“Only one lyric tenor on the scene today has the honeyed tone and ingratiating style to make comparisons to Pavarotti and Gigli seem serious, and it is Calleja, the man from Malta, who…is now maturing into an artist of the first rank.”  -New Yorker

Blessed with a golden-age voice that routinely inspires comparisons to “legendary singers from earlier eras: Jussi Björling, Beniamino Gigli, even Enrico Caruso” (Associated Press), Maltese-born Joseph Calleja has quickly become one of the most acclaimed and sought-after tenors today. His expansive discography and frequent appearances on the world’s leading opera and concert stages prompted NPR to hail him as “arguably today’s finest lyric tenor,” and led to his being voted Gramophone magazine’s 2012 Artist of the Year. A Grammy-nominated recording artist for Decca Classics, he recently released his fifth solo album for the label, Amore.

Calleja was only 19 when he made his operatic debut as Macduff in Verdi’s Macbeth at the Astra Theatre in Malta, shortly before winning an award in the Hans Gabor Belvedere Competition that launched his international career. He went on to win the 1998 Caruso Competition in Milan and was a prize winner in Plácido Domingo’s Operalia in 1999, the year of his U.S. debut at the Spoleto Festival. Since then Calleja has gone on to appear with most of the world’s great opera companies, including the Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, Vienna State Opera, Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu, Dresden’s Semperoper, the Frankfurt Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, and Munich’s Bavarian State Opera. Having sung an impressive 28 leading roles to date, he is noted for his portrayals of Verdi’s Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto and Alfredo in La traviata; Rodolfo in Puccini’s La bohème and B. F. Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly; Donizetti’sEdgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, Nemorino in L’elisir d’amore, and Leicester in Maria Stuarda; the title characters of Gounod’s Faust and Roméo et Juliette; Tebaldo in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi; and Don Ottavio in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. He also created the role of Lind in the world premiere production of Azio Corghi’s Isabella at Pesaro’s Rossini Opera Festival.

Highlights from recent operatic seasons include the title characters in new productions of Faust and Tales of Hoffmann at the Metropolitan Opera; Alfredo in La traviata opposite Renée Fleming, Adorno in Simon Boccanegra alongside Plácido Domingo, and another turn in the title role of Faust at Covent Garden; new productions of La bohème, opposite Anna Netrebko, and La traviata at the Lyric Opera of Chicago; Maria Stuarda alongside Joyce DiDonato in concerts with the Deutsche Oper Berlin; and a new staging of Rigoletto at the Bavarian State Opera.

Calleja appears extensively in concert throughout the world, singing with leading orchestras at summer festivals, including Salzburg, and in outdoor concerts in front of tens of thousands of people in Malta, Paris, and Munich. He was the featured soloist at the 2011 Nobel Prize Concert in Stockholm, was selected by the Maltese president to perform a private concert for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, and toured Germany with soprano Anna Netrebko. After co-headlining 2012’s Last Night of the BBC Proms, Calleja returned to the London festival in 2013 for a gala performance at the Royal Albert Hall and an open-air concert marking the Last Night of the Proms in Hyde Park. As a recitalist, he has performed in Japan and throughout Europe.

Having begun his summer singing Macduff and Alfredo at the Munich Opera Festival, Calleja goes on to perform gala concerts in Saarbrücken, Copenhagen, Aalborg, Prostejov, and Moscow. He also presents his annual open-air gala concert in his native Malta, where his guests will be Bryn Terfel and Leona Lewis. During the 2014-15 season, he returns to the Met for Lucia di Lammermoor and Macbeth, the latter of which co-stars Zeljko Lucic and Netrebko and will launch the new season of the Met’s celebrated Live in HD series. In the coming season, at the Royal Opera House Calleja makes his role debut as Riccardo in a new treatment of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera and reunites with Netrebko for La bohème; and at Deutsche Oper Berlin he sings Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor and portrays Ruggero in Rolando Villazón’s new staging of Puccini’s La rondine. The season also brings performances at a host of international venues that include Québec’s Club Musical de Québec, Lisbon’s Gulbenkian Museum, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, the Vienna Konzerthaus, and the Gstaad Festival, where Calleja will be joined by Diana Damrau, Thomas Hampson, Antonio Pappano, and the London Symphony Orchestra. In the U.S. he makes recital debuts at Kansas City’s Folly Theater and Boston’s Jordan Hall.

As an exclusive Decca Classics recording artist since 2003, the tenor boasts an extensive discography that includes complete operas and concert repertoire, as well as five solo albums: The Golden Voice, Tenor Arias, The Maltese Tenor, Be My Love: A Tribute to Mario Lanza, and Amore. His videography enjoys similar success, and it was his portrayal of Alfredo in the Royal Opera House’s DVD/Blu-ray release of La traviata, in which he co-stars with Renée Fleming and Thomas Hampson, that earned Calleja his first Grammy nomination. His rendition of the Verdi aria “La donna è mobile” is featured on the soundtrack of No Reservations, a 2007 motion picture starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart. He made his Hollywood debut in 2014’s The Immigrant, in which he portrays the legendary tenor Enrico Caruso in a cast with Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, and Jeremy Renner.

Calleja has been profiled in New York’s Wall Street Journal and London’s Times, among other newspapers, and has graced covers of magazines such as Opera News. An increasingly frequent face on television, he has appeared on such programs as CNN’s Business Traveller, BBC Breakfast, and the Andrew Marr Show, and been featured in numerous internationally televised concerts. In 2013, he made his U.S. network television debut performing in a Kennedy Center Honors tribute to preeminent American soprano Martina Arroyo on CBS.

