Joseph Calleja, Tenor (*1978)
Giuseppe Verdi RIGOLETTO
"Questa o quella" - "E il sol dell'anima" - "La donna è mobile"
With Nino Machaidze, Soprano (*1983)
Conducted by Paolo Arrivabeni
Recorded live Metropolitan Opera House January 22, 2011
My personal opinion: With video No. 250, I would like to continue with a current singer. Looking over the field of today tenors, I believe only two can give audiences real thrills, and the Maltese Joseph Calleja (*1978) is one of them. At the turn of the millennium everyone was looking for successors to take over the scepter from the aging three tenors, and while some critics wrongly thought they had finally found one, the voice of Calleja flourished in the seclusion of the tiny island of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. He was only 19, an early bloomer, when he made his locally debut as MacDuff in Verdi's MACBETH. Italian conductor Riccardo Chailly heard him and praised: "For some time I have not heard such a talent at his young age, with a sound harking back to a quality I thought we had long lost."
Chailly and Decca company exposed the young Maltese with a first recital album; arias by Donizetti, Verdi, Cilea and Puccini. Ordinary the program, extraordinary the voice whose sound is reminiscent to old tenors from the often glorified 'Golden age of singing'. The most striking feature is a very fast vibrato, an idiosyncrasy and almost anachronistic attribute not everyone likes. Some speak of 'bleating voice with strong flutter', others call it 'terrible tremolo'. So his singing appears strange and old-fashioned to modern listening habits, but our ears are accostumed for a long time to loud and powerful 'spinto tenors', and there's risk to miss hearing the qualities of Calleja's chant: Smooth legato, ease in upper register, fineness of line and unspoilt renditions without use of histrionic effects.
There's to admit, his expression sometimes is one-dimensional, but one turns to Calleja for his pure singing and the splendour of his voice, not for his art of characterisations. We might term him with respect an 'ascetic' tenor, and this recalls another unique singer, Jussi Bjoerling, and Calleja with all his self-control, purism and good taste is perhaps one of the very few worth to be named a later successor of the great Swede - even if his top notes are less radiant and the slightly 'metallic' timbre is closer to Pavarotti.
Joseph Calleja began with Mozart, Bellini and Donizetti but wasn't a 'tenore di grazia'. Foreseeable the qualities of a growing up 'lirico spinto' with a slender but penetrating voice. Albeit possessing technical skills for the French repertoire, he exhudes little gallic elegance (virtues of Simoneau, Legay and Vanzo); meaning his sense for French style is not really profound. For Nadir's dream aria "Je crois entendre encore" he uses good 'voix-mixte' and, back to the Italian, well-controlled 'mezza voce' for Verdi's Duke in RIGOLETTO. The role is one of the most difficult in all Verdi; mainly written in the tricky zone of 'passaggio' with all its blending of chest and head voice - and that's why most tenors name "Parmi veder le lagrime" a hell of an aria. Puccini as well is often underestimated by young singers; there are many dangerous long-drawn-out phrases while the whole orchestra plays, and a singer has to force his voice to be heard about it. Good to know, Calleja so far has not tried to impress in Puccini with triumphant vocal behavior. He performed Pinkerton (Houston 2010) and Rodolfo (Chicago 2013) with restraint and focus on poetry, not effect.
Perhaps Calleja's career has not yet reached its peak, and if he chooses furthermore his roles with care, he will probably confirm his reputation as an exceptional tenor as well in future - and, who knows, maybe one day next generations remember him as the tenor who has revived and preserved the old style of singing. As Goethe said: "What glitters is born for the moment, but the genuine will not get lost for future days..."
* This is a discussion forum - so feel free to leave a comment and let us know your personal opinion about Joseph Calleja!