October 28, 2008

Lucia di Lammermoor | Frankfurt Opera, October-November 2008


28 October 2008


If Regietheater didn’t exist, singer’s opera would be a pleonasm. What is an opera other than a sung drama? The overemphasis of the scenic aspect has occasionally caused us to forget what Verdi must have surmised when he laconically stated that the best Desdemona was still the one who sang the best. One might even call a Walter Felsenstein as witness for the prosecution, who astutely confessed that his Regietheater was a solution for the singers that he didn’t have. Meanwhile a whole armada of clever stage directors has been able to demonstrate that the real reasons for Regietheater are a response to decoration orgies and the stand-and-deliver school of acting. The latest première at the Frankfurt Opera with Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” made something even more important audible: that great singing has the drama infused in it. Wise stage directors may not necessarily be out of place even with Donizetti, but an inconsequential stating still cannot diminish the overwhelming impression when an artist like the young Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja sings an Edgardo, in which – totally in the spirit of Donizetti – every melisma is a declaration of love and every chest tone conjures up the inevitability of impending tragedy.            The Frankfurt Opera under its General Manager Bernd Loebe has often demonstrated how fabulous singing and imaginative staging can join together to make a real occasion. With the grandiose Calleja, it has now succeeded in scoring a real casting coup: he is an intelligent tenore di grazia for whom intelligence is nevertheless no impediment to the immediacy of musical expression, not least because no technical inadequacies intrude between execution and presentation. His legato phrasing is as phenomenal as is his art of coloration within a melodic line. And he doesn’t force. He has the radiant power to fill the most lyrical pianissimo – of which he is not the least afraid – with life, a skill that allows him also to present his messa di voce quite naturally. It is hard to believe he ascribes to Pavarotti’s statement that singing consists of ninety per cent head and ten per cent heart.

In the Frankfurt production, the title role of “Lucia di Lammermoor” was taken by his wife, Moldavian soprano Tatiana Lisnic, who approaches her murderously difficult role somewhat unstably with wavering intonation and a sizable vibrato, but then finds a kind of vocal foothold in her duets with Joseph Calleja’s warm timbre and finally rises in her great mad scene to an unusually stirring lyrical artistry of expression.

Among the vocal qualities of this performance is the fact that the other roles are also cast with above-average talent – with a Bálint Szábo as a fatherly-concerned Raimondo with fulsomely sonorous basso tones, Katharina Magiera as chambermaid Alisa, whose distinctive-sensuous mezzo, trained by Hedwig Fassbinder in Frankfurt, gives rise to great expectations, and finally George Petean as Enrico, Lucia’s evil brother and manipulator of the self-serving intrigue that drives the plot, with a powerful baritone that blends excellently with the character of Calleja’s voice. Peter Marsh as the ill‑fated Lord Arturo Bucklaw and Michael McCown as Normanno were on the same high level as the principals, and also the circumspect Roland Boer on the podium of the inspired opera orchestra and chorus offered an appealing performance.

Great applause for the musical qualities mixed at the end with shrill expressions of dissatisfaction for the staging team around director Matthew Jocelyn, set designer Alain Lagarde and costume designer Eva-Mareike Uhlig, who transformed the conflict of Scottish clans with its “Romeo and Juliet” conflict, in defiance of Sir Walter Scott’s novel, into a hostile take-over battle between newspaper publishers. With the same plausibility one might also have staged the story as a dispute between the fan clubs of Arsenal London and the FC Liverpool. The fact that Donizetti’s bel canto was not interfered with is the most positive thing that can be said about it.


30 October 2008
“Casting the principal roles with internationally known stars lent glamour to the performance without reducing it to a showcase for bravura numbers. Tatiana Lisnic, whose grand vocal potential came primarily to the fore in the so-called “Mad Scene”, brought out Lucia’s transformation from victim to rebel in every nuance. Her husband and operatic partner, Joseph Calleja, outshone the degradation of his opponents’ grimy plot with the glory of his powerful and concurrently smooth and supple tenor.”


“Were it not for the grandiose Joesph Calleja, who sang Edgardo with great suppleness and security of style and George Petean as a solid, evil Enrico, the Frankfurt Opera would have a hard time retaining its second place in the ranking of German opera houses.”


“The second première in the big house was devoted to Donizetti’sLucia di Lammermoor, a work that from the beginning has functioned as a showcase for the demonstration of vocal agility. Well aware of the relevance of this “bel canto factor”, General Manager Bernd Loebe spared no effort or expense to engage Joseph Calleja, Tatania Lisnic and George Petean, an internationally sought-after solo trio, with which the Frankfurt audience is well familiar from earlier appearances. […] Calleja as Edgardo is worthy of the highest praise. Since the house début of the young Maltese artist five years ago, his sumptuous voice has gained enormously, growing both in full-lyric glow as well as metallic power. The fact that this is a natural development was made clear by the undiminished quality and cultivation of his performance: his unforced vocalism, perfect legato, hall-filling piani and glorious top notes were all world format.”


