Why go to a Baroque music festival? You may have favourite works from the period, which have stood the test of time. Or the opposite: you’re jaded with hearing the same old symphonies and concerti and the festival gives you a chance to sample the thousands of baroque works that aren’t often played. You may be fascinated to hear real Baroque specialists, who understand every nuance of their instruments and are continually exploring new ways of making this music sound authentic. Perhaps you simply love the environment of the Baroque with its ornate gilt work and dramatic paintings and sculpture.
But you may also want to head for a festival to experience something completely different, and that’s certainly what you’ll get on 14 and 15 January at the Teatru Manoel, in the shape of Lully’s Atys performed by the Centre de musique baroque de Versailles. Except that this isn’t Lully as you know it: this is an opera parody, performed with marionettes. Back in the 18th century, once an opera was performed, it duly gave rise to parodied versions, often with commedia dell’arte characters in place of the heroes and heroines and popular tunes dropped in, to the delight of audiences. Parodies were staged in official theatres, but also in the local fairgrounds, to the point that the Comédie-Française succeeded in banning actors from the fairground theatres on copyright grounds. The producers duly substituted marionettes – and that’s what the Versailles people are bringing to Valletta (with real singers and musicians, of course).
The Teatru Manoel is a lovely theatre, the archetype of golden Baroque, and with eight of the festival’s 25 events, it's the most important venue. You’ll also want to visit St John’s Co-Cathedral, where you can take in the opulence of the gilt decorations – whether you find them delightful or excessively gaudy, it’s an experience not to be missed. On 13 January, you can hear Ensemble Correspondances performing Charpentier’s Te Deum and Henry du Mont motets. Seeing them in 2014, Bachtrack’s Julie Jozwiak suggested that the angels must have been quivering with pleasure at hearing such fine interpretations of Charpentier. Seeing their du Mont motets a year later, Julie praised them as having “irreproachable technique in the service of the purest musicality.” On 23 January in the co-cathedral’s Oratory, Chicago-based early opera specialists Haymarket Opera perform Alessandro Stradella’s oratorio San Giovanni Battista – be warned, it’s a small space and capacity is limited.
There’s more rare opera in the shape of Pergolesi’s La serva padrona, a short opera buffa concerning a domineering maidservant who tricks her master into marrying her and those succeeds in becoming the lady of the house by right as well as de facto. It’s staged by Rome-based Associazione Musicale Giacomo Carissimi.
The climate, by the way, should help to sway you: Malta has the warmest winters in Europe with 10 hours of daylight per day in January, daytime temperatures averaging 15°C and the likelihood that you’ll get sunshine. With your choice of instrumental, ensemble, choral and operatic concerts, Valletta in January is the perfect place to hear great music in lovely surroundings and beat the winter blues.
This article was sponsored by the Malta Tourism Authority. Notes on opera parody are taken from Françoise Rubellin's article.