The Malta Independent 16 July 2019, Tuesday

Marie Benoit's Diary: Magical voices at San Anton Palace

Marie Benoît Tuesday, 17 July 2018, 09:29 Last update: about 13 months ago

What astonished me most that evening at the Sala Agatha Barbara,  was the strong voices of the singers. Clear and vibrant they both sang with self confidence and ardour.

 One of the three musicians participating in this concert which took place last month was pianist Maria Elena Farrugia. She accompanied the singers and also gave us a solo piece: Sergei Rachmaninov's  Prelude No 10, Op 23 a dreamlike piece which the composer must have written when in a nostalgic mood. This followed 'Voce di Donna' from Ponchielli's La Gioconda sung by mezzosoprano Graziella Debattista Briffa. And before that baritone Charles Buttigieg gave us 'Ah, per sempre io ti perdei' from Bellini's I Puritani. After those two arias and the Prelude the scene was set for an excellent evening of good music and anticipation was in the air.


There is so much melodrama in most operas and somehow the characters manage to sing even while dying.  I Puritani is melodramatic, set in the time of the struggle between Cromwell and the Stuarts.  Vincenzo Bellini, its composer, was after all the last exponent of "Neapolitan" opera. He was the "flower" of Sicilian music and one of the major exponents of Italian melodrama. He had shown such promise in his youth, that the Comune of Catania paid his travelling expenses and financed his studies at the Royal College of Music in Naples.

I Puritani was Bellini's last work and adapted from Walter Scott's Old Mortality. When you consider that Bellini died at the early age of 30, one has to admire his output.

 I have to admit I have never watched any of his operas in their entirety. I am ashamed to say that I don't think I could sit through La Sonnabula. It would certainly send me to sleep.  I couldn't swallow certain operas in one gulp. If I had to sit through one of them I would consider it to be part of my penance to gain access to Heaven.

Thank goodness for Verdi, Puccini, Bizet... otherwise I would have spent my life listening to arias only.

The singing was fresh and bright throughout the evening.

These two gifted singers (Charles Buttigieg is only 18) but especially Graziella Debattista Briffa, have already performed in a number of  festivals, concerts and so on. Their talent has attracted several sponsors, among them the BOV Joseph Calleja Foundation and The Lions Club Malta. In fact Mr and Mrs Ian Lochhead (Lions Club) were present and enjoying the concert.

Graziella has also been the beneficiary of a Malta Arts Scholarship. Both Charles and herself are being tutored by Juliette Bisazza who needs no introduction and after many years of living in Italy and with her enormous experience is now back in Malta guiding students. They evidently love her.

I believe Graziella has received a scholarship to go and study in the States and Charles will soon be proceeding to Philadelphia where he has been chosen by one of the most selective schools in the United States, The Curtis Institute of Music, where he will be studying for a year.

Young Mariella, our pianist that evening, is also very well qualified and at present on the staff of the Malta School of Music.

For such a small island we have an incredible amount of musical talent. How lucky for these youngsters that these days they are given great opportunities both by the government and other organisations to go and study abroad and expand their horizons.

That evening the mezzosoprano gave us the dramatic Azucena aria 'Condotta ell'era in ceppi' ('They dragged her in bonds,' I suppose) from Verdi's Il Trovatore, an opera I have enjoyed several times and which is packed with fantastic and bizarre incidents and is a staple of the standard operatic repertoire.

This aria connects us to the incident when Azucena announces that instead of throwing the Count's son into the fire, to punish him for her mother's death, in a state of confusion she had thrown her own son and then brings up the Count's son herself.

 How careless of her and a little hard to believe but that is Il Trovatore for you.

Another famous aria, also Il Trovatore was also sung by Graziella. This was 'Stride La Vampa' ('The Flames are roaring') following the burning at the stake of Azucena's mother who was accused of being a witch, very much in fashion in those days.

Graziella was grandiose in this famous aria. Her powerful and intense voice was perfect for it and she transmitted Azucena's somewhat unstable character, evident in this aria which is so Verdian and an international favourite.

Graziella also entertained her delighted audience with other arias: 'Acerba voluttà' from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, and Camilleri's 'Nostalgia'. It was obvious from that one evening that she will go far and bring lustre to our island.

The young baritone, who must have been in the front row when God was giving out voices, gave us 'Bella siccome un'angelo' from Donizetti's Don Pasquale.

'Bella siccome un'angelo

In terra perregrino,

Fresca siccome il giglio

Che s'apre in sul mattino'

I doubt any lover speaks like that these days, let alone sing it.

 Charles Buttigieg rose to the occasion and gave us a beautiful rendering of another famous aria which he sung with such ease. And then two more arias and the final aria was sung by both Graziella and himself - an aria from Donizetti's La Favorita - 'Ah! L'alto ardor'.

My crystal ball is dusty but even through the dust I can see that both are stars of the near future.

This was an evening of profound satisfaction. Indeed it was.

The ballet Giselle is to be performed at Pjazza Teatru Rjal on Saturday 4th August at 21.00 hours. Luisa Lopes (in the photo) will be dancing Giselle. Other international dancers will be coming from The Royal Ballet, The Royal Swedish Ballet and The Vienna State Opera Ballet. There will also be young dancers from Brigitte Gauci Borda's School of Ballet.

For further information email: [email protected] or Tel: +3567934 1755.

Tickets are available from or Embassy Cinema Box Office.


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