November 10, 2010

Recital | Theater Regensburg, November 2010



Maltese Tenor Joseph Calleja Wins Over the Audience in RegensburgThe atmosphere in the pleasant lounge adjoining the lobby of the Theater am Bismarckplatz, one of the many architectural jewels in the Central Bavarian town of Regensburg on 13 November was the usual mood before what the Germans like to call a “gala”: Accustomed to challenging encounters with ponderous culture in both the theatre and the concert hall, audiences occasionally treat themselves to a lighter evening by bringing in some au courantstar on the musical horizon with a relatively short presentation of old favourites to put a thin layer of artistic frosting on the rich cake of a week-end event designed as a chance to see and be seen. Invariably predictable, it generally features the local theatre orchestra and some high-end imported celebrity in a programme of yesteryear’s operatic or concert hits, greeted by the kind of polite applause that reminded pianist conductor André Previn of the muffled sound of ladies in white kid gloves palpating the posterior of a poodle.

Occasions like these are often treated as cultural obligations prior to the main event, and the stellar talents brought in to spangle the night frequently give performances they might just as well have phoned in, while the public response was summed up with macabre wit in a remark made several years ago by the late Viennese star bass-baritone Walter Berry, who after just such an evening asked the impresario how he was planning to get that capacity crowd back to the morgue.

Regensburg is an upmarket jewel box of a town, still profiting from the largesse of the ruling family, the Princes of Thurn und Taxis, who invented the international institution of the post office back in the 16th century and continued to own it for centuries, showering the profits from these courier services on the neighbourhood, with impressive edifices of all kinds, surrounding St. Peter’s, one of the most magnificent Gothic cathedrals in Europe, where the present Pope’s older brother, Georg Ratzinger, once led the world-renowned “Sparrows” boys’ choir.

The assemblage gathered in the handsome theatre for some appetising musical fare presented by an artist from one of those “M” islands in the Mediterranean – Mallorca? Mykonos? Marmara? whatever – where some have enjoyed a beach holiday or sent their kids for language lessons, were about to get appreciably more than they had bargained for when an important operatic artist self effacingly stepped onto their stage, acknowledged the welcoming applause and proceeded to bring worlds of profundity to vibrant life before their eyes and ears, turning old chestnuts into banquets of deeper significance.

Ably accompanied by the first-rate conducting of Regensburg’s music director, Kyoto-born Maestro Tetsuro Ban leading a fairly indifferent and under rehearsed theatre orchestra, Joseph Calleja, using only the evocative power of a major voice and the total interconnection of mind, heart and soul as his tools of communication, opened new and previously undiscovered worlds of meaning in music other tenors belt out without much involvement as tried and true crowd pleasers before they grab the money and run.

Opening with Nemorino’s little entrance aria from Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, Calleja suddenly transformed himself into a naïve bumpkin, just out of his teens, trying to understand the new sensation he feels at the sight of his beloved, then moving on, purified by the sight of a hidden tear to appreciate what it means to love and be loved – anyone who understands Italian rejoiced in the way Calleja imbued every syllable with native accuracy, and anyone who understands love knew more about it from a top-class vocal rendition seemingly emerging from the throat of an innocent kid.

Retaining his crystalline diction along with his highly developed musical and emotional intelligence, Calleja took the audience through what Richard Wagner called a Gesamtkunstwerk, a work of art not restricted to a single expressive form, coupled with what William Shakespeare referred to as the ages of man, moving on from the innocent Nemorino to the young nobleman Macduff from Shakespeare and Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth, bewailing the foul murder of his young family at the hands of the protagonist’s hired killers, then touching on the decency of the King of Sweden in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera sacrificing a deeply-held passion in the interest of human decency, while suspecting that the tragedy might end in his own demise. He theneHe the completecd the first half of the evening with the revery of artist Mario Cavaradossi, whose doom has been sealed, reflecting one last time on all he had loved and lost in “E lucevan le stelle from Giacomo Puccini’sTosca.

Following the interval, Calleja continued operatically, again plumbing the depths of Goethe’s Werther in an aria from the operatic version of that poet’s story by Jules Massenet, before turning to one of his own discoveries, “Io conosco un giardino” from the opera Maristella by little-known Italian composer Giuseppe Pietri, a piece well worth unearthing, then concluding the regular programme with a majestic prayer to the sovereign of heaven in another piece taken by Massenet from a great work of literature Le Cid by the immortal Pierre Corneille.

By this point, the initially stolid crowd of provincial sophisticates had been transformed into a raging crowd of enthusiasts that would have given the massed groupies at a rock concert a run for their money, rising to their feet for one standing ovation after another, simply refusing to let the tenor from Malta – right, that’sthe name of that island! – leave the stage.

