The cultural season in Malta is in full swing and, as November knocks on the door, we know that it’s also Three Palaces Festival season. Once again, I’m catching up with artistic director Michelle Castelletti over the ubiquitous Zoom, mostly because Michelle is making her magic happen all the way from the UK.
Of course, this is the second festival edition to take place within a post-COVID scenario. Last year’s edition was held completely online – how did that work out? Really well, Michelle tells me enthusiastically. Indeed, the option opened up the Festival to different audiences around the world, which was a great bonus of course.
“For the first time, the Three Palaces was in lots of people’s different houses. Of course, nothing beats live, but this way we can reach out to new audiences and do it safely, while creating something very exciting,” the artistic director starts off.
“This year, so many things remained uncertain that they decided to stick to the digital medium while retaining a site-specific element. We are very rich in architectural history in Malta, so we should celebrate that. It will be done differently because these are all new commissions, so it’s about juxtaposing the new and the old together.”
In each of the programmed events, there is an element of heritage – which Michelle believes remains a very important aspect of the festival. The result is six events across five days, one of which a double bill. The narrative is tied to Dante’s La Divina Commedia and to the themes addressed in Caravaggio’s art. How did this come about?
“Well, you could say that I had to. This is a very significant year, as we celebrate both Dante and Caravaggio anniversaries. I am a mediaevalist at heart, but I couldn’t let the year pass without a nod to this. The themes of sacred and profane, the journey from hell to paradise… these had been churning in my mind, even before the decision to go digital was taken,” she says, adding that as a musician, her big love is Mahler.
How exactly are these elements being combined in the actual events?
“We’re using architectural history as centrepoints wherever we can. We had a call and we had phenomenal submissions, which really didn’t make it easy to choose! After 18 months of dire straits in the arts, I wanted to celebrate Maltese artistic creations, which is why I made the call,” Michelle replies.
The result is the six-event programme, representations of different interpretations of darkness and light. The events range from piano improvisations with linked visuals, to dance, to Paolo and Francesca’s (Dante’ fate-crossed lovers) love affair, from lust to adultery. Particularly intriguing is the use of the underground area of the Wignacourt Museum in Rabat, which will be used to symbolise a very particular journey through drama using dance, literature and even Maltese translations of La Divina Commedia.
“We have a beautiful John Cavanagh Song Cycle with Gillian Zammit, juxtaposed against couture by Luke Azzopardi… There are all these things that sometimes one wouldn’t imagine going together, but they actually marry beautifully. To close off the festival we have a commission based on the Inferno, representing bodies in hell. There’s a really dense and dark introspective journey there, with exceptional choreography,” Michelle concludes.
The Three Palaces Festival takes place between November 8 and 12, with events starting at 8.30PM on the Festivals Malta YouTube channel. Event links will be posted on The Three Palaces Facebook page.
If you’d like to know more about the Three Palaces Festival, check out these reviews from last year’s events – The Coriolan Overture by the MPO, Nosferatru – The Forgotten Fragments of a Symphony of Horror, or Out Of the Cage, a cycle of 7 music videos.