Calleja: The Maltese Tenor

Calleja ups the stakes with a recital that pits him against the big boys

Author: 
David Patrick Stearns
Calleja: The Maltese Tenor

Calleja: The Maltese Tenor

  • (La) Bohème, 'Bohemian Life', Che gelida manina
  • (La) Bohème, 'Bohemian Life', O soave fanciulla
  • Simon Boccanegra, ~, O inferno! Amelia qui!
  • (Les) Contes d'Hoffmann, '(The) Tales of Hoffmann', Il était une fois à la cour d'Eisenach (Legendach)
  • Tosca, Recondita armonia
  • Tosca, E lucevan le stelle
  • Mefistofele, Dai campi, dai prati
  • Mefistofele, ~, Giunto sul passo estremo
  • Faust, ~, Salut! demeure chaste et pure
  • Manon Lescaut, ~, Tra voi, belle
  • Manon Lescaut, Donna non vidi mai
  • Manon, ~, Ah! fuyez, douce image
  • Luisa Miller, ~, Oh! fede negar potessi
  • (Un) ballo in maschera, '(A) masked ball', ~, Ma se m'è forza perderti
  • (Les) Pêcheurs de Perles, '(The) Pearl Fishers', De mon amie

Here Joseph Calleja has decisively entered the Three Tenors zone – and I wish he’d waited a few more years. His recording debut some five years ago showed an instantly recognisable voice and artistic sensibility that was favourably compared to Björling and Gedda. The voice had a wonderful boyish quality and heart-melting vulnerability. Now he’s singing excerpts from Tosca, Ballo in maschera and other spinto roles, and pushing his voice a bit more. His distinctive fast vibrato isn’t as fast as before – in the album notes he kind of apologises for it – but is less attractive and more aggressive when the voice is pushed hard.

Calleja can still get down to a pianissimo in a way that few can, such as in the Luisa Miller scene, which is one of the best items thanks to the way he gives the vocal line a flattering lilt. After his Covent Garden success in Simon Boccanegra, the inclusion of the Act 2 scena “O inferno” – another high-point – will be a welcome souvenir. But he sounds no more vocally or interpretatively precise with the Kleinzach song from The Tales of Hoffmann than he did at the Met last season. With so much more light than shade, the recital takes on a sameness.

Only occasionally do you sense that the arias are from roles Calleja hasn’t yet sung. And there are glimpses of his younger self in passages of “Ah! fuyez, douce image!” from Massenet’s Manon and the Pearl Fishers excerpt – “young Gedda” repertoire. But those are two arias out of 15. Calleja may well gain many more admirers from this disc but he’s also going to leave some behind.

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