All the traditional war horses passed in review, with a something extra in each presentation, Torna a Sorrento overflowed with nostalgia, Calleja’s voice soared like the migrating swallows – one hopes widely circumventing Gozo – evoked in the lyrics of Non ti scordar di me, and he then capped the evening with O sole mio, shining the radiant sun down on his own beloved Mediterranean shores in bafflingly authentic Neapolitan dialect. This final encore was received with such frantic enthusiasm that he had to repeat it.

All in all, an audience that had shown up for a little cultural hors d’œuvre before a diverting evening of handshakes, kiss-kiss and chit-chat, found itself treated with a nourishing musical feast it will need more than the rest of the week-end to digest completely.

Donald Arthur


Richard Heldt, Mittelbayerische Zeitung, November 15, 2010

Boundless Enthusiasm for the Star and the Orchestra

Song: Not all the cheers were for tenor Joseph Calleja. The Regensburg musicians also came in for their share of applause.REGENSBURG. His itinerary in November includes Houston, Regensburg and Toronto, after that the New York Met; his homeland of Malta and Munich, where audiences will be able to hear him conclude the year as Nemorino in “L’elisir d’amore”. Joseph Calleja ranks among the younger tenors who are enjoying world-wide success.

Time and Again at the Danube

In Regensburg, he made his German début twelve years ago as Don Ottavio in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” on Haidtplatz, and returned in 2004 to take part in the gala concert commemorating the 200th anniversary of the theatre. His voice, back then totally lyric, has increased in volume and power – it now easily fills the huge space of the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

The Philharmonic Orchestra opened the evening with Donizetti’s overture to “Don Pasquale”, a difficult piece with a lot of rapid tempo changes, playing with verve and energy coupled with an appropriate portion of lightness – the first of several impressive orchestral contributions to the evening. Tetsuro Ban put the orchestra through its paces with lively, springy gestures and a solid beat.

Calleja began his recital with the two Nemorino arias from Donizetti’s “L’elisir d’amore”, including the ultimate tenor favorite “Una furtive lagrima”. (“A furtive tear”), in which the overtone-rich metal of his voice was artfully combined with melting lyricism. In Macduff’s Romanza “Ah! La paterna mano!” (“Ah, the father’s hand.”) from Verdi’s “Macbeth” he revealed refinement in bel canto art with a long breath, and glowing lines in the upper register and delicate messa-di-voce effects in crescendo and diminuendi. Here, he remained lyrical, moving on in Riccardo’s “Ma, se me forza perderti” (“I have been forced to lose you.”) from Verdi’s “Un ballo in maschera” to the lirico spinto approach. Throughout the evening, it was quite clear that he will ultimately make this vocal category his own. Cavaradossi’s farewell to life, “E lucevan le stelle” (“And the stars were aglow”) from Puccini’s “Tosca” ranks beside “Nessun dorma” from “Turandot” as one of the great audience favorite Puccini arias. Here, Calleja gave the emotion in the music free rein without in any way descending to the melodramatic.

Before that, the orchestra had brilliantly performed the ballet music from Verdi’s “Macbeth”, a sumptuous piece from the composer’s instrumental music, revived from the past. The intermezzo from Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” stood out thanks to the precise unison playing in the strings, as well as the arc of tension rising gradually to the highest level.

A Master Also in the Lighter Repertoire

The orchestra began the second part of the evening with ballet music from Gounod’s “Faust”, and Gallic elegance and esprit dominated in the first part and the interchange between attack and rocking cajolery in the second. Calleja sang Werther’s aria “Pourquoi me reveiller?” (“Why awaken me?”) from Massenet’s eponymous opera, which ideally suited his voice, which radiated with warm glow and touching melancholy. The “Mediation” from the same composer’s “Thaïs” can easily dissolve into shallowness. The orchestra’s leader Johannes Plewa, by contrast presented it with superior noblesse before the tenor returned with the melodically sweeping aria “Io conosco un giardino” /”I know a garden”) from the operetta “Maristella” by Giuseppe Pietri with plenty of long breath and luxuriant tone. The darkly foreboding intermezzo from Alfredo Catalani’s “La Wally” brought us to the finale, in which Calleja set an effective climax to the program with the aria “Ah, tout est bien fini” (“All has concluded well”) from Massenet’s rarely heard opera “Le Cid”,

Boundless enthusiasm after each piece – both for the guest star and for Tetsuro Ban and the orchestra, which merited plenty of extra praise. Then five encores, featuring tenor showpieces, “Mattinata”, which Ruggiero Leoncavallo wrote for Enrico Caruso, “O sole mio” (complete with the Pavarotti trill in the repeat); Beniamno Gigli’s “Non ti scordar di me” and “Torna a Surriento”, a declaration of love for the town of Sorrento. Not only Calleja, but also conductor and orchestra revealed themselves to be past-masters in the field of light classics with a rock-solid sense of style.

