The Malta Independent 21 November 2018, Wednesday

The jewel in the city

Wednesday, 21 March 2018, 11:38 Last update: about 9 months ago

Jon Rosser points out how our treasure national theatre is indeed open to all.

The clue is in the name of the street: Old Theatre Street just has to contain one right? Well yes, of course, but you could be forgiven for not finding it. The Manoel Theatre - or Teatru Manoel, to give it its Maltese name, is tucked modestly away at the lower end of Old Theatre Street and, from the outside, is indeed somewhat less than prepossessing. On the inside however... wow!

Internally this just has to be one of the most beautiful theatres in the whole world... bar none. Tiny by West End proportions, Teatru Manoel, built on the orders of Grand Master Manoel Di Vilhena, seats just 620 people, it nonetheless possesses a charm and a matchless, 18th century beauty all of its own. To stand on the stage and look out at the auditorium is to appreciate the sheer splendour of the place, which has been considerably enhanced by the extensive restoration work carried out in recent years. All of the wooden panels that front the boxes - and which are painted with musical instruments and vegetation have been lovingly restored and much of the gilding in the place has also been carefully revived.

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For as long as I can remember however The Manoel Theatre has had the dubious reputation, in some quarters, as an elitist venue. The sort of place where Mrs Double-Barrelled surname goes to show off her latest (real) fur coat and diamond necklace - and to chatter loudly and animatedly away throughout the concert/play she has ostensively come to see and hear. And that was indeed a fairly accurate representation of the place some years back. But our national theatre has long since tossed aside its elitest tag. I mean would you call the annual Christmas pantomime or Teatru Unplugged elitest? I think not. As the inscription over the main entrance reminds us, this is a theatre: "For the honest recreation of the people."

It would be inconceivable to think that Teatru Manoel would not figure prominently in the Valletta 18 celebrations - and, of course, it does, extensively. At the beginning of January the Baroque music festival was fittingly incorporated in the celebrations.

One tiny, but ornate doorway into the theatre.


Another annual Teatru Manoel staple, the fully-staged opera production also came under the umbrella of V18 this year. A spectacular presentation of Mozart's Don Giovanni, directed by Jack Furness, with musical direction handled by Philip Walsh, was staged earlier this month.

The recently established Teatru Manoel Youth Theatre Company also get in on the musical act later in March with, what has been called, a devised musical performance of Hush. This Toi Toi event has been written by Artistic director Denise Mulholland, with music by Luke Saydon.

There is yet more opera in June, when the Malta-born composer Nicolas Isouard's piece, Cendrillon, a take on Perault's Cinderella story, which was last performed as long ago as 1810, will get an airing on June 28 and 30.

Then finally, on the opera front, on September 20 and 22 Teatru Manoel Youth Opera will present a production entitled Una Ballato Del Mare Salato,. based on the Italian comic book characters of Hugo Pratt.

Still on the musical front, the ongoing Monteverdi Project has been incorporated into the V18 celebrations. This will include master-classes in Baroque and Renaissance music tutored by the distinguished Italian conductor, organist and harpsichord player Maestro Marco Mencoboni.

The recently installed air conditioning system in the Manoel means that now the theatre can remain in use throughout the warmer months of our Maltese summer. And taking full advantage of this will be a V18 concert, in conjunction with Toi Toi to, "rediscover the memories of our senior audience"; in other words, a programme of UK and Italian popular music from the 20th century - a sure-fire hit and a genuine crowd pleaser.

So, quite a few Valletta 18 events will be featured in Teatru Manoel this year - and so they should be. I can't think of a more impressive venue for showcasing the very best in Maltese talent.


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