A Night At The Opera House

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Wednesday 09 Aug 2006 (Michael Bugeja - The Malta Independent)

Most days of the year, the old Opera House lies peacefully in ruins, a silent bystander to the throngs that flock to Valletta every day only to abandon it later on in the evening, turning the city into possibly Europe’s quietest capitals, at least by night. It was certainly not the case on the last weekend of July, and for two nights, the Opera House found itself the centre of attention once again, hosting the second edition of the National Orchestra Goes Pop concert!

Sponsored by Vodafone, this year’s edition featured an array of guest singers, from fresh upcoming talents to some of Malta’s top artists, but perhaps the biggest star had to be the orchestra itself, whose versatility was tested thoroughly as much by the featured artists as by director Sigmund Mifsud’s breezy arrangements, particularly the funked-up take of The Beatles’ Lady Madonna. The orchestra also excelled during composer Alex Vella Gregory’s ‘Kemmuna’, bringing out its Mediterranean timbre and rhythmic eclecticism without losing any of its classical essence.

The first half of the concert on Sunday was in its larger part given to new faces Tara Zammit and Pia Zammit. Both singers offered worthy enough performances, with Tara sounding her best on Astrud Gilberto’s Girl From Ipanema. Pia’s Fever was by far more effective than her second offering. The backing singers unfortunately, failed to make an impression throughout, looking every bit as nervous as they sounded! Kris Spiteri’s take on the Fab Four’s A Day In The Life was brilliant, and credit is again certainly due to the Orchestra, who executed the original version’s cacophonic interludes to a tee. Another song definitely worth mentioning is the cover of Moondance. Sung by the National Orchestra’s own percussionist (sorry - didn’t catch his name!) it was near-perfect and oozed much of the emotion and passion in Van Morrison’s original version.

The second part kicked off with music from the Gladiator soundtrack, and was followed by Winter Moods’ Ivan Grech, who was accompanied by guitarist Jeremy Micallef and drummer James Vella. He belted out two of U2’s grandest songs in (his own) style, topping off the set with a gripping version of Everyday Song, quite possibly his best composition to date. Chiara’s set was based on Christina Aguilera’s The Voice Within and the anthemic Beautiful, which she sang to perfection, even sounding better (I thought) than on her own Angel. As promising as she may be, Tara’s Waterloo nevertheless paled in comparison, and was clearly out of its league in the second part.

The night was rounded off with the National Orchestra’s Ludwig with a Twist and Bohemian Rhapsody, making sure everyone went home with the upbeat afterthought of a good night out. There are however, a few less rosy points to consider. For one, when the show is advertised as starting at 9pm, the public should be on time and ensure they are seated before that. Secondly, the seating left much to be desired in terms of comfort, cleanliness and leg-space and last but not least, while presenters Giselle and Sander did a pretty good job, some of the scripted lines did sound a bit strained at times. On the other hand, Giselle’s nifty dance number did prove she is a girl of many talents. Overall however, it was really all about the music and in the end, that was what everyone present got – a good night out at a fantastic venue that will hopefully be restored to its former and even more fantastic glory for more nights like this!