Choir boy turns opera star

Malta-born opera singer Joseph Calleja will perform with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra at the Esplanade Concert Hall.
Malta-born opera singer Joseph Calleja will perform with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra at the Esplanade Concert Hall. PHOTO: SINGAPORE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA:

Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja - who will make his Singapore debut tonight - talks about his life, work and wine collection

Opera singer Joseph Calleja, who hails from the small European island of Malta, has been compared with legendary tenors such as Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras.

He will perform music by composers such as Mozart, Verdi and Puccini in a concert with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) tonight, which will be conducted by David Gimenez Carreras.

Calleja, 41, was only 19 when he made his opera debut as Macduff in Verdi's Macbeth at the Astra Theatre in Malta.

His recent roles include the title characters in productions of Faust and Les Contes d'Hoffmann at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

The Straits Times asks the tenor about his numerous roles, his wine cellar - which can reportedly hold 8,000 bottles - and the highlights of his upcoming set with the SSO.

You started singing in your church choir when you were 16 and then started formal training with Maltese tenor Paul Asciak. What sparked your interest in singing?

As far as I can remember, I have always sung - probably since the age of three. I cannot remember what sparked it, although it was American tenor Mario Lanza who gave me the opera bug.

Who is your favourite composer to sing?

It is a close tie between Verdi and Puccini. If I had to choose, it would be Puccini - no one pulls at the heartstrings like him.

You have played numerous opera roles, such as Mario Cavaradossi in Tosca and Pollione in Norma. Of the roles you have performed, which was the most challenging?

Hoffmann in The Tales Of Hoffmann (Les Contes d'Hoffmann) - it is a marathon of a sing and it challenges all your registers.

Which of these is your favourite role to date?

Cavaradossi in Tosca and Rodolfo in La Boheme. My character could be described as a mixture of the two roles.

  • BOOK IT / THE MALTESE TENOR: JOSEPH CALLEJA

  • WHERE: Esplanade Concert Hall, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Tonight, 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: $15 to $88 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg) or the SSO website (sso.org.sg)

Is there a singer or musician you would like to work with?

I am lucky to have worked with virtually all of the world's greatest singers.

If I could go back in time, I would love to work with Pavarotti and American soprano Maria Callas.

What is your daily routine like in terms of practising and honing your craft?

A performance day is for rest, saving my energy for the evening. If it is a study day, I usually do 30 minutes of vocalisations and around 60 to 90 minutes with my teacher or coach.

When you are not singing, what activities do you enjoy?Perhaps you can tell us about your wine cellar that can hold 8,000 bottles.

The capacity of my wine cellar is grossly exaggerated. But, yes, I am a wine lover and I have been collecting wines since the age of 20.

I also love rugged walks, sailing, scuba diving and cooking.

You have not performed here before. What do you expect the Singapore audience to be like?

I cannot wait to find out. I have no expectations so far.

I am very excited to see how the audience will react - and, of course, to work with the SSO and maestro Gimenez.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2020, with the headline 'Choir boy turns opera star'. Print Edition | Subscribe