’s birth bicentennial and the opera’s 120th anniversary.
This was achieved in a most worthy manner, in tandem with Novella Tabili’s excellent artistic direction and staging which was delightful, with sets of her own design expertly built by Paul Falzon and period costumes by Palermo’s Sartoria Pipi.
The Malta Philharmoic Orchestra was in truly sparkling form and projected the gambolling joy, mischief and intrigue which the score underlines so well. It is a miracle of ingeniousness with an example when male singers were having their say in ensemble, while the females were doing the same. Even if at cross-purposes, the music held everything together amid all that vocal patter and chatter. Sometimes one singer acted as bridge between the two.
If the opera lacks set arias, it abounds with a multitude of themes, one of the most attractive being the love theme. When it seems that Nannetta and Fenton are being launched into a duet, it is soon interrupted by more material; even when at one point Fenton seems to be about to go solo, it does not last too long.
There are some important monologues such as Sir John Falstaff’s, but the accent is on ensemble work, with a chorus only getting some prominence in the opera’s last scene.
Aurora Opera House put together a very strong cast, beginning with the title role entrusted late in the day to Argentinian baritone Leonardo López Linares, who was in excellent voice and in really good form acting out his part convincingly; he really made one look benignly at this birichone simpatico, the kind of rogue few could resist. Well, the bevy of women (less Nannetta) were not so charmed and were bent on teaching him a lesson. This was left to a fine trio of ladies to accomplish and they did it in every possible way.
Deserved plaudits go to Eva Mei’s Alice Ford, Agata Bienkowska’s Meg Page and contralto Elisabetta Fiorillo’s solidly reliable and powerful Dame Quickly. The latter’s achievement was all the more admirable because she had been ill throughout the preceding week.
The remaining lady in the cast, soprano Anna Skibinsky’s Nannetta, was more interested in avoiding a loveless match with Dr Caius for love of Fenton. She was pure, sheer joy to watch and hear, with a gorgeously limpid voice which soared to its loveliest in the opera’s best-known and rare solo Sul fil d’un soffio etesio for which one has to wait until the work’s last scene.
The other males in the cast were headed by Marzio Giossi’s superb Ford, whose main dread was being cuckolded by the fat knight and imposing his will upon Nannetta by insisting upon her marriage to Dr Caius. The latter was sung rather thinly by tenor Manuel Pierattelli. Tenor Filippo Adami’s Fenton started off a little bit shakily but eventually picked up and left nothing to be desired of him.
Bass Gianluca Breda’s booming Pistola was also very good and finely balanced with tenor Stefano Consolini’s Bardolfo who is more or less his side-kick, even if both are Falstaff’s grovelling retainers.
The chorus had little to do, except in the last scene but they did it well, with the ‘fairies’ among them looking very charming.
The performance, which was under the patronage of President George Abela, was also held in special memory of, and as a tribute to, the late Colin Best, honorary patron of the Aurora Opera House and great opera buff, who died last February.

Falstaff Events Page

Falstaff News 4He who laughs last,
 laughs best… ask Sir John Falstaff


From pick-pocketers, to a young Doctor who wants to wed a young girl – with the blessing of her father – who is actually in love with another young man – with the blessing of her mother; from a naughty, shabby, old knight, bedecked with all sorts of vices, to a wealthy landlord suspicious of his wife – one of three merry wives; from diligent house-servants throwing a man into the Thames, to rowdy Londoners in fancy-dress diligently staging a curse in Windsor Park; everything and everyone fit like the most intricate lacework in one of the most stylish plots scripted by Arrigo Boito and set to music by Giuseppe Verdi.

One might have asked why the Aurora did not choose the lavish Traviata brindisi to celebrate Verdi’s 200th. In any case, in choosing Falstaff, Gozo’s largest theatre went for a kind-of bigger scale of festivities that started with a binge and ended with a dinner. And what a feast that was! Verdi’s final masterpiece has long been dubbed not only as music to the ears but also – or more prominently –a feast for the eyes.

