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Spotlight Malta - the new Tenor

By Tess Crebbin / May 10, 2004

On May 1st, 2004, Malta was one of ten new countries to join the European community and this also brings the countryâs classical musicians into focus. As it happens, everyone is currently talking about a young Maltese Tenor by the name of Joseph Calleja. Calleja is now under exclusive contract with the label Decca. The recent release of his first album, Tenor Arias, has attracted the attention of pretty much everyone, including the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Independent.

The Independent wrote about him: ãCalleja has the kind of voice most 30 year old tenors would dream of: glossy, virile, lyrical and powerful ö this boy is going farä. And the Daily Telegraph said of him: ãCalleja is a rare find. He has a clean, easy, high-lying voice with a pleasant burr to its timbre.ä

Joseph Calleja was born in Attard, Malta in 1978. When he was in his early teens, he went to the cinema there to watch the movie ãThe Great Carusoä, starring Mario Lanza. This impressed him to such an extent that the ambitious young man left the movie theatre and started singing the arias from the movie. ãAnd pretty soon I went hoarse,ä he recalls.

For someone who had, until then, thought that music consisted of the likes of Iron Maiden (for those unaware of them: this is a British Heavy Metal Band) it was quite a revelation that another kind of music existed that was highly pleasurable, whether he had the singing technique for it or

The turning point came when young Joseph, during a visit to his aunt in the UK, borrowed her CD ãEssential Pavarotti 2ä and started singing Pavarotti arias. His aunt was so impressed with his voice that she urged the 15 year old to become a professional singer. Upon his return to Malta, Calleja auditioned for the local opera choir there and was instantly hired as Second Tenor.

He also took up formal studies in music, initially piano and music theory, and then voice with Paul Asciak, a Maltese tenor who sang in London in the 50ties. He went on to win several competitions, sang Macduff in Verdiâs Macbeth and has since been called to perform in Dresden, Munich and Covent Garden. Many people who heard him were impressed with the young singer, but one man was so enthusiastic about Calleja that he wanted to record an entire CD with him. He was the conductor Riccardo Chailly who says about Calleja: When I first heard Joseph Calleja, I was immediately struck by the lyric Italianate sound of the voice, but also by an impressive musical maturity. For some time I have not heard such a talent at this young age, with a sound harking back to a quality I though we had long lost.

In 2002, Decca invited Calleja for a first test recording. Jean-Hughes Allard, Vice President of Artist and Repertoire, remembers: ãThe result was spectacular. It emphasized a whole range of color and style that one only recollects from the greatest tenors.ä

The debut CD, simply called Tenor Arias, contains all the usual: Donizetti, Verdi, Cilea, Puccini. Calleja is being supported by the Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Milano Guiseppe Verdi, conducted by Riccardo Chailly. The CD debut is promising, with graceful phrasing and a soft lyrical timbre, but it also shows the limits of a young tenor who is still a diamond in the raw. He is awesome singing Donizetti but reaches his limits with Puccini. Especially the forte parts are still somewhat difficult for him but Calleja, who won the 1998 Caruso competition, seems to be a responsible young singer who can be trusted to carefully develop his voice ö the opportunities that lie in his throat are very promising indeed.

Tenor Arias


CD 475 250-2 SACD 470 646-2

Joseph Calleja Tenor

Orchestra Sinfonicae Coro di Milano Giuseppe Verdi

Conductor: Riccardo Chailly


Born: 1978 - Attard, Malta.

Educated: De La Salle College, Malta

Teacher: Paul Asciak, Maltese tenor (sung extensively in Italy and the United Kingdom inc. Covent Garden and WNO)

Debut: May 1997 - Macduff in Macbeth (Verdi), Astra Theatre, Gozo

Belvedere Competition, Vienna
Leicester in Maria Stuarda (Donizetti) for Netherlands Reisopera
Tour of Italy in concerts of operatic arias (with orchestra)

Nemorino in LâElisir dâamore (Donizetti), Valetta
Lind in Corgiâs Isabella (Pesaro Rossini Festival)
Winner of Caruso Competition
Liecrona in Zandonaiâs I Cavalieri di Ekubu (Wexford Festival)
Don JosŽ in scenes from Carmen (Wexford Festival)
Awarded the Festivalâs John Small Bursary

US debut as Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi in Spoleto, Charleston
German debut as Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni at Regensburg Festival
Prize-winner in Operalia Competition, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Remendado (Carmen), Brussels
Almaviva (The Barber of Seville), Lige
Rodolfo (La Bohme), Toronto and Dresden Semperoper

Ernesto (Don Pasquale), Brussels
Alfredo (La Traviata), Valletta

Duke (Rigoletto), Welsh National Opera, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Royal Theatre, Copenhagen
Rodolfo (La Bohme), Bregenz Festival, Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich, Frankfurt Opera
Signs Decca exclusive contract.

2004 onward
Elvino (La Sonnambula), Vienna State Opera
Rodolfo, Stockholm
Alfredo, Strasbourg, Welsh National Opera (2004), Covent Garden (2005)

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