An autumn holiday on Gozo has many attractions. The island’s hot summer eases gently into a period of wonderfully warm and sunny weather and there are fewer tourists. With average maximum temperatures in September, October and November of 24°C, 21°C , and 17°C respectively, it’s still possible to enjoy swimming in the sea and dining al fresco at the island’s many restaurants.
And, as an added bonus, autumn on Gozo sees the island’s cultural life ramping up a gear. As summer draws to a close, where else but on Gozo can you experience festivals celebrating everything from opera to beer?
The last festas of the season take place in Xlendi, Xaghra and Victoria in September, as well as the Qala Folk Festival. This is followed by a series of classical music festivals including two major opera productions during October, one of which is part of the internationally renowned Festival Mediterranea which runs to early December.
Qala International Folk Festival, Gozo. Picture credit: www.visitgozo.com
Festival Mediterranea has been running since 2002 and is organised by Teatru Astra in Gozo’s capital, Victoria. The festival attracts an international audience of music lovers who are treated to a wide range of classical and symphonic music, plus vocal recitals, and opera.
The cultural highlight of the year on Gozo is undoubtedly the two spectacular operas performed during October at Teatru Astra and Gozo’s other main theatre – the Aurora Opera House.
Opera on Gozo: a competitive affair
Festival Mediterranea, Gozo. Picture credit: www.visitgozo.com
For a small island, Gozo takes its opera very seriously and the rivalry between the Astra and Aurora has generated the passion necessary to create two top-class opera productions every year.
The story begins back in the 1800s in Gozo’s capital Victoria and involves the two main churches in the town (there are 20 in all) – St George’s Basilica and St Mary’s Cathedral. In 1863, the Leone marching band was formed by the cathedral to perform on feast days. In response, St George’s formed their own marching band – the Stella.
Over the years, the rivalry continued. The cathedral built a dance hall for the Leone marching band to perform in. St George’s built an even bigger dance hall, the Astra. The cathedral responded by taking over a baroque townhouse in the capital, adding new facilities such as a bar and rehearsal rooms, and calling this the Aurora. Not surprisingly, St George’s then added new facilities to the Astra.
The next phase of the competition involved the cathedral knocking through the back wall of the Aurora to build a full 1,500-seater opera house. The first performance here was Puccini’s Madama Butterfly in 1976. Supporters of St George’s then restructured the Astra, adding a 1,200-seater opera house, in which the first opera performed was Verdi’s Rigoletto in 1978.
Every year the operas put on by the Astra and Aurora are enjoyed by full houses. This is no mean feat when you consider Gozo’s small population of around 30,000. The Maltese government provides the orchestras for both opera houses and funds are raised to pay for international opera singers. Everything else is organised and achieved by hundreds of local people (loyal to their rival parishes) who work for nothing building scenery, making costumes, handling the front-of-house duties, being extras, and even singing in the chorus.
This year, Teatru Astra is hosting a production of the tragic Lucia di Lammermoor, a tragic opera in three acts by Gaetano Donizetti. Meanwhile, the Aurora Opera House will be hosting a double bill performance of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci. In 2017 the Aurora will be celebrating first 40th anniversary of the first ever opera on the island.
But Gozo doesn’t just offer classical and operatic music experiences in autumn, there are plenty of other musical and cultural experiences on offer. Here is a taste of what you can enjoy when you holiday on Gozo in autumn:
October – November 2017
Festival of lights, Gozo. Photo credit: www.visitgozo.com
8 October: Fjakkolata: a Festival of Lights at Santa Lucija. This magical festival has been running for 30 years to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. The slopes of the Ghar Ilma Hill is illuminated by hundreds of flickering candles, lanterns and flaming torches, and in the village itself you can enjoy traditional local food, dance and folk music.
Opera season starts with: Cavelleria Rusticana & I Pagliacci,
Aurora Theatre, Victoria
20 October 8.30pm
Santa Luċija festival of Lights
26 & 28th October
Lucia di Lammermoor, Opera by Gaetano Donizetti
Astra Theatre, Victoria
27 October – 19 November: 12 edition of the Festival Mediterranea.
A celebration of the 7,000 year history of Gozo in music and opera.
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