Opera in Gozo Feature

‘Opera in Gozo’ has become a catchphrase that from this time of the year until October, starts being heard more or less every week on news bulletins, magazines, newspapers and billboards.


Posted: 12th August 2014

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‘Opera in Gozo’ has become a catchphrase that from this time of the year until October, starts being heard more or less every week on news bulletins, magazines, newspapers and billboards.

We hear so much about ‘opera in Gozo’, but few really know what opera in Gozo actually is. Is it just about two theatres whose names both start with an A, so close to each other that they share the same address and an uncle-and-nephew as conductors? Is it about the fireworks factories competing against each other?

Some people genuinely mistake ‘opera in Gozo’ for just that. Others enjoy doing opera in Gozo the great disservice of deliberately perceiving it as a mere parochial celebration on stage inside an opera house - it is so much more than that.

While 120 persons in Rome fight to retain their job in the opera house, opera in Gozo, at the Aurora, unites that equivalent number in one collective (unpaid) effort to stage an opera; while the Rome Opera counts €25 million debts and more, the Aurora goes to great lengths to balance its books, and that generally suffices. This is only possible because at the Aurora, opera is not done for the money but, rather, for the love of the art and of the place where it comes to life.

Businesswise, opera can hardly be viable in the big houses, let alone in small ones, but the dedication and the passion with which opera is produced at the Aurora makes it an extraordinary and unique phenomenon. It is purely because of this phenomenon that against all trends and economic logic, opera in Gozo remains worth doing.

It breathes life into the majestic neo-baroque modernist opera house that is a finest exemplar of Emvin Cremona’s artistic genius. It draws together hundreds of people in offices, backstage, on stage, in workshops and wardrobes, giving them a unique experience that otherwise they would be deprived of. With love being the major driving force, opera at the Aurora remains viable, to the benefit of volunteer providers, and local opera audiences.

But why is opera at the Aurora so unique? Is it just propaganda? Is it a branding ploy to sensationalise the issue?

Baritone Marzio Giossi, with 30 years of international experience has first appeared in 2003’s production of ‘Il Barbiere di Siviglia’, and fell in love with the island, the theatre and its people on day one. He has since then reappeared in ‘Fedora’ (2005), ‘La Forza del Destino’ (2007), ‘La Boheme’ (2008) and in ‘Falstaff’ (2013).

When asked to explain what he feels is so unique about the Aurora, Giossi says it is the love the people put in what they do. He explains that in major opera houses, stagehands, choristers, theatre personnel and even taxi drivers, are driven by wages and punch clocks.

So if he wants to have an extra five minutes of rehearsal time, he would probably not even find his transport to take him back to the hotel.

At the Aurora it is a different story, because he can rehearse until he is satisfied because he knows that the people hustling and bustling around him in the theatre are the same ones who will be driving him to the hotel, ensuring that he would still have a late warm dinner and most probably, if his working schedule allows it, will also give him a free tour around the island.

World-famous soprano Maria Guleghina was the latest top-rated opera star to have studded the Aurora’s hall-of-fame, appearing in the title role of Puccini’s ‘Turandot’ (2012). She literally fitted in the single performance in Gozo in between her appointments at New York’s Metropolitan Theater – which is also approaching dire straits.

At the curtain call, she actually kneeled down to kiss the stage. And this was not as though the Aurora had launched her career. This was someone who had just come from an opening night at New York’s Metropolitan; someone who certainly knows what glory (in bigger theatres) means. After ‘Turandot’ at the Met, ‘Turandot’ at the Aurora still brought the prima donna an avalanche of emotions; emotions brought about by the Puccini score, and emotions brought about by the Aurora’s way of going about it. Maria went about exclaiming that the theatre is “like home!” barely seven days after her arrival. She even defined the production as “our Turandot” and a “vincero” because of the performance and the people behind it.

With opera audiences and performances experiencing a global decline – from native Italy to the US – it just may be true that opera in Gozo is more than just a petty competition. Some may argue that we might be staging the same titles over and over again. But guess what? The Teatro Massimo of Palermo had to abandon a production of Wagner’s ‘The Ring’, and Genoa’s Carlo Felice theatre, once one of Italy’s big five, lists ‘Rigoletto’, ‘La Boheme’ and Carmen as three out of its only seven operas this year.

So while the Aurora continues to push forth and bring to life an opera title every year, the magic of ‘opera in Gozo’ continues to cast its spell. This is the magic that lives at the Aurora all year round, waiting to be acquainted, only by the bravest. It is a magic, unknown to many, but to those who have been blessed it is known by the name of love.

Published on The Malta Independent on Sunday - 10.08.2014

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