“Joseph Calleja’s sensitivity, his phrasing art and his unusual timbre make him the ideal suffering lover.”


“The Frankfurt Opera presented Donizetti’s bel canto opera on Sunday with an all-star cast. The title role was sung by the renowned Moldavian soprano Tatiana Lisnic, and the role of Edgardo gave us a golden opportunity once again to see – and even more importantly – hear the Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja, for whom the Frankfurt Opera was one of the springboards to his international career. The two are also a couple in real life – they significantly became acquainted on the stage of the New York Metropolitan Opera. […] The tenor with the unmistakable lyrically powerful vocal sound thrilled the audience in every phase of his role.”


“Oh, God!” sighed the lady in the third row, and in view of this classic operatic death, we can only second the emotion. He sang heart-rendingly, this Edgardo, and then he has to plunge a little knife into the stately sounding board of his magnificent voice!
Donizetti’s masterwork Lucia di Lammermoor in this new Frankfurt production should really be called “Edgardo di Ravenswood”. Tenor Joseph Calleja really stole the show from his colleagues with an outstanding, powerfully supple interpretation of this role..”


“Joseph Calleja presented an Edgardo who emotional ferocity and vulnerability reaches the same intensity as Tatiana Lisnic. He is also eminently capable of lending his sorrow and pain the kind of grand, dramatic, tautly intense and majestically sung phrases one rarely gets to hear.”


“Then we have Calleja, an Italo tenor to die for, rebellious, steely, yet weightless in the upper register.”


“Joseph Calleja, with a baritone-hued, warm timbre to his emotionally charged tenor voice (Edgardo), portrayed a decent man, without affectation […]”


“In the short space of five years, Joseph Calleja has developed almost into a heroic “tenore di grazia” and really sings phrases he can control from forte all the way down to the softest piano, and the flutter in his voice has faded into the background. The voice comes across almost as huge.” 


March/April 2009 Issue

“Enthusiastic thumbs up for Joseph Calleja’s Edgardo […] It could have been very frustrating if it weasn’t for the Maltese tenor Calleja, whose voice is about as perfect as you can get for this repertoire, combining the strength of a lyric tenor with the nimbleness of a tenore di grazia. It was intense, controlled and coloured by the sweetest vibrato imageginable. Sung with the sort of energy that was once the preserve of Luciano Pavarotti, to whom he has more than a passing resemblance: a similarly sturdy size-which no doubt will similarly balloon – and rudimentary acting skills. He’s also quite obviously a born star…”

All translations from German to English: Donald Arthur

Joseph's Blog

May 16th, 2016

Quo Vadis Eurovision and other stories

Malta did not win the Eurovision but lo and behold the sun still rose and the island (the center of the known universe) still spun…

My two cents is that Ira Losco gave a really good performance and that the whole presentation was excellent. She shouldn’t have performed cause she is pregnant? Come off it – I have performed repeatedly with pregnant opera singers well into their 7th and 8th month of pregnancy and trust me when I say that rehearsing and performing for a full opera production is much more physically demanding than a couple of days at the Eurovision. Of course there are those who know much better than the undersigned and who went on to say that the presentation was a tad “camp”…oh the irony when one considers that the Eurovision is the campest of them all.

Meanwhile, this wouldn’t be Malta and the Eurovision wouldn’t be the Eurovision unless its politicized to the exhaustible hilt. The inevitable “mud slinging competition,” which we will see a lot of in the coming 22 months, ensued and even yours truly (inexplicably) ended up in the midst of the fray, in yet another “supernova” in a tea cup. The Eurovision suddenly became an interchangeable bullet to be used ad nauseam by both sides much like bitter parents who use their innocent children during disputes.  I have always found sycophants interesting, even amusing but they will not be getting the much desired Streisand effect from me, thank you very much. It is part of human nature after all to conjure conspiracies and we are not going to let the simple truth get in the way of some exciting and convenient fiction.

Speaking of “conjuring” is it me or is a company advertising real estate using a chap “connected” with the tragic and unnecessary death of an underage girl? It must be a clone or a”doppleganger”, otherwise this would be the epitome of bad taste and a 100 shades of wrong. Don’t get me wrong I am all for “second chances” and all of that but shouldn’t there be due process first? After all Lisa Marie didn’t get a second chance did she?