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"Dream?": Malta's Landmark Rock Opera of 1974

Updated: May 14

It is a fact that Malta's first rock opera originated in 1974.


The press conference held in Sliema at the "Midas" hotel, on July 5th, 1974, marked the launch of Malta's inaugural Rock Opera titled "Dream?" The event, which took place at the Manoel Theatre, was a significant moment for Maltese music history.


The following are excerpts of the press release as reported by the day’s press:


‘Three talented young Maltese musicians, David Agius, Joey Chircop, and Anton Grech, all well-known figures in the local rock music scene, unveiled their ambitious project. Scheduled for October, the Rock Opera comprising entirely original compositions by the trio, the production promised to be a groundbreaking endeavor.

During the press conference, attendees learned of the stellar lineup of Maltese vocalists set to participate in the Rock Opera. Notable names included the internationally acclaimed Maltese singer Jon Lukas, the frontman of Malta Bums "Bayzo," and Renato, who had recently made waves at Cantasud.

Mr. Joey Chircop, one of the masterminds behind the Opera, shared insights into its origins. He revealed that the project's inception dated back to 1970, during the twilight days of the group "Cinnamon Hades". It all started when ‘Frustrated’, was written by Joey Chircop, then the organist of the band “The Boys” (later known as Cinnamon Hades). When the band came to an end in November 1971, Joey decided to concentrate on writing songs. He discussed the idea with Anton Grech, also former guitarist of The Boys and Cinnamon Hades, and they both agreed to work on developing the song into a stage production. David Agius was approached to assist, given his prior collaboration with Joey in composing other songs.

Over the course of two years, the thematic material of "Frustrated" underwent extensive development, eventually evolving into the Rock Opera titled "Dream?" or "Din Holma?" in Maltese. The Opera delved into social issues, addressing some of the most pressing concerns of contemporary society during that time.

In addition to the principal vocalists, a choir comprising adolescents would accompany the performance, adding depth and resonance to the musical journey.

The unveiling of Malta's first Rock Opera marked a pivotal moment in the country's cultural landscape. With its innovative approach and thought-provoking themes, "Dream?" promised to captivate audiences and leave a lasting impact on the Maltese music scene.’



After completing all the music and lyrics, efforts were made to cast singers for each character and recruit friends and family to form a choir. Rehearsals commenced in a garage in Fgura.

Simultaneously, arrangements were made to secure a conductor for the music. Maestro Joe Vella, renowned as one of Malta’s most esteemed conductors, was approached for the task. A meeting was organized at his residence in Attard, during which the songwriters outlined their vision. Initially hesitant, Maestro Vella was won over upon hearing excerpts of the musical played on his piano, and he agreed to orchestrate and direct the music.



In addition to securing a conductor, the production team needed a director. Given his previous collaborations with TV Director Mario Ascione, Joey suggested approaching him for the role. Mario readily accepted the responsibility, collaborating with Maestro Joe Vella to devise a plan for staging the musical.

As announced at the press conference, Jon Lukas was originally approached for the main role. Regrettably, due to prior commitments, he had to withdraw from the production after a few rehearsals. Subsequently, Enzo Gusman was promptly approached to take over the main part, a role he embraced wholeheartedly.

At its core, the story line revolves around a young boy who, was marooned on a deserted island after his family’s yacht was shipwrecked. There on the same island he was found by a sailor (Ben), who, he himself, was marooned and alone for so many years before. After twenty years living together, in solitude, Ben passes away, leaving the boy alone. Dreamer was sentenced to remain on the island, never experiencing life with his fellow man.

He was a virgin to the world.


Here is where the opera begins:

……with the character of Dreamer, kneeling beside Ben’s grave.

Overcome with despair, he eventually falls asleep and begins to dream…

Dreamer: “I’ve got a picture in my mind of you Ben. I won’t forget you for some time.

If ever I will. Or better still, I will keep you in my heart,

So, it will never die………

……At the end Dreamer turns to the Audience and asks:

“What can I do? What can I say?

Can it be true?

What I’ve dreamed here today?”




The performances took place on Friday, October 4th, Saturday, October 5th, and Sunday, October 6th, 1974. The attendance varied, with Friday's show filling three-fourths of the venue, Saturday's reaching full capacity, and Sunday's also selling out, with a significant crowd gathering outside hoping to purchase tickets.

Regrettably, due to the theater being fully booked until the end of the year, the production could not be extended.

Despite this, the three young composers managed to make a profit of 30 Maltese pounds after covering all expenses. With the singers, choir and dancers generously performing for free, the profit was used to treat all participants to a meal.



Here is the roster of individuals involved in Malta's inaugural Rock Opera:


ORCHESTRAL DIRECTION and ARRANGEMENT

Maestro Joseph Vella

STAGE DIRECTION

Director Mario Ascione

Stage Manager George Schiro’

Sound Effects Tony Parnis

Sound System Joe Debono

Choreography Mary Rose Debono

Stage and Set Design Joe Micallef

Hairstyles (Main Singers) Manuel of Village Gossip

Hairstyles & Wigs (Choir) Dennis & George of Dragonara Saloon

Stage Make-up Mario Azzopardi

MUSICIANS

Maestro Joseph Vella and his Orchestra

SPECIAL GUEST MUSICIANS

Lead Guitar Anton Grech

Rhythm Guitar Freddie Scicluna (Malta Bums)

Bass Guitar Henry Spiteri

Drums Charles Gatt (Ic-city)

Joe Camilleri (il-peace)

PROMOTIONS

Denise Bartolo

Joe Micallef

Carmenu Galea (Il-Balal)

COVER DESIGN

Joe Agius (Id-Dylan)

THE CAST

Enzo Gusman as Dreamer

Bayzo as the Pusher.

Renato as Ben the Sailor.

Tony Bartolo tal Malta Bums (il Gigo) as Harold Fry.

Natalie Micallef as Junkie

Peter Baldacchino as Ringleader

Peter Borg as Arab

John Zammit as Jew

Godwin Borg as Protestant

Vince Mifsud as Catholic

THE CHOIR

Godwin Borg

Anthony Cassar

Mathese Cortis

Maria Chircop

Vince Dalli

Vince Mifsud

Catherine Cortis

Janet Chircop

Sylvio Mizzi

Ray Sultana

Tania D’Ugo

Josette Grech

Joseph Borg

Peter Baldacchino

Bernardette Wismayer

Doreen Scott

Joey Vassallo

Emanuel Salafia

Janet Mifsud

Rose Scicluna

THE DANCERS

Mary Rose Debono

Celine Portelli

Denis Bartolo

Oscar Curmi

Marion Ebejer

Anna Farrugia

Joseph Borg

Paul Mifsud

Lauren Gafa

Etta Mizzi

Domenic Pool

Charlie Zammit






The 'young' musicians who created Malta's first rock opera (L to R) David Agius, Anton Grech and Joey Chircop in 2019

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This article would not have been possible without the assistance of Joey Chricop, to whom I extend my gratitude for his patience and the time he devoted to answering my questions.


Photos: Joey Chircop

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