The Malta Independent 19 April 2019, Friday

Marie Benoit's Diary: Once more, with feeling... and folly and fantasy too

Marie Benoît Tuesday, 12 March 2019, 09:53 Last update: about 2 months ago

Once more, with feeling... and folly and fantasy too

Last week I took refuge in the Salesian Theatre and away from Priniolata recipes, Brexit, ugly multi-storied towers and more. Together with one of my daughters we enjoyed an evening of relaxation watching Folly, Fantasy and Feeling, a soirée hosted by Nicholas de Piro, Lucy Paterson and with Alex Manché at the piano. This evening was organised in aid of Save Valletta's Skyline, the St Paul's Angelican Pro-Cathedral Restoration Appeal.

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In his Foreword to the programme Marquis de Piro writes: "Our contributors either describe Malta, or the things most of us here on this Mediterranean island like best of all. Love, humour, music and gastronomy are the main constituents of this perhaps unusual compilation."

Entertainment, to those who participated is just one hat they wear. Participating and giving of their best was one surgeon, two university professors, teachers, actors,  Elizabeth Grimm Forrester, a mother of ten (yes 10 and expecting an 11th),  Martin Royalton-Kisch, an eminent scholar and so on.

Music is crucial for such an evening to take off and with Alex Manché, his hands on a piano rather than repairing someone's heart, the choice of music fitted in with the programme beautifully.

The script was a mixture of witty poems, many of which were written by the Marquis himself, and very touching ones, too. A couple were so popular at last year's soirée - Notions, Nostalgia and Nonsense - that, there was a request for them to be repeated. The Ballad of Rory Muscat was one of them.

"He sat in his kilt did Rory Muscat

He sat in his kilt on a Maltese rampart

He shouldn'a sat in his kilt in that heat

On the edge of a wall on a very hot seat

He sat on his hands and he fumbled a bit,

He thought he would lie, then decided to sit

He thought of his Flossie MacFenech Parnis

And he knew that without her he'd never have peace..."

and it gets more and more delightful. The creation of Nicholas de Piro it was read, with a twinkle in her eye, by Margaret Clerici. She also wrote and read Dessert Warfare, an amusing play on names of desserts, some well known some invented by her. So we have Peach Melba, Pavlova, Rhubarb Charlotte and Crèpes Suzette but also Rommelstrudel, Gâteau Petain, Haig fairy cakes, Schwarzenegger Forest Gâteau and even Pêche Mel Gibson and Saddam sorbets.

Another repeat poem was Maltese Style, the creation of Nicholas de Piro and read by veteran actress Marylu Coppini (who also read Marquis Scicluna and Grandmamma) and her daughter Francesca Briffa. This is an exchange of two women at an auction sale, brilliantly executed in a mélange of Maltese, English and Italian. Here's just a taste:

"And the linfa ta'Venezia

Bought by Cesare Cordina

From the sale ta'xi Contessa

He paid ghaxar telef lira."

And one more repeat poem is another creation by Nicholas de Piro which was recited by him, The Ballad of Nicholas Hilton Theuma. Here are the last two verses. The poem is so witty and so well read by its creator. I didn't just smile I laughed as quietly as I could.

"It was love, O my dove' it was love, my paloma

My heart now belongs to Nicole Hilton Theuma."

And this to Alex playing Lucio Battisti's E penso a te, which made me feel very nostalgic.

And yes, yes. I must not forget A Handsome Dream, written and read by Nicholas. It brought to mind that around four years ago I suggested that my latest grandchild be called Bella or Allegra. My suggestion was completely shot down: 'What if she isn't beautiful or gay but plain or morose?' And the poem is about this very theme.

"...But what a risk your parents took with you.

They called you Desirée like fragrance whiffed

A mocking name if you grew up quite plain."

Poetry was interspersed with singing thanks to soprano Analise Cassar, Martin Royalton-Kisch and Elizabeth Grimm Forrester.