The Elisabethan-theatre-inspired set, craftily designed for yet another year by producer and artistic director Novella Tabili did much more than what gold and glitters could have done. The wood-panelled walls, hosting actually three different tiers – the stage, the inner stage and the upper stage, set the perfect ambience so that a story, which included an action as vast as chasing two rascals, grabbing a thief by the nose, hiding two lovers behind a screen, squeezing a giant in a casket and throwing him out of the window, usher a dozen fairies out of a legendary oak and getting two couples wedded, could unfold seamlessly and flawlessly.

The fat old-knight was brought to life by the Argentine-born Leonardo López Linares. Vocally, he was in command as much as his physique suited the role. With his stage-presence and his articulate acting, coupled with a flexible voice that was mellow, romantic, sarcastic, ironic and harsh as requested, López Linares could be easily mistaken for the real character, which Verdi affectionately salutes in his own handwriting: ‘Va va vecchio John… eternamente vero sotto maschera diversa in ogni tempo, in ogni luogo. Va, va, cammina, cammina. Addio’ (Go, go old John... forever true behind the several masks you wear in different times and places. Go, go, on your way, walk on. Farewell)

As Tabili puts it in her published note, even though the opera is a commedia lirica, Falstaff’s character is not really the comic type. “In Falstaff there is more irony than pure comedy”. And if when writing her note, the producer thought that Falstaff’s “authenticity lies in his senile and childish shamelessness”, then she could not have been happier at López Linares’s interpretation, including the shamelessness with which he actually pulled out his wig.

It was as if the disguise was falling bit by bit - from being fairies and witches to being the folk of Windsor, to being Gozitans on the Aurora stage. And as the guise fell, the real lesson, which no one better than Falstaff – at whose expense everyone laughs – can give us, came out clearer.

On stage, López Linares was vocally and artistically complemented with a very skillfully selected cast. Baritone Marzio Giossi, who is celebrating his thirty years of career next year, gave a very worthy rendition of the jealous Ford who admits his demerits of jealousy and suspicion, but cannot help be otherwise and thus goes on with betrothing his daughter’s hand in marriage to Dr. Cajus (interpreted by Manuel Pierattelli). While Verdi never gave the audience the chance to put its hands together during this opera, he seemed to know that Mr Giossi would be worthy of an applause, and thus allowed a fitting crescendo on which the Aurora audience could acknowledge his bravura after his “Laudata sempre sia nel fondo del mio cor la gelosia” (From the bottom of my heart, may my jealousy be always praised).

The vocal ensemble was well balanced both in terms of musical prowess as well as artistic stance; well defined between characterful male and female voices. The three merry wives – Alice Ford, Meg Page and Mrs. Quickly – together with Nannetta, Alice’s daughter, projected a postcard-like image, very reminiscent of the equally exquisite trio which the Aurora presented in last year’s Turandot as Ping, Pong and Pang. Elisabetta Fiorillo’s Quickly ripely countered the elegant Eva Mei’s shaping of Alice Ford, while Anna Skibinsky’s Nannetta was as sweet as a cherry on top of a cake. She was enchantingly charming dressed as the Queen of Fairies as much as she was romantically charming leading her lover Fenton (tenor Filippo Adami) behind the screen.

A role which some may, unwittingly miss, is that of Meg Page. However, Agatha Bienkowska made her presence, vocally and scenically indispensable. Bardolfo (third-time appearance for Stefano Consolini) and Pistola (Gianluca Breda) were really and truly up to it, and they could be seen having a definitely good time playing and singing their respective roles while Falstaff busily kicked them, punched them, pulled their hair and nose, and hissed them and fired them away.

From the pit, conductor Colin Attard can be proud, not only to add another new opera title as a feather in his cap, but also in managing to bring together orchestra, choir and cast in this not-easy-at-all opera. Falstaff was not only a challenge to whoever wanted to attract the crowds, but also a challenge to whoever has been used to performing and conducting the more conventional operas from the earlier times of Verdi’s composing career. And this includes the opera chorus as well. The male section had quite a taxing entry in Act 2 as they had to sing and frantically search the house while Falstaff was being (almost literally) toasted in the wooden chest. On the other hand, part of the female section was granted the luxury of assuming grace and poise dressed as fairies, before being joined by the rest of the chorus for the final “Tutto nel mondo é burla, ‘l uom é nato burlone” (All the world's a jest and man is born to play the fool).

