The Malta Independent 28 January 2023, Saturday
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Marie Benoit's Diary: An evening of pure pleasure

Marie Benoît Sunday, 4 December 2022, 09:36 Last update: about 3 months ago
Cav. Tonio Portughese; Soprano Barbara Fasol, Archpriest Mons Mario Tong, Mro Joseph Galea, Mrs Michelle Galea, Mrs Marlene Portughese and Tenor Andrea Bragiotto
Cav. Tonio Portughese; Soprano Barbara Fasol, Archpriest Mons Mario Tong, Mro Joseph Galea, Mrs Michelle Galea, Mrs Marlene Portughese and Tenor Andrea Bragiotto

Operetta is best summed up by the Cole Porter lyrics: "Birds do it, bees do it, even educated flees do it. Let's do it. Let's fall in love." It certainly has a strong following in Malta.

Cav. Dott. Tonio Portughese, an opera (and operetta) buff, has been mentioning in radio and newspaper interviews, that an operetta company was due to come and perform in Malta.  He has been instrumental in bringing operetta and delicious evenings of Italian canzonette to Malta for years.

 And at last the evening of operetta arrived to the delight of many. Not that there is a shortage of public musical performances on these islands. Far from it. Music lovers are spoilt for choice. Festivals Malta, The Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, The Manoel Theatre, The MCC, the theatres in Gozo, The Valletta Cultural Agency and others all play their part to keep us all culturally happy. If anyone dares say there is nothing to do on these islands I shall banish them to Dante's Circles.

Glen Attard, Bursar of the Society,  Vice President Lino Bartolo, President of Malta and Mrs G Vella, President of the Society Jonathan Grima, Mayor Alfred Zammit 

It has been so dismal what with Ukraine, violence against women, car-crashes, the storm killing many of my plants on the balconies and the hot potato of abortion grabbing the headlines... any gleams of fun and humour were as rare as a coalmine with a future. Operetta is the ultimate escape for incurable romantics, like myself. Unlike opera, no one takes half an hour to die, indeed everyone lives happily ever after.

'And so it came to pass' that on 19th November, one of my sisters and I were in search of our seats at the Catholic Institute Theatre, like dozens of others, looking forward to Magia di Operette.

The tenor and soprano in a duet from ‘Il Paese dei Campanelli’

The concert was being held on the occasion "of the 95th anniversary of the historical victory at the Bands' International Competition in Como, Italy by the Società Filarmonica Nazionale La Valette." I am quoting from the very handsome programme, for which I extend my congratulations, especially as I am mentioned at the back.

There wasn't a single empty seat to be found in that vast theatre, that evening. Allow me a groan:  the numbers and letters on the seats of this theatre need an upgrade. You can barely see them in the semi darkness, especially if you're an Oldie - and most of the audience consisted of Oldies waiting on the edge of their seats for the sparkle to start. 

Maestro Dominic Darmanin

No evening of operetta can have any credibility unless it includes Franz Lehár's The Merry Widow and that evening we had not only the Overture but two very popular arias. The composer has a number of streets named after him in The Netherlands and even an astronoid. Yes.

 Lehár was thirty-five years old when, quite by chance, he was given the opportunity to set to music a libretto by Viktor Leon and Leo Stein. He took his chance in auditioning for the job by playing a song over the telephone. Once given the opportunity, he set up producing his finest operetta - and the one that afforded him the biggest success of his career. The operetta is replete with great, inventive tunes and it is easy to see why, more than a hundred years later, it is still a firm fixture in many opera houses around the world. He certainly had a knack for a catchy tune as did other composers of operettas on the programme that evening such as Johann Strauss II - Die Fledermaus, the overture of which was played that evening; Carlo Lombardo/Virgilio Ranzato - Il Paese dei Campanelli, Cin Ci Lá, both on the programme; Ralph Benatzky/Robert Stolz Al Cavallino Bianco, Leon Bard, Mario Costa, also on the programme with their famous tunes.

The band which contributed so much to the enjoyable evening

The President and Mrs Vella were there and were presented with flowers and must have enjoyed it as they went out smiling, a welcome break for His Excellency from the abortion problem. He will stay in Malta and not sign the amendment. I hope it won't come to that or he will have to resign, which will be a pity as I like them.  Let us hope that the intense lobbying, by mostly women, for the introduction of abortion won't win the day.

The popular TV presenter Mario Xuereb was compère.

Someone mentioned that Maestro Cardenio Botti's relatives had come from Italy for this special celebration and were present. Maestro Botti was the much loved maestro of this band for some 22 years. Marion Kissaun, the international pianist, once told me that he was her mother's brother. Musical genes indeed.


When it came to the singing the stars were tenor Andrea Bragiotto and soprano Barbara Fasol from Milan. They both sang in Malta, at the Manoel theatre before. They have a distinguished curriculum vitae and I am not going to reproduce it here. You will have to trust me.

Throughout the evening going from arias from one operetta to another playing different characters they invariably gave us good music, missing not a whit of sparkle or allure and the band adding a characteristic lilt to the music. From the lively duet Canta un cor d'angioletti  (Kalman's Czarda) to the moving Mi pare un sogno, un'illusion from Al Cavallino Bianco, the only sad aria that evening, they were a treat. I tried hard to swallow my tears as they were singing the latter. It's not for fear of smudging my mascara, given up with my  once long eyelashes, long ago, but I had forgotten to bring a hanky. One woman behind me was softly humming the tune.


There really wasn't much space for them on that stage, most of it taken up by the band. However, they even managed to give us a dance or two.

Signora Fasol was off to sing Violetta in La Traviata on the morrow.

The La Valette Band was conducted by Maestro Dominic Darmanin whom I have seen conducting in the same theatre some years ago. He conducts forcefully, with a mix of brio and fervour and one has no doubt as to who is in charge.

Throughout the evening I never, for one moment, had that fatal yawn of recognition although I had heard it all before - again and again and.... I really doubt anyone in the audience did. Indeed, we would have willingly sat through the programme again and very happily.

I take off my hat to all those who organised this evening of pleasure. We cannot even begin to understand the hard work that goes behind these events not forgetting the evenings given up by members of the band for regular practice. And goodness knows how many volunteers work behind the scenes throughout the years. Thank you.


I now look for a lift wherever I go since, having tumbled down stairs three times, they are now my deadly enemy. We had gone up by lift... so the return journey downstairs was by lift.

The evening was received rhapsodically and we all went home 'singing a happy tune' and for a mug of hot chocolate and onto You Tube to listen to it all over again, again and... again... indeed, as I am doing while writing this. Oh Cin Ci Lá!


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