Analise, who I believe also studied law, has a great singing voice and looked glamorous, more as if she was going to Chez Maxim's than Paceville. I'm off to Chez Maxim's, Franz Lehar's popular aria from The Merry Widow was cleverly sung to We're Off to Paceville whose creator I suspect is none other than the Marquis himself.

"We're off to Paceville

It will be such a thrill

The ladies of Tas-Sliema

And also of Mellieha

They're waiting there for us

Without making a fuss

There's a couple from Wardija

And more beauties from Hal-Lija."

* * *

Martin sang very convincingly Non più andrai from Mozart's comic masterpiece, La Nozze de Figaro while a radiant Elizabeth Grimm Forrester gave us Una Voce Poco Fa from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia, as charming a Rosina as you will ever find.

Two university professors participated this year as indeed last year: Vicky Ann Cremona and Joe Friggieri. The latter recited his own poem There is a land.

"There is a land (not ours)

where carob trees

as old as time

spread their branches

over the naked earth,

where the prickly pear flourishes...."

and of course the poet is writing about the land that is, indeed ours.

Vicki Ann Cremona recited Nicky's poem: Richard on Filfla, which is dedicated to Richard England, who like the Marquis himself, is 'a man of infinite variety' and who both have my admiration.

"On Filfla on that blackest night

The architect must mill and muse..."

Professor Cremona also recited, movingly, the Marquis's If Love were Love, a far cry from his witty poems.

Another moving poem by the Marquis, was recited with passion by actress Margaret Agius: Why Tell Me Why

"Oh all I yearn to do is glide with you

And stop with you and twist and turn with you...

Oh rapture elation joy, joy and bliss...

As we swing and dance like that and like this."

Another clever veteran of stage and small screen, Jane Marshall, recited Nicholas de Piro's Do you Believe that Buried Ashes Care. She's such a good actress.

* * *

Canon Simon Godfrey, Chancellor of St Paul's Pro-Cathedral read a most amusing letter, 'a lost letter' from Edward Lear to his friend Chichester Samuel Parkinson-Fortescue. Lear was multi-talented and a complex character. He lived in Malta for many years and painted it as well. Now Nicholas de Piro in 1986 published a little volume, a charming and entertaining keepsake illustrated by Kenneth Zammit Tabona, entitled Lost Letters: An ostensibly Historical Divertimento. I dashed to my bookcase and yes, this letter is in this delicious volume.

Let me just quote the limerick at the end of it.

"When I sit on the island of Malta,

My thoughts farumbishously falter,

When I'm 'top of the day',

It's all sunny and gay,

When I'm down, there are things I could alter."

Lear suffered from depression and not just good and bad moods.

Narcy Calamatta was in the best of spirits and greatly amused the audience that evening. First with I need a more old-fashioned girl by Sarah de Nordwall, delightful verses spoken by a man, well past his prime, who really doesn't know what type of woman he wants. Just a few verses from this delicious poem:

"And I'll let her be somewhat successful

Well she's got to have something to say

But if she's over dynamic

Then she's probably get in the way."...

I mean... how like a man.

More from Narcy: The Ballad of Later Life and A Handsome Dream both by Nicholas de Piro. When he came on stage to recite/act the former Narcy looked like an unmade bed. Hilarious. He is completely at home on the stage. ___________________________

Anne Tabone read two poems, one of them together with Narcy and Vicki Ann. Please not that Consolation (Nicholas's oeuvre) which she recited on her own is another touching poem and Anne transmitted its spirit to the audience.

There is no space for more. Special praise goes to the pianist for bringing it all together with appropriate music; the glamorous dancers in their furs and evening gowns who reminded us that there is more to life than anoraks, leggings and trainers and last but not least to the organisers and all those who put in their time to save the steeple, which belongs to us all.

If I left any of you out please accept my apologies... and hopefully see you all again next year for another inimitable soirée.

This is the sort of evening to uplift the spirit. An evening of unflagging care and finesse. Savouring simplicity in a world of chaos has always been pleasurable.

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