Falstaff, celebrating Verdi’s 200th birthday, just two days on the actual date of October 10th, might be history. Most certainly, it will remain as a successful page in history for the Aurora theatre. Yet, the opera in itself is history because it is the great master’s last generous gift. He bid us farewell with a bitter but majestic smile; a bitter but majestic smile with which the Aurora saluted the great Verdi back, in admiration – his own last laugh… his best laugh actually!

Falstaff Events Page


Falstaff News 3An emergent Argentine star for Falstaff


As we leaf another calendar page and embrace October, Falstaff at the Aurora Opera House ushers in the opera season. With a few days remaining to the single-performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s commedia lirica, 2 days on the composer’s 200th birthday, Saturday October 12th 2013 at 7.30pm, the Aurora Opera House announces Leonardo López Linares in the title role of Falstaff.

Leonardo López Linares for Falstaff
This announcement comes, after Paolo Gavanelli had to cancel his appearance due to an unfortunate accident, which left the Italian baritone unable to travel to honour his commitment. Thus, the administration of Gozo’s largest opera house, went on to secure the services of this emergent Argentine star. He is a household name in one of Italy’s most lavish opera venues – the Verona Arena, where he has interpreted the main baritone roles of grand operas like Turandot, Madame Butterfly, Nabucco and Aida. He debuted as Falstaff in 2011 at the Verona Philharmonic, a role for which he has earned special merit. This guarantees a homogeneous and equally world-class cast. Suffice it to say that López-Linares performed Falstaff in Verona alongside Elisabetta Fiorillo, who will also be one member of the main cast at the Aurora.

Discounted tickets for students
The Aurora Theatre would also like to announce that it is offering a very limited number of seats for students at a discounted rate of €20. At present, regular tickets may be purchased online from www.teatruaurora.com, but such tickets have to be booked and requested either via email on info@leone.org.mt or by calling the box office on 21559452. On the night, holders of student-tickets need to present student identification in order to be granted access with such tickets. Otherwise, the tickets have to be redeemed in full.

Transport in Gozo
Furthermore, as it is customary, the Aurora Theatre is providing a minibus shuttle service from the Gozo Ferry to the theatre (after the ferry which leaves Malta at 6pm) and back right after the performance. This means that opera patrons may cross the ferry as foot-passengers, leaving their vehicles parked at the Ċirkewwa terminal in Malta. This service is free of charge, but patrons who wish to avail themselves of such service are kindly asked to request such a service via email on info@leone.org.mt or by calling the administration office on 21562974.

Falstaff will be the last opera at the Aurora held under the patronage of Dr George Abela, the President of Malta, who will also be in attendance. It will be held in honour of the late Colin Best, former honorary patron of the Aurora Theatre and avid supporter of the arts at the Aurora, who passed away in February 2013.

Falstaff Events Page

Falstaff News 2World-class cast for Falstaff


As October brings opera in Gozo with it, the Aurora theatre, which is presenting the first opera for yet another season, is proud to announce a world-class cast for a premiere production of Falstaff.

World-class cast from top to bottom at the Aurora
Headed by Italian baritone Paolo Gavanelli, the cast for Falstaff is one of the largest, required by a Verdi-score. With the title role of Sir John Falstaff being the main protagonist, the remaining 9 soloists are musically and scenically equally important and demanding co-protagonists. Therefore, in choosing the main cast, the Aurora theatre made no compromise with quality.

The cast includes baritone Marzio Giossi as Ford, world-renowned soprano Eva Mei as Mrs Alice Ford, Anna Skibinsky as their daughter Nannetta, Filippo Adami as Fenton, Nannetta’s suitor, together with mezzo-soprano Elisabetta Fiorillo as Dame Quickly, all of which have starred on the stage of the most famous Italian opera house, Teatro Alla Scala of Milan. They will be flanked by Agata Bienkowska as Meg Page, Manuel Pierattelli as Dr Cajus, Stefano Consolini as Bardolfo and Gianluca Breda as Pistola, who, apart from touring important opera venues around the globe, from Japan to the US, have collaborated with some of the most reputable orchestra conductors including Riccardo Muti, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel, and Daniel Oren to name but few.

