November 15, 2013

Opera singers, the internet and “trolls”…

I remember back in 2002, at the tender age of 24, I signed with Decca records. I had already sung leading roles in some major theatres but by and large my name was not that well known except for “promising tenor” status. My first CD released only a year later quickly changed that and suddenly, I became known throughout the opera world. Enthusiastically I surfed the internet to see how my CD was being received. Most of the press loved it but then I delved deeper into the opera forums, back then a new thing for me, and was quite shocked at how scathing and destructive some of these comments were. I am not going to lie to you. At first, and especially if you are a young singer, these comments will hurt. With time however an opera singer should develop a thick skin and quickly able to separate the wheat from the chaff.

But the question remains. Should an opera singer read “unofficial” reviews and comments from, more often than not, anonymous contributors? In my opinion the answer is, perhaps surprisingly, yes. If one is able to ignore trolls, whose only virtual existence seems to be to try and denigrate a particular singer due to their own pettiness or inadequacy, there is so much to learn from these “uncensored” comments which more often than not are quite honest albeit perhaps brutal at times. I find it healthy, to occasionally typing my name in a search engine and see what the general public truly thinks about my voice and nowadays I can immediately focus on the honest criticism and discard the rubbish.

It does take a kind of mentality that is rather saved by criticism than ruined by praise but you would be surprised by how much one can learn if you take your ego down a couple of notches and up the desire to improve by sometimes reading what people have to say about your art.








  1. Sue

    This is very interesting but personally I would not feel so confident in actively tracking down comments about myself or my work. But then perhaps I’m a little bit more delicate than you, or perhaps I would take such negative comments more to heart. I think we are far likely to remember negative comments than compliments but you are certainly right in that, if you can face it, sometimes such feedback is good in improving things.

    • admin

      I don’t believe in constructive criticism but simply in honest criticism. The latter can be highly complimentary or brutal. As long as its honest any artist shouldn’t mind. One has to take the good with the bad 🙂

  2. John Schweger

    Well, any comments from me on Opera-L or Opera News forums have all been positive for your voice right from the start. I recall the comments that some did not enjoy your vibrato and I was actually the opposite as I was reminded of the singers of the past. . . the vibrato adding color and emotion to the tone. You have nothing to fear from negative comments.

  3. rosetapiccina

    One of these days, watching a video of a succesful and aplauded opera singer in Youtube, I thought “Poor great artists, so brilliant, everybody is flattering them all the time. It must be difficult for them to grow as persons, and realize that we are human and mortal.”
    Yes, I think it must be healthy to take a look around and see that, in spite of all your talent and efforts, there will always be people who don’t like you or your voice or your acting.

  4. Gill

    Yes, I agree, read and listen to what people say about you.
    You will always learn, even when nothing is said – silence can often speak volumes.
    It takes wisdom and experience to filter what needs to be kept in mind and what can be dismissed.
    Experience comes with practice, and practice makes perfect.

  5. Rosa Ulacia

    En mi opinión su voz es la mas bella de la lirica actual con un vibrato natural que humaniza su canto, su línea de canto es a la antigua usanza, tiene unos bellos pianos, pero utiliza poco los reguladores, con lo cual limita la expresividad del canto.

  6. Courtney Gordon

    If these people are anonymous, and are too scared to actually tell us who they are, who do they think they are to criticize anyone? They clearly are too wishy-washy to stand by what they say and have their name attached to it so they can then kiss up to the people they criticize.

  7. Damian Ebejer

    I find what you have written so true and I particularly like the last paragraph. It is always good to find out what people think of your work, after all we are living with the living, and what we do we not only do it for ourselves but for the enjoyment of all who take note. Once an artist goes public he or she must accept the good with the bad comments and opinions…whether or not it makes a difference is another matter!

  8. Interesting comments. The anonymity afforded by the internet has led to some appalling comments on many subjects on many forums. I think it’s best to ignore the more extreme ones – just as one would ignore a rude slogan painted anonymously on a wall. If ever you want an objective view of how audiences love your voice, listen to the cheers in the Royal Albert Hall. Your recent Decca recording of Gabriele Adorno had me struggling to find a description, but I came up with the following: the vocal beauty and robustness of Bjorling, coupled with the elegance and grace of Schipa. Your performance in the Proms Verdi Requiem was heart-stopping – those beautifully-shaped phrases were better than I had ever expected to hear in live performance. And I am usually very hard to please, especially where tenors are concerned ;). Having seen you many times in London, there’s only one single negative thought I can conjure up. I hated the wig they made you wear in the ROH Boccanegra! But for all the rest – thank you, Mr Calleja.

