Joseph Calleja

Joseph Calleja

Tenor

• Born 1978

Biography

Tenor Joseph Calleja has inspired, from reputable organs such as The New Yorker, comparisons with such legendary figures as Luciano Pavarotti and even Beniamino Gigli. In the words of Opera Vivrà, his voice "is marked by a distinctively bright shine, one that very much reminds of his native Malta."

Calleja was born in Attard, Malta, on January 22, 1979. His training was fairly brief and took place entirely in his home country. He was inspired to become a singer by the Mario Lanza film The Great Caruso when he was about 13. He joined a choir, began taking piano lessons, and started doing vocal exercises and solfège. It was not until 1994 that Calleja began voice lessons with tenor Paul Asciak, who said, "Over a period of three years Joseph's voice assumed many of the qualities of this old school of singing, and developed beautifully into a light, flexible and mellow instrument with both a distinctive timbre and a promising ringing top."

After those three years, Calleja began to make an international impact. He toured Italy with a program of operatic arias and made his non-Maltese debut in 1997 in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda with the Netherlands Reisopera. He won several major prizes, including one in Plácido Domingo's 1999 Operalia International Opera Competition, and those led to bigger operatic roles in Italy and increasingly around Europe and Britain. He made his U.S. debut as Rinuccio in Puccini's Gianni Schicchi at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. After the turn of the century came debuts at major European houses: he appeared for the first time at the Bayerische Staatsoper München and the Frankfurt Opera as Rodolfo in Puccini's La bohème, then made debuts as the Duke in Verdi's Rigoletto at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and the Royal Theatre, Copenhagen. He has often appeared at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, and in 2017-2018, he was featured in a production of Bellini's Norma at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. At home in Malta, he has performed an annual outdoor concert at the Granaries plaza in the city of Fosos; the first one featured pop tenor Michael Bolton, and later concerts have included other crossover collaborators.

Calleja released his first album, Tenor Arias, on the Decca label in 2004. The conductor was Riccardo Chailly, who called him "a voice that could match the past." He was named Gramophone magazine's Artist of the Year in 2012 and also headlined the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in London that year. He has continued to record for Decca, and in 2012 released on that label a tribute to Mario Lanza, the artist who had inspired him. Calleja's career as a solo recording artist picked up in the late 2010s with the recital Verdi in 2018 and with the 2020 album The Magic of Mantovani, where he was featured on vocal tracks newly added to classic light music (easy listening) recordings of the conductor and orchestra leader Mantovani.

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