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Everyone is far from sleeping mode at the Astra Theatre in Gozo with only two days to go for the upcoming opera production of Giacomo Puccini’s masterpiece Turandot that will, once again, see a strong cast in what has become an annual appointment for opera lovers.

Again this year, the Astra is venturing into putting up Turandot on two evenings, on Thursday, and Saturday, probably doubling the headaches that come with producing such a demanding event. Yet the Nessun Dorma opera should once again prove to be a crowd puller.

Between the stage team, rehearsals and the many volunteers giving a hand, the theatre is a hive of activity. The stage scenery is now taking a three-dimensional shape and being fitted into place by a group of young lads that make up the stage team under the guidance of their now-expert stage manager. Stage lights will soon be cued accordingly, once they are all pointed in the right direction from their respective overhanging bar. A look behind the stage wings and cyclorama also reveals quite an energetic backstage team. Costumes are constantly being brought in for what one hopes are the final alterations. Props are given their actual shining colour, with some still being put together as ideas keep flowing creatively until stage director Mario Corradi gives the final orders. Many other volunteers swarm the theatre and the foyer that leads to it, all giving a hand at what needs to be done well in time for this much-awaited main event in the Astra’s calendar. For what amazes many is how the two theatres in Gozo, including the Astra, manage to come up with an opera production of such high quality when most of the organisation, planning and actual day-to-day work is carried out by volunteers.

Even most of the local element on stage, including the choir, the choir direction, and the music direction is a labour of love of locals who give their very all for this annual project to succeed. Opera in Gozo becomes indeed a monument to voluntary work! Besides the voluntary element, the Astra hires international artistes of repute for its opera main cast. The title role for Turandot in fact is sung by none other than Italian soprano Francesca Patanè, who is one of the most highly acclaimed dramatic sopranos that has a voice, temperament and poise that strongly recall the immortal Maria Callas. Ms Patanè, whose reputation runs across the most reputed opera houses around the world, can still be vividly remembered as Lady Macbeth in last year’s Astra’s production of Macbeth.

Ms Patanè has been acclaimed for her interpretation of the Turandot title role, having performed it across the world, from Athens to Bilbao, from Helsinki to Hong Kong and the Bolshoi in Russia, from Rotterdam and Stuttgart to Taipei, Tokyo, the Welsh National Opera and Zagreb. She has performed the same role with an equal success in her home country, from the Carlo Fenice in Genoa to Cagliari, Trieste, Modena, Ferrara, Piacenza, at Torre del Lago and at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome.Other main roles in Turandot will be sung by Gozo’s own soprano Miriam Cauchi, who takes on the challenging part of Liù, while Italian tenor Antonino Interisano returns once again to the Astra, this time as Calàf. Ping, Pong and Pang will be sung by Marco Chingari, Giovanni Maini and Davide Malandra respectively, while bass Franco de Grandis sings the role of Timur. Kevin Caruana has been engaged as the Mandarino while Mario Portelli will give life to the role of Emperor Altoum. One also looks forward to the Teatru Astra Opera Chorus whose role in the Astra opera has been praised on several occasions.

The chorus is currently running through the last scenes of rehearsals under the able guidance of choir mistress Maria Frendo and music director Mro Joseph Vella. Turandot remains the main production in the Astra’s calendar of events, but it also raises the curtain, so to speak, on the annual Festival Mediterranea that is now running into its seventh edition.

The festival presents a month-long wide-ranging programme of events that runs from today to November 22. Highlights from the programme include Amadeo Minghi live in concert on November 1, classic music concerts, ballet and modern dance performances, jazz and band music, archaeology events, outings and seminars led by Prof. David Trump, an art exhibition by John Martin Borg, and Gozitan food and wine.

Booking for Turandot or any of Festival Mediterranea events can be done by phone on 99883007 or online: [email protected].