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Joseph Vella Bondin

Maltese Opera Composers - Part 21 - Unperformed operas - Bartoli, Galea, Cirillo

In today’s article, Mr. Joseph Vella Bondin talks about the unperformed operas of 3 Maltese composers.

Emanuele Bartoli (1852-1933) studied with Giuseppe Spiteri Fremond and, exceptionally gifted, his work in music was very varied. He was one of the best bandmasters in the annals of Maltese band history; he was a much-sought-after tenor; his voluminous compositions were much admired and included liturgical works, preludes and intermezzi; he was choirmaster for the operas presented in the Teatru Rjal from 1879 to 1887.

His aptitude for the lyric stage appeared remarkably early. His first venture was Amore, a scene, and aria for soprano, which he composed not yet 19, and was heard on 23 February 1872 during the serata held to honour the theatre’s resident baritone Erasmus Carnili. The journal La lince reported: ‘During the entertainment, we had the chance to admire the notable talents of the young Signor Emanuele Bartoli, endowed with an ability that is not only rare but probably unique. He astonished and gratified us with a stunning composition for voice and full orchestra interpreted brilliantly by soprano Emilia Ciuti.’

Buoyed by the success obtained and an increasing belief in his own innate ability, Bartoli now started working on his first opera Simonetta to a libretto by Ġuże Muscat Azzopardi. Simonetta, in 2 acts was based on the life of Francesco Simonetta (1410-80), an Italian Renaissance statesman whose growing power triggered the hatred of Ludovico Maria Sforza (1452-1508) who, finally, succeeded in having him arrested, accused of treason, and beheaded.

Bartoli’s progress was closely monitored by the media. Il portafoglio Maltese of 29 October 1875 reported: ‘We have heard with much pleasure that the up-and-coming composer Signor Emanuele Bartoli whose musical ability we have had the privilege of already lauding a number of times have very recently finished a new score entitled Simonetta which is already being spoken of in glowing terms and which as a result honours both the composer and his teacher, the eminent Father Maestro Giuseppe Spiteri Fremond... The opera is to be staged in the Teatru Rjal towards the end of the present season [1875-76].’

But, in order to put on a work by a foreigner (Vincenzo Moscuzza whose opera I quattro rustici was premiered on 21 March 1876), the presentation of Simonetta was postponed for the following season. But the ‘following season’ never came and Simonetta was left to gather the dust of unfulfilled promises.

Pietro Paolo Galea (1873-1930), was born in Senglea but resided most of his life in Żabbar. He began music studies with Carmelo Abela Scolaro and developed them in Paolino Vassallo’s Istituto di musica. At the same time, he was studying for the priesthood and was ordained in 1898. An extremely intelligent person, he also had an aptitude for languages and, besides Maltese, was well-versed in Italian, English, French and Hebrew. Between 1901 and 1904 he was in Tunis exercising his sacred ministry and teaching music. Back in Malta, he added composition to his many activities. In his oeuvre, there is a work, Spezzato il core, an aria for tenor and orchestra which is dated 6 November 1919. It was written to mark his emigration to France, where he had been asked to go to plead with the French Government in favour of Maltese emigrants, besides assisting them spiritually. He spent his time there in Paris, Lyon and, occasionally, Liesse-Notre-Dame. He returned permanently to Malta on 12 July 1920 and died at his home in Żabbar on 22 February 1930, aged 57.

Galea’s extant oeuvre of more than 200 interesting works, many worthy of note and displaying the composer’s rich endowment in this difficult field, is now part of the Mdina Cathedral Music Archives. It also reveals an intuitive command of the various mediums for which he wrote, ranging from sacred and liturgical compositions to orchestral, chamber and band works. It also includes his only opera, L’erede di Marolles (1926), for which he wrote both text and music. The opera is in four acts and has never been performed.

Mario Cirillo (1891-1955) was the son of the Italian virtuoso contrabassist Angelo Cirillo, a student of the Conservatorio di Musica San Pietro a Majella in Naples, who came to Malta as contrabassist of the Teatru Rjal orchestra, liked the island and took up permanent residence in Valletta where Mario was born on 27 November 1891. Mario studied mainly with his father and enjoyed a long and successful theatrical career in Malta and abroad. For the purposes of this blog, however, the main interest is the two operas he is known to have composed.

One of them was, in fact, performed, but of the three planned productions only one was actually staged and then the opera was withdrawn due to serious financial difficulties. The opera was Il figlio del sole, a melodrama in 3 acts whose libretto by Carmelo Ciantar is a sequel to Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. It was given its sole performance in the Radio City Opera House in Ħamrun on Sunday, 19 March 1950, with the composer himself as the conductor and the librettist as the producer. Mario’s other known opera is Amneris (1953), a melodrama in three acts and never performed.

Mario also composed the music for two operettas: Barisca, 3 acts, libretto by Ġino Muscat Azzopardi and Tirolisa, 3 acts, librettist Oliver Scerri.

Next week’s blog is the last in these 3 part series on unperformed operas of Maltese composers