An operatic take on a children’s novel about the sensitive subject of loss is being staged this weekend.

Euchar GravinaEuchar Gravina

Teatru Malta’s Il-Qtates ta’ max-Xatt is a musical adaptation of the bestselling book of the same name by Clare Azzopardi and published by Merlin Publishers in 2016. It tells the story of a colony of cats who are fed twice daily by an elderly couple. One fine day, the duo fail to show up and the cats begin to wonder what has happened and how they can cope with the new situation. The old man eventually turns up to explain to the cats that his wife has died and that she is now up in the sky among the stars.

Ms Azzopardi herself wrote the libretto but while words are important in this context, music certainly takes centre stage in opera.

London-based artist Euchar Gravina was entrusted with composing an original score. The young composer has already produced music for soloists, choirs, chamber ensembles and large orchestras and even electronic music. However, this is the first time he has composed an opera.

“I have written vocal music and instrumental music before but this was the first time I put these forces together to create a dramatic work of this kind,” said the 24 year old, who is also the artistic director of Waterloo Festival and the director of music at St John’s Church, Waterloo, London.

Mr Gravina found great support from Ms Azzopardi and enjoyed the creative process.

“It was great fun! Clare’s storytelling is very captivating and manages to avoid clichés while using subtlety to tackle subjects which are not usually easy to convey to younger audiences,” he said.

“While I was composing and thus setting the adapted script to music, Clare was very collaborative, flexible and helpful.”

His works will be played by a quintet made up of Sofia Narmania on piano, Noel Beck on clarinet, Joseph Camilleri on percussion, violinist Maria Conrad and Christopher Greenhalgh on violoncello.

Considering the subject matter, one would assume that the music presented will be quite sombre in mood but it is actually imbued with various emotions.

A set of mechanical puppets by Matthew Pandolfino take centre stage in the opera.A set of mechanical puppets by Matthew Pandolfino take centre stage in the opera.

“It’s a big mix of short, focused scenes of different shades, colours and emotions – from energetic and boisterous numbers to bare, minimal expressive moments,” Mr Gravina pointed out.

“The music aims to follow not only the storyline but also support the feelings expressed by the characters and the shared moods of nostalgia, loss and hope.”

Claire Ghigo (left) and Francesca Aquilina.Claire Ghigo (left) and Francesca Aquilina.

Starring in the opera’s main roles are Ruth Sammut Casingena and Jean Pierre Busuttil as the old couple known simply as nannu and nanna (grandpa and grandma). The rest of the cast includes opera favourites Clare Ghigo, Francesca Aquilina, Sean Borg and Louis Andrew Cassar who will animate a set of mechanised puppets by Matthew Pandolfino. Nicole Blackman is the production manager.

Rehearsals started weeks ago and the cast and crew cannot wait to go on stage.

“The cast, the musicians and our artistic director, Denise Mulholland, have been fantastic in preparing everything over the past weeks and months and now it is all coming together wonderfully well,” said the maestro.

“I’m fortunate enough to be also conducting the opera and this has given me a different perspective of the music-making experience, especially as I try to combine both roles in rehearsal.”

Mr Gravina commended Ms Mulholland’s direction and believes the opera will resonate with the audience.

“The puppets, together with the finely-crafted staging, the costumes and the lights will surely make this a memorable experience not only for children but also for older people in the audience,” he added.

Il-Qtates ta’ max-Xatt is a collaborative work in partnership with Arts Council Malta, Festivals Malta, the Three Palaces Festival, Culture Pass Malta, The Ministry for Education and Employment, LESA and Heritage Malta.

The 40-minute spectacle, suitable for children aged eight and over, is being staged at the Maritime Museum in Vittoriosa at 3pm and 6pm tomorrow and on Sunday. For tickets, log on to www.teatrumalta.org.mt.

Sean Borg (left) and Louis Andrew Cassar.Sean Borg (left) and Louis Andrew Cassar.

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