The first big musical event in this year's Festival Mediterranea, organised by the Astra Theatre, is the perennially fresh Tosca by Puccini, which will be performed in the Grand Master's Suite at the Hilton (Malta) on October 30.

Spun on a web of intrigue, jealousy, lust, betrayal and eternal hope, the plot uncoils in a seamless fabric of hair-raising melodies, piquant harmonies and tremendous orchestral forces.

Headed by a formidable cast of internationally known singers under the musical direction of Joseph Vella, Tosca promises to be yet another high-powered performance.

This year's edition of Mediterranean was slightly disrupted after last year's fire, which engulfed the Astra Theatre in Victoria.

Initially intended to be the first stage production held at the Astra Theatre following the fire, the opera had to be transferred to Malta since the theatre's restoration works have not yet been completed. Astra's management thanked the Tumas Group for making their hall available.

Soprano Birgit Eger will be singing the title role. Having debuted in 1994, Ms Eger has since interpreted an impressive list of major operatic roles including Nedda in Leoncavallo's Pagliacci and Aida in Verdi's opera of that name.

She is equally at home singing the staple classical repertoire, during performances of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem Mass, among others.

Bulgarian tenor Rumen Doikov will return to the Astra Theatre's opera production, this time in the role of Mario Cavaradossi.

Mr Doikov's past appearances on Astra's stage include his interpretation of Radames in Aida in 1999 and Enzo Grimaldo in Ponchielli's La Gioconda in 2000, alongside legendary soprano Ghena Dimitrova.

Another return to Astra's production is the young Italian baritone Marco Chingari. After last year's successful interpretation of Iago in Verdi's Otello, Mr Chingari will now sing the role of Scarpia.

Although young, Mr Chingari has already won international competitions, including Ercolano's Zonta, the Concorso Voci Verdiane in Busseto and the Concorso Internazionale di Camerino, among others.

Local singers will also be taking part, including bass Albert Buttigieg who will sing the two roles of Cesare Angelotti and Sciarrone, tenor Charles Vincenti as Spoleta, while young Kathleen Grima will be debuting as the Pastore.

Booking for Tosca, and all the other events, is open and tickets are available from the Astra Theatre's office by calling on 2155 0985; D'Amato and John Enterprises Limited, both in Valletta; and the Mellieha sub-post office.

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