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Amor and Gelosia at Teatru Manoel this March 2020

Updated: Mar 9, 2020

Artistic Director Kenneth Zammit Tabona has unofficially dubbed 2020 as the year of Amore and Gelosia

Artistic Director Kenneth Zammit Tabona has unofficially dubbed 2020 as the year of Amore and Gelosia, as it was his idea to stage the three versions of Otello in one calendar year. March will see Rossini’s Otello staged at Teatru Manoel, followed by Verdi’s version staged at Gozo’s very own Gaulitana Music Festival. In October 2020, Teatru Manoel will be producing Shakespeare’s Othello, the play that has been the catalyst for the two aforementioned operas.

To quote Tabona when asking about the relevance of Otello today he replies: Love and jealousy are emotions that although seemingly diametrically opposed sadly often are inextricably intertwined. This is Othello in a nutshell; the Moor of Venice who was madly in love with the aristocratic Desdemona only to be led on into a frenzy of jealousy by the conniving Iago into murdering her when she was totally innocent. It tragically happens today when Femicide as it is called still blots our reputation as a civilised country turning men into beasts.

Emilia (Francesca Sartorato) and Desdemona (Valentina Mastrangelo) _photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

For the production of Rossini’s version, which will premiere on the 1st of March Tabona chose Marco Mencoboni to conduct and Vivien Hewitt to stage the opera. Otello might be a lesser-known work of Rossini, but it is by all means a milestone in the development of opera as musical drama. The work is based on a French adaptation of the story Othello, ou le More de Venise by Jean-François Ducis, and premiered at Teatro del Fondo in Naples December 1816.

This exciting new production will bring us back to the sumptuous world of the Venetian Renaissance. Main place of action is the iconic Ca’ d’Oro. The costumes are based on the woodblocks by Titian’s nephew Cesare Vecellio. Set and Costumes are all created in-house by the fabulous teams of Dorothy Ebejer and Ray Farrugia.

Iago (Roberto Jachini Virgili) and Otello (Cliff Zammit Stevens) _photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Vivien Hewitt is delighted to be back at the Manoel Theatre after a break of 26 years to stage this veritable milestone in operatic history. When we ask her about the strength of the work she replied: It is a marvellous opera rich in melodic inspiration but also dramaturgically very advanced for the period and a delight to stage. Unlike the Shakespeare play, Rossini’s Otello is entirely set in Venice and at the centre of the story are a letter and a lock of hair rather than a handkerchief. Before the start of the opera Desdemona has been seen by her father, Elmiro, writing a love letter. To allay his suspicions she tells him that the letter is for her suitor Rodrigo who is also the the Doge’s son. Elmiro entrusts the letter to Iago, expecting him to consign it to Rodrigo. The letter also contains lock of hair and Desdemona quite rightly fears that these love tokens have fallen into the wrong hands. I will be underlining visually how these objects, as they pass from hand to hand, give rise to the series of misunderstandings unleash the tragedy. I will show how Otello’s jealousy is exacerbated by the visual contexts Iago masterminds to make Desdemona seem unfaithful.

Hewitt’s take on the opera is a traditional one.

Although the Otello libretto draws on early French and Italian adaptations of Shakespeare that alter both the characters and storyline, the powerful themes at the centre of the drama remain exactly the same: mixed race relationships, love between individuals of very different ages and social backgrounds, gender inequality, mobbing and feminicide. I too want to be a daring…. and in the age of the trendily conceptual the greatest act of artistic originality and artistic integrity I can commit is to try to tell the story exactly the way the authors would have wanted it. “Traditional” has become a strangely pejorative term and perhaps it is high time to redeem it for the sake of both public and performers, so this will be a traditional production; she explains.

Rodrigo (Nico Darmanin) _photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Not just in the staging, also a musical level this production will be one of its kind since Maestro Mencoboni was able to consult the original Rossini manuscript page by page.

This was fantastic, not only because the handwriting of the Maestro in itself is an important source of inspiration, but also, because even the best critical edition (such as the one we will use for our production ) is forced (or wants) to make decisions that can be misleading for the performer and, above all, for orchestral masters. So, having Rossini’s notations at first hand were extremely helpful to me Mencoboni tells us.

The Maltese edition will be cleared of unjustified musical decisions. We hope that our vision will produce a fresh, colourful and easily understandable Otello he adds.

A young and vibrant stellar cast with a lot of Italian and Maltese talent will bring the opera to life with Cliff Zammit Stevens as Otello, Roberto Jachini Virgili as Iago, Valentina Mastrangelo as Desdemona, Nico Darmanin as Rodrigo, Francesca Sartorato as Emilia, Albert Buttigieg as Elmiro, Alan Sciberras as Lucio/Gondolier and Stanley Joe Portelli as Doge

In short the audience is up for a night full of passion and drama, with virtuoso Rossinian singing in a stunning Venetian atmosphere. Really an experience not to be missed!

As for the previous years the theatre can count on the support of BOV for the Opera.

Performances: 1,3,5,7 March 2020 – 7:30 - More info and tickets on

Otello Manoel Theatre 2020



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