Born in Malta in 1978, Joseph Calleja began singing at the age of 16, first in his church choir and then in formal training with Maltese tenor Paul Asciak. One of his native land’s biggest celebrities, Calleja was selected to serve as Malta’s first cultural ambassador in 2012, and earlier this year he was named a brand ambassador for Air Malta. Calleja recently teamed up with Malta’s Bank of Valletta to form the BOV Joseph Calleja Foundation, which will serve to help children and families in need. Calleja is the recipient of the 2014 International Opera Awards’ Readers’ Award.

Joseph's Blog

November 15th, 2015

Men in Black

Men dressed in black shooting indiscriminately, young people fleeing in terror, some leaving trails of blood behind them – broken bodies dangling from windows three stories above the street. People fleeing and trampling over the dead trying to escape the line of fire… Is this the latest Dan Brown novel? No, this happened yesterday in Paris and was the second attack in less than a year.

I sometimes get the impression that the majority of people have become desensitized to footage of fellow human beings being slaughtered in the middle of a major European city. Modern technology allows us to video people trying to flee whilst the terrorists take pot shots at them. One such video showed a young man limping leaving a trail of blood behind him, another was very bravely pulling along the body of another of the fallen. Young women were hanging from windows by the tips of their fingers and others were crying for help in the most unimaginable distress. When exactly will enough be enough?  Not since World War II has there been a time when Europe needs to stand united and legislate new laws that give utmost protection to the bona fide immigrants and take to task those who are here just to incite violence, thinking that they can impose their archaic and often barbaric way of life upon us Europeans. Some might argue (at least in the case of France) that the hatred is born and bred at home and the attackers might be holding French passports. Well in the latter case new laws have to be passed with haste to allow the government to strip citizenship and take all the necessary precautions and actions to extrapolate these evil human beings from society permanently. Something has to change and something has to give but will it?

Nor is it a problem exclusive to Europe. Lebanon, Syria, Iraq etc. and no these acts are not less serious because they happen to happen “there.” Scores of videos showing decapitation of anyone who doesn’t agree with their barbaric ideology, children shot point blank and/or buried alive, the rape of countless women, the selling of young girls in slave markets and all this in 2015. Need I continue? Isn’t it high time that the Western World takes a no nonsense approach and sends a clear message to the perpetrators and those who support them. Yes we do know who they are. We have known for years but they are “allies” so we cannot really do anything about it or so we think. Just google Clinton Wiki Leaks and those who are uninformed are in for quite a nasty surprise. Then again I might be out of my depth discussing the above – I am sure there are those who will say as much and they would probably be right. However there is one thing I know very well – our entertainment. We do take the latter very seriously in the West and it is ingrained in our culture…

Many will ask  why I am bothering to write “off topic” and how this is relevant to classical music. Oh, but it is very relevant and this recent attack could indeed mark the end of live performances, theatre, cinemas etc. Hyperbole? Think about it – how many attacks will it take in Europe for people to start avoiding theatres, stadiums and restaurants? Few other venues lend themselves better to be used as a platform for mass carnage than a space where hundreds of people sit in close proximity to each other whilst they enjoy themselves with their guard let down. Make no mistake, these terrorists new exactly what they were doing and they drove the stake right at the heart of one of the world’s most beautiful cosmopolitan cities. I am afraid to say that if such an attack would happen in Malta it would wipe tourism out for months if not years, crippling the industry altogether. Globally change for the worse has already happened. How many opera productions were modified, changed or dropped altogether because it “might” offend some minority or other? I am also guilty of the latter – in the 2012 proms I wanted to dress as a Knight of Malta but had second thoughts after someone pointed out to me that it would be seen as a provocation by some since it evoked memories of the crusades! For crying out loud,  it is the year 2015 and some living with us in the streets of London and Paris seem to think that the price for Blasphemy should be death – think Charlie Hebdo and the Scandinavian incidents. A simple youtube search will serve you with an alarming number of results of some of these “protests” and some of the “messages” conveyed during such rallies.

What is sure is that something  has to change and something has to give. We can’t ignore helping the genuine refugees who are fleeing this exact same massacres in their troubled lands but we can’t continue to succumb to pressure to give up our way of life or our own security at the same time. It is a very tough act to balance. A no nonsense approach with  people who refuse to integrate or are trouble makers strikes me as a very civil, fair and logical solution to the plight Europe is facing.  Yes, we need to take serious action against those who hate our way of life and we would have the full support of the real Muslim moderates who are escaping that way of life anyway. Think of the Australian model – they seem to handle this nonsense in a concise and strong way.

Priorities must be put in the right order. Mediterranean is in turmoil  with scores of men, women and children drowning and washing up on beaches, hundreds of thousands fleeing persecution and certain death from countries like Iraq and Syria, the ever growing threat of global terrorism and an ever growing dangerous far right movement in the Western world, yet what some want us to worry about in Malta is whether a Muslim woman can wear a “Niqab” or “Burka” in public. This mollycoddling and fake liberalism has to stop. These absolutely ridiculous requests and expectations have to be ignored and focus must be directed to the issues that matter.

I am inclined to think that a family of refugees fleeing the threat of beheadings, rape, slavery and wanton murder would not be concerned about Christian symbolism such as Father Christmas, Baby Jesus and the occasional cross. It is neither racist nor bigoted to be proud of our way of life. We don’t have to change for anyone and the real, moderate Muslims will appreciate and embrace the new culture that took them in and they will be thankful that they are in a safe place where they can go about their business in peace.