Richard Heldt
Mittelbayerische Zeitung, November 15, 2010
Translated by Donald Arthur


Gisela Schmöger

Ever since Joseph Calleja made his German début as Don Ottavio in Regensburg, he has felt a special connection with the city, time and again finding the time for concert appearances in this wonderful mediæval town. For his fans, these dates are special opportunities to hear him beyond the hurly burly of the major opera houses and concert halls in a smaller venue, and enjoy the personal atmosphere provided by the approximately 520-seat Theater am Bismarckplatz.

On the evening, in addition to arias from his core repertoire, such as “L’elisir d’amore” (“Quanto e bella” and “Una furtiva lagrima”) and “Macbeth” (“Ah, la paterna mano”), Calleja also offered his audience selections from operas he has not yet sung on stage, for example “Le Cid” by Jules Massenet (“Ah, tout est bien fini”), “Un ballo in maschera” (“Ma se me forza perderti”) and “Tosca” (“E lucevan le stelle”). One definite must on the programme, “Io conosco un giardino” from “Maristella” by Giuseppe Pietri, which has almost become something like his trade mark. With his soft-timbred and yet masculine tenor, with a sound that comfortably fills the house, and his fine-tuned phrasing, he again thrilled his audience. Calleja was accompanied by the Philharmonic Orchestra of Regensburg under the direction of General Music Director Toshiro Ban. Although we could hear during many of the arias that the rehearsal time for the singer with the orchestra had been fairly short, in the purely instrumental pieces – such as the overture to Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale”, the intermezzo from“Manon Lescaut” by Giacomo Puccini and the intermezzo from“La Wally” by Alfredo Catalani – the orchestra managed to put in a convincing performance with its homogeneous, full sound and well-differentiated interpretation. At the end, the enthusiastic audience demanded and got five encores, including “O sole mio”, “Non ti scordar di me” and “Torna a Surriento”-

The subsequent autograph hour made the evening perfect for the fans. We just hope that Joseph Calleja’s performance schedule will continue to find room for a concert in Regensburg.

Gisela Schmöger, Der neue Merker
Translated by Donald Arthur


Stefan Rimek, November 16, 2010

There is a whole bunch of impressive tenor stars in the generation following Plácido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and José Carreras, and yet the native Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja rises well above this group. His popularity, which lured quite a few of his fans from great distances to his guest concert with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Regensburg to the sold-out Regensburg theater am Bismarckplatz, has to do with his incredibly easy and agreeable style. And of course with his characteristic voice, which fascinates the hearer, and which he knows how to use in every nuance.

In the arias by Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini, Massenet and Pietri, which he performed in Regensburg, everything came together perfectly. Right in the introductory aria, “Quanto e bella” from Donizetti’s “L’elisir d’amore” we could hear an exemplarily clean and understandable diction and a captivatingly powerful and clear voice. Likewise from “L’elisir” came “Una furtiva lagrima” and here Calleja also revealed, beside his perfect coloratura, how silken and gentle he can sound when he reins in his voice.

In every number on the programme, we could distinctly sense the way Joseph Calleja identifies with the characters he sings in the operas, and virtually experiences their characters and emotions. With touching warmth, he ended “Io conosco un giardino” from Giuseppe Pietri’s “Maristella”, and after a powerful rendering of “Ah, tout est bien fini” from Massenet’s “Le Cid”, the euphoric applause made it cle4ar that more than one encore would follow. All in all, there were five of them, among them two performances of the star tenor showpiece “O solo mio”, greeted both times with frenetic applause.

The Philharmonic Orchestra of Regensburg under the direction of General Music Director Tetsuro Ban developed a great sensitivity for the dynamic nuances and played convincingly together. The ensemble gave a beautiful rendering of the “Méditation” from Jules Massenet’s “Thaïs”, in which the leader Johannes Plewa performed an enchantingly soft violin solo. Only a little faux paswhen one of the string players interrupted a tacet moment during the heartily performed ballet music from Gounod’s “Faust” must be mentioned here, but it hardly mattered in view of the general excellence of this intoxicating acoustic experience.

Stefan Rimek, Donaupost, November 16, 2010
Translated by 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?