This should therefore single out the Aurora’s Falstaff, as the natural choice for the Maltese public who has grown accustomed to nothing short of world-class at the Aurora. Memories of Juan Pons, Neil Shicoff and most recently Maria Guleghina are still vivid in our memories.

“because one might have not heard it, does not mean that one should not watch it”
Falstaff might not be one of the most frequently performed operas locally, and so this makes it a one-time event to watch it unfold live on a local stage. Many people might not be acquainted with its plot (based on literary works by Shakespeare), but because one might have not heard it, does not mean that one should not watch it. In fact, more than an opera to be heard, Falstaff is an opera to be watched, as it contains indefatigable action, and above all, laughter.

Moreover, the Maltese public is now accustomed to the grandness of operas at the Aurora, and in having a Falstaff for the very first time, there is no reason why one should expect anything less from a theatre who is celebrating Verdi’s 200th birthday and its own mother-organisation’s (the Leone Phil. Society) 150th founding anniversary.

Online tickets from teatruaurora.com
The online ticket purchasing system via www.teatruaurora.com launched a few days ago proved popular, so much so tickets are being sold at an accelerated rate. Opera patrons are highly encouraged to secure their tickets at their earliest convenience to avoid being disappointed.

Falstaff Events Page

FalstaffFalstaff Discount Scheme for July Announced

An opera for a special birthday – Falstaff for Verdi’s 200th
A very important birthday is due this October; important and special on two counts, being a bi-centenary and the great opera master Giuseppe Verdi. With the Maltese opera-population used to being treated to high-calibre operas in Gozo, patrons may set all their plans to celebrate this important 200th birthday of the world’s favourite and most-performed opera composers with his last masterpiece – Falstaff.
Falstaff is on, at the Aurora on Saturday October 12th 2013 at 7.30pm. Indeed, it will be just two days on the composer’s birthday. It is no secret that the opera-market on the islands is somewhat small in size. However, it is also no secret that the single performance at the Aurora is always well sought and, more often than not, sold out days in advance. So opera patrons are being given the chance to secure their most-preferred seats by the end of July, and allowed a 10% discount on tickets bought by the end of the month.
At present, tickets may be booked at the theatre’s Box Office, by telephone, on 21559452 or email on info@leone.org.mt. Further information may be obtained from the theatre’s website www.auroratheatregozo.com. In the coming days, a new theatre website will be launched, which will include an online ticket purchasing system. Still, patrons are advised to secure their seats at their earliest convenience in order to avoid being disappointed.
Paolo Gavanelli for Falstaff

The full cast for this year’s Falstaff will be announced in due course. Yet, the Aurora theatre is proud to announce that world-renowned Italian baritone Paolo Gavanelli will be carrying the title role. In the world of opera, Gavanelli has been lauded as “the foremost Verdi baritone of his generation – arguably the only truly authentic representative of this apparently dying breed active today” (Hugh Canning, Musicologist).

Falstaff Events Page

Falstaff News 1Press Call: Leone 150th Anniversary Celebrations Press Conference

The Leone Philharmonic Society (Victoria, Gozo) is celebrating its 150th anniversary from its foundation as the first civic band to be established in Gozo, way back in 1863. Anticipated celebrations kicked off last June with an open-air concert, a book launch of the Society’s history and an exhibition. They are set to reach a climax in the coming months with various events of different natures, including opera, music, arts, theatre, folklore, sports, philanthropy, environment, pro-life, sacred and religious and traditional.

Therefore, the Leone Philharmonic Society is launching its major jubilee celebrations with a press conference at the Ministry for Tourism, Merchants’ Street, Valletta, on Tuesday April 2nd, 2013 at 8.30am. The press conference will be addressed by Dr Michael Caruana, President of the Leone Philharmonic Society, together with Hon. Dr. Anton Refalo, Minister for Gozo, Hon. Mr Karmenu Vella, Minister for Tourism and Hon. Dr. José A. Herrera, Parliamentary Secretary for Culture and Local Government.

During this press conference, the Society will be presenting details about its programme of events which include a high profile open-air concert as well as the opera production of Falstaff at the Aurora Opera House.

Falstaff Events Page