Opera Theatres in Malta
- Aug 7, 2021
...Malta's love for opera!
The Baroque period’s influence on Malta is not limited to its architecture – Malta’s cultural identity is very much “baroque”.
The Maltese’s love for maximalist operas, pageants and theatre is a direct reflection of this baroque identity. Theatrical productions on the islands boomed in the 17th and 18th centuries – with Valletta’s Royal Opera House being Europe’s go-to opera house during that period.
Fortunately, this passion for the world of theatre is still very evident in the sheer number of amateur and professional theatrical productions that take place throughout the year. These productions take place at Malta’s opera houses, namely, Pjazza Teatru Rjal, the Manoel Theatre, Aurora Opera House and Teatru Astra.
Pjazza Teatru Rjal
Pjazza Teatru Rjal’s origins lie in the now-defunct Royal Opera House. In 1860, Malta’s Governor Sir John Gaspard Le Marchand, approved the construction of a new opera house in the heart of Valletta. The Royal Opera House evolved into a European cultural hub: royalty, military officers and Maltese music aficionados all frequented Valletta’s Royal Opera House to witness its latest musical offering.
Unfortunately, the Opera House’s history is tied to tragedy. In 1873, it accidentally caught fire. After being rebuilt, the Opera House met its demise during World War II. On the evening of April 7th, 1942, the theatre was heavily bombed by Luftwaffe bombers. Only a couple of Corinthian columns and it’s hard stone base survived the bombing.
After several attempts to rebuild the theatre failed, the government announced a plan in 2006 to redevelop the site. In 2013, the project was finally unveiled – an open-air theatre – named Pjazza Teatru Rjal – whose design merged the old theatre’s ruins with modern, 21st-century elements.
Today, the Pjazza provides a diverse cultural programme that reflects modern theatre goers’ demands.
The Manoel Theatre – a.k.a. Teatru Manoel – is one of Malta’s most important cultural hubs. The 623-seat venue was commissioned by Grand Master António Manoel de Vilhena back in 1731. The first performance – which was Scipione Maffei’s Merope – took place just a year after. The Manoel is Europe’s third-oldest working theatre and the oldest theatre still in operation in the Commonwealth.
Aurora Opera House
The Aurora Opera House in Victoria, Gozo, was built between 1971 and 1976. It can host up to 1600 people, making it Malta’s largest opera theatre. The Aurora boasts a raked auditorium, three tiers of boxes, a spacious foyer and a bar – all of which are carefully maintained by the Soċjetà Filarmonika Leone (a philharmonic society that’s part-community, part-band club).
Teatru Astra is also situated in Gozo’s capital. It was built (and is still currently taken care of) by Leone’s rivals, the Soċjetà Filarmonika La Stella (Philharmonic Society of La Stella).
The theatre was inaugurated in 1968 and has since hosted performances by the Ballet Classique de Paris, The Platters, Daniela Dessì, Mark Rucker and Francesca Patane, to name but a few. The theatre has also supported local talents Miriam Cauchi and Joseph Calleja before their international careers took off. In 2016, Teatru Astra ventured into the world of musical theatre with Grease. After Grease’s success, the Teatru Astra team went on to organise several other musical theatre productions. In this same year, the theatre took its commitment to local talent a step further by launching the Astra School of Musical Theatre (ASMT).