Theatre
Il-Madonna Tiegħi Aħjar Minn Tiegħek
Vittoriosa parish theatre

Petty rivalries in Maltese village life are the subject of Teatru Malta’s latest offering, Il-Madonna Tiegħi Aħjar Minn Tiegħek” – an original operetta composed by Alex Vella Gregory, based on the book by Trevor Zahra and directed by Peter Busuttil. Set in a fictitious village which is representative of the island’s traditional cultural values, the simple story is a new take on the consequences of ‘forbidden love’ between two young people whose families support two different saints in their village – the main patron saint and the secondary saint – the Madonna tal-Warda, pitted against the Madonna tal-Katina, in the rivalries of their devotees.

Amber Mansueto as Mary Violet and Joe Cortis as Nannu Fred.Amber Mansueto as Mary Violet and Joe Cortis as Nannu Fred.

Karl Cassar and Rachel Vella play Mario Catania and Roseanne Rossi respectively, who fall in love and get married in spite of their families’ disapproval. Cassar and Vella both sang a duet which showcased their vocal range and Zahra and Vella Gregory’s excellent musico-literary collaboration. The choral pieces, while effective as larger-cast stage pieces and majestic in the tradition of sacred music, were not entirely strong on clarity of diction, partly due to the acoustics of the Vittoriosa parish theatre, where the operetta is staged.

Teatru Malta’s commitment to bring theatre to the people outside of conventional professional venues is highly commendable. The musical execution was cleverly assigned to the National Youth Band under the able direction of Mro Major John Ivan Borg.

The young couple’s parents were played by Aaron Fenech, Ivan Vella, Dorothy Baldacchino and Maria Eleonora Zammit, who all enhanced the ensemble effect with their strong vocal interpretation, and were supported by the humour injected by three veteran Maltese actors, Simon Curmi as the parish priest, Joe Cortis as in-Nannu Fred and Mary Rose Mallia as Iz-Zija Katya. The latter added some great flavour and tradition of their own to the production and served as strong anchoring characters for the rather thin plot, which, nonetheless, was in keeping with the tale of rivalry and ridiculous belief that two separate dedications to Our Lady – the same person – can have an effect on the way in which she receives the prayers of her devotees.

From left: Ivan Vella as Mario’s father, Maria Eleonora Zammit as Mario’s mother, Mary-Rose Mallia as Iz-Zija Katya, Joe Cortis as In-Nannu Fred, and Aaron Fenech as Roseanne’s father.From left: Ivan Vella as Mario’s father, Maria Eleonora Zammit as Mario’s mother, Mary-Rose Mallia as Iz-Zija Katya, Joe Cortis as In-Nannu Fred, and Aaron Fenech as Roseanne’s father.

Fast-forward to a few years later and we see the couple’s young daughter, Violet, played very sweetly by a talented newcomer, Amber Mansueto, whose angelic voice was a pleasure to hear, trying to bring her families together.

Violet manages to convince everybody that in spite of their best efforts to have their respective Madonna recognised as the only one to honour by the Vatican representative (Mariano Said), the best course of action is to be accepting of the variations in the dedications to the different Madonnas and respect and honour them as different aspects of a single entity.

The story is near-saccharine in dealing with a concept that is still highly contentious in Maltese village life and has been criticised over the years for its divisive effect.

One can hope that this fresh take, in the heart of one of our island’s oldest cities, can inject some humour and common sense into the argument.

Il-Madonna Tiegħi Aħjar minn Tiegħek is being staged at the Vittoriosa parish theatre today and tomorrow at 8pm. Tickets may be obtained at www.teatrumalta.org.mt. For more information call 2122 0255.

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