A bronze commemorative plaque of Malta's foremost tenor Oreste Kirkop was unveiled in the Manoel Theatre's courtyard yesterday to celebrate his life and achievements.

Mr Kirkop achieved international recognition on both sides of the Atlantic during the 1950s.

The high relief, sponsored by Bank of Valletta, is an almost life-size monument of the famous opera singer in his Duke of Mantua attire from Rigoletto, and is the work of sculptor Ganni Bonnici.

Speaking at the unveiling ceremony, which was part of the BoV Opera Festival 2006, the chairman of the Manoel Theatre management committee, Wilfred Kenely expressed the committee's intention to pay tribute to Maltese personalities who have made a name for themselves, and for Malta, on the international scene. "It is our duty to ensure that people like Mr Kirkop and others, who played an important role in the country's cultural development, are remembered and given a place in history," Mr Kenely said.

The theatre's tribute to Mr Kirkop includes an exhibition of photographs, posters, documents and international press reports in its Sala Isouard.

Mr Kirkop's career took off when, in December 1948, he was sitting in the Manoel Theatre's auditorium during a performance of Verdi's Rigoletto, and was asked to substitute on the spur of the moment the indisposed Italian tenor, who had abandoned the production after the second act.

He went on to perform at Milan's La Scala, London's Covent Garden and tour the UK, as well as the US, where he became Paramount Pictures' singing discovery and appeared in the title role of the movie Vagabond King.

The tenor passed away in 1998, just two months short of his 75th birthday, after a brilliant career that ended in 1960 when he chose to retire.

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