  9. I think it’s useful to read any and all opinions about one’s work. At the end of the day, if an artist truly believes in him/herrself and their craft, they will be able to decipher constructive criticism from nonsense, and genuine appreciation of their talents vs. false adoration. of course time and wisdom do play a role – it’s all part of the trajectory of becoming an established artist.

    Joseph, you are doing great things and should be proud of these milestones. Enjoy your life and be happy always!

  10. Tony Caruana

    I admire your courage as well as your voice. Best wishes for the future.

  11. Percy Eugene Cartwright Jnr

    Well, I do not know. If one searches to improve could be ok. But not all of us are thick skinned. Many a career was destroyed due to unfair criticisms.

  12. Simone Camilleri

    It takes a very honest and humble person to be able to stomach some brutal criticism, a very clever one too.

  13. Svetlana Gladtsyna

    I have always highly valued the opera singers who have brains and strong personality, as I sincerely believe that having a good voice is only a part of success. Joseph’s post proves that he is definitely one of these. And that is why no criticism could possibly ruin his career. We all should mind that everything is a matter of opinion. You cannot satisfy everybody. It is vital to find your audience, and I am sure that Joseph Calleja has found them all over the world.I would also advise the fierce ‘critics’ to listen to somebody they like and not ‘torture’ themselves by the records of Calleja, Netrebko, DiDonato, Hvorostovsky etc. Also, I am absolutely with John Schweger about the vibrato. As one of my colleagues said: this adds sexuality to his voice. Why not? Most of the operas are about love and romance… Keep singing, young man and an excelent tenor, Josep Calleja!

  14. Antoinette Bertalanitz

    i love the opera,i must say that you are one of the best,every time i liston to your voice i get the chills!you are getting better with every area you sing keep up the good work,already looking forward for your new C.D. Tank you for giving us the peasure to hear your strong lovely voice

  15. Marika Mifsud

    When I hear you sing I get goose bumps, what a gift God has given you and like the faithful steward you put your talent into good use. Awguri and all the best to you and your lovely family.

  16. Ron

    If you have something to say good or bad and you don’t put your name to it then I would just say that they are very jealous people. If they don’t have any talent the don’t want anybody else to have it

  17. admin

    Thank you all! Some very interesting feedback.

  18. As long as the criticism is consrtutive! As Ron says, anybody who slates someone else is just jealous!
    Sometimes though I suppose we all have a sneaking desire to kinow what other people think of us!
    Anyway, I love your voice!

    • admin

      I actually don’t believe there is such a thing as constructive criticism. For me the latter is either honest or dishonest, no matter how complimentary or slating it can be. Thanks for your comment!

  19. Gill

    Admin – I think you have my cat as your avatar…

  20. Thomas Mansfield

    I have read the comments and one thing that has struck me about this man: his humility mixed with a sense of humour. I have lived in Malta for decades now and have nothing at all to do with the music industry – except for frequently listening to music. I do not attend live performances as I should but that is immaterial. Joseph Calleja’s voice has a richness and vibrance about it that is, in my opinion, quite unique. Watching ‘you tube’ close-ups and seeing the intensity of his “living the part” as he sings is something impressive indeed.
    With regard to his comments: There always have been, are – and always will be detractors everywhere. In every walk of life. That you choose to enter into the swamp where these unnamed trolls lurk and lash out at your work – and not just yours (anyone’s) – is an attestation of your humanity and yearning to improve still more. You have not allowed your success to inflate your ego. This is important. To plagiarise your own words: “you would be surprised by how much one can learn if you take your ego down a couple of notches and up the desire to improve”. Never lose sight of this and you will be a richer person for it. You aleady are. I wish you even more success on your continuing rise in worldwide popularity.

  21. Ann

    I think Only the very thick-skinned, masochistic or extremely self-confident could do this.

  22. Odeon

    Mr. Calleja, here is a normal, “unoficial” person speaking: due to you, Mr. Calleja, and due to Mrs Cecilia Bartoli i discovered the opera at the age of 30. May God bless you!

  23. Great post and good advice thank you 😉

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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?