Café Concert: Joseph Calleja

Thursday, January 19, 2012

VIDEO: Joseph Calleja performs Puccini and "O Sole Mio"

Joseph Calleja, a Maltese tenor in his mid 30s, has a voice unlike any other in opera today. Critics point to a rapid vibrato combined with an appealing sweetness as well as that unique "ping" that comes through on the high notes.

Sitting back in the WQXR Café recently, just moments after his performance of two vocal standards (see below), the burly singer surmised that his voice is reaching a new level of maturity. "I think that the voice has matured as of late, in the last couple of years, as it should," he said. "The tenor voice develops between the ages of 30 and 35 and it’s in its in its first prime. Then you enjoy the prime until you’re 55."

Calleja recently assumed the title role of Charles Gounod's Faust at the Metropolitan Opera, and is also enjoying the buzz generated by "The Maltese Tenor," his third solo album of operatic arias. As the old-Hollywood reference of the album title suggests, some find Calleja's vocalism has a classic, golden-age character. He doesn't deny that he has modeled his approach on singers from the early and middle part of the 20th Century.

"The press is partially right," he explained. "When were these operas written? What I sing was written between 1850 and 1925 or 1930. Obviously, if I want to sing these operas the way the composer wanted them to be sung, which is, I presume, the quest and the target of any conductor and cast, then you have to go and see what these [earlier singers] did. At the same time you try and dispose of the exaggerations and liberties they took."

Calleja rattles off a list of singers who have influenced him including Enrico Caruso, Giuseppe DeStafano and Jussi Bjorling.

Yet Calleja's first exposure to opera through watching the 1951 film "The Great Caruso" starring Mario Lanza, the tenor who waded deep into popular territory in the 1950s. He went on to buy albums by the Three Tenors, Andrea Bocelli as well as more traditional operas. Calleja said his next recording will, in fact, be a tribute to Lanza. "I don't know if I would be an opera singer had I not watched that movie," he said. "Mario Lanza was a catalyst. I always had a good voice but he made me realize it's an operatic voice."

Video: Amy Pearl; Sound: Edward Haber; Text: Brian Wise

Joseph Calleja & pianist Alan Hamilton Perform "O Sole Mio"

Joseph Calleja & pianist Alan Hamilton Perform Puccini's "E lucevan le stelle" from Tosca

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Comments [5]

An amazing talent, and apparently he can sing until he's blue in the face.

Jan. 23 2012 01:47 PM
Jim Thompson

Very interesting artcle on Joseph Calleja. As a broadcaster for almost all of my career I have heard many top ranked singers speak of Mario Lanza.

You might want to check out my program currently on the internet which I host and produce. My dream, of course, would be that the powers at WQXR would see the benefit of widening interest in the "Great Voices" by a program such as mine which promotes all the recordings the artists have recorded, not just their operatic works.

Please log on at:

Jim Thompson

Jan. 23 2012 08:02 AM
concetta nardone from Elmont, NY

Very fine singer. Thoroughly enjoyed the telecast of Hoffmann. He had some wonderful role models. His voice will become even more beautiful as it darkens in a few years.

Jan. 20 2012 10:07 AM
Les Bernstein from Miami, Florida

Wow! I'm one of the multitudes who'd love to hear Mr. Calleja sing anything he chooses. I'm one who loves hearing "Le belle forme discioliea dai veli!" in one breath; and I've no doubt Mr. Calleja can. Who am I to criticize the best lyric tenor to come along in years? I wish things were arranged so that we could have heard him in the "Faust" matinee' broadcast from the Metropolitan, but that aside, anytime I see his name on the roster I'll be listening with confidence and enjoyment. I'm playing "O Sole Mio" and "E Luchevan le stelle" again right now!

Jan. 20 2012 09:07 AM
Karen T. from Bayonne, NJ

What a lovely man.
Beautiful gestures...
Genuine emotion in his delivery...
sincerity and crispness in his ennuciation.
I loved every note he sang.

Jan. 19 2012 06:29 PM

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