Blog

March 30, 2015

Tracheitis – a singer’s worst nightmare?

It is without doubt that trauma to the vocal folds is a singer’s worst nightmare. Burst veins, nodules etc. is really bad news and can end a career if not treated with utmost care. Thankfully I never had to deal with the latter but what I had to face, very recently, was a terrible influenza which left me with tracheitis, which is a much dreaded inflammation of the wind pipe. My excellent doctor put me on antibiotics which dealt with the bacterial infection but what can one do with the irritation that the infection leaves behind in the trachea? Not much I am afraid. Steam inhalations and pulmicort (inhaled steroid)  will help control the cough but it can have the side effect of leaving you with candida (fungus) in your larynx that will also impair your singing. Loads of alcohol and caffeine free fluids is strongly recommended and cold air is a definite “no no” during recovery.  Humidifying the air where you live is also imperative especially in the bedroom.

In the end it boils down to keeping the immune system as  healthy as possible. Probiotics, good sleep and exercise will do wonders to prevent sickness or to speed up recovery if one succumbs to a bug.

Last but not least NEVER self medicate and always seek out the opinion of a trusted doctor!

March 15, 2015

We are not a nation of bird killers!

Ask anyone to identify the one single thing that gives Malta a bad name abroad and the answer will be hunting. So much misinformation has been spewed in local and foreign press about what goes on, supposedly, in the Maltese islands that there are actually people that believe that in Malta hunters really do kill millions of birds annually. I even received various ridiculous messages on my social media requesting that I lobby with the Maltese government to stop the “traditional eating” of song birds. For the record we don’t eat songbirds and the only game we really eat is quail and turtle dove. Both are eaten on the continent so nothing exotic going on here.

There is of course a degree of illegal hunting in Malta, just like in any other country in the world where hunting takes place. This is deplorable and the perpetrators should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law but to say that we somehow effect worldwide bird population or that millions of bird killings takes place in Malta is not only hyperbole and preposterous but it is a downright lie. Unfortunately it makes for good press and exciting television and Malta’s miniscule geographical proportions makes it an ideal location to monitor and document every single illegality, if one would really want to and some do. Of course the majority of hunters are law abiding citizens and a lot of unfair reputational damage has been done to the Maltese islands internationally by overzealous individuals and organizations who, quite frankly, should know better. Think about it. Where is one most likely to spot and film illegalities? Certainly not in countries with thousands of hectares of available hunting grounds away from it all. No question that Malta is a much easier target for those who want to document hunting whether in its legal or illegal.

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March 5, 2015

Leave the excellent Maltese bread alone

One thing which is pretty unique in Maltese cuisine is our bread. Its really quite extraordinary especially when eaten still warm with a table spoon of olive oil, some fresh Maltese tomatoes, capers and tuna or what many call “Hobz biz – zejt.” Of all and everything in Maltese cuisine our bread is the one thing that has some international recognition of really being one of the tastiest sour dough around. The Puglia loaf comes close but doesn’t make the grade.

I was quite bemused when I read that the local health authorities  are suggesting to revise” the salt content in Maltese bread, potentially altering an ancient recipe that is already under siege from mass production and modern machinery. I mean really who comes up with this stuff? Can we tackle the disgusting fast food restaurants selling all that processed food before? What about any alcohol, sweets, cigars and cigarettes? Why don’t we ban everything and anything that might kill us or give us a couple of bars more in our blood pressure.

Surely the road to take here is to indeed protect the artisanal making of our Maltese bread and to remind the populace, through education, that moderation and a varied diet is the key to good health. There are plenty bigger fish to fry than our innocuous “hobza”…

 

 

January 10, 2015

2014 and the New Year

2014 went by like a breeze. It was not always easy, especially with the challenge of finishing my new home whilst juggling a very heavy schedule. However, all’s well that ends well and in 2015 I look forward to reverting my full focus on this beautiful profession and vocation whilst enjoying the company of my loved ones especially my children. The latter turning fast into healthy and considerate young adults.

2015 couldn’t have started in a worse way. The atrocious, barbaric and senseless killing in Paris shocked the world. Watching a police officer being  shot in the head, at point blank range, in day light Paris was as horrific as it was surreal. I certainly hope that the general and unanimous outcry will gain even more momentum so that our leaders will take the necessary steps to protect our European values without compromise. Make no mistake – these fanatics won’t stop at anything; bombing and shooting at places of entertainment, including Opera houses and Concert Halls, will be next…

Fanatics and extremists of whatever religion or denomination have to be hunted down, prosecuted and incarcerated or deported. If the laws have to be changed to make this process easier and more effective then so be it.

 

Remember that evil only triumphs when the good do nothing. And talking about good here is an exemplary Muslim taking the correct stand –

 

www.edition.cnn.com/2015/01/09/world/muslims-react-charlie-hebdo-irpt/

 

 

September 27, 2014

Malta’s 50th birthday.

Unfortunately work commitments prevented me from being present for the 50th Anniversary of Malta’s independence. By all accounts the show was quite something and Prince William seemed genuinely charmed by my fellow islanders. Kudos to the government and the organizers.

I sometimes wonder how the Maltese people managed to achieve so much in relatively little time. Lets not kid ourselves – we are a very small island and  in the middle of nowhere to boot. As yet we can boast 7,000 years of history, our own unique culture, language and a populace that, throughout the ages, has  repeatedly demonstrated  that it could rise to the occasion and punch above its weight when it really matters.  And how I wish, that it “matters” more often!

I simply hate it when I see some of my fellow countrymen squabble over a few votes and losing all principles whilst rubbishing great ideas just because they come from the other side of the fence. I can’t understand why there is a certain fanatical mindset, on both sides, that thinks only one half of the population is fit to “lead” the nation and should do so indefinitely. Can it please be a battle of ideas rather than “parading” colors in peacock like fashion?  For example – individuals who are simply not fit for purpose, should be treated exactly as such and not given positions of “pseudo importance” because it was “politically convenient” at the time.

The current government won the past elections with an historic majority, the likes of which we have never seen. Such a big win means power and this power surely must be “cashed” into responsibility. This majority has to be used to tackle certain hot issues and implement changes where necessary.

It’s easy to dismiss my words as “uninformed” or “utopian” but the thing is that I have travelled the world, pretty much constantly for the past 17 years. The more I see and soak in different cultures and experiences, the more I realize how much untapped potential Malta still has. Surely the management of our environment, education, infrastructure  and culture is in need of tweaking or a complete overhaul in some cases.

The good news is that I can see it happening already. The bad news is that it might not be happening as fast as it should. I really hope that our dynamic leaders do not mess up things in the end game and may the next 50 years be a time when we Maltese understand what we were, what we are now and what we could turn into if we truly become a united nation. It matters now…

 

 

 

 

September 10, 2014

A summer festival in Malta?

I was more than a bit amused to read some negative reporting re the fact that the government sponsored my summer concert. Hundreds of thousand of euros, if not millions, were thrown around  and some went as far to state that I was “on the take” and part of the hundreds of thousands were directed to my pocket. The claims are so ridiculous and unfounded that, to date,  I didn’t even bother to point it out. For those unfamiliar with our island, Malta is ferociously bi-partisan it is inevitable that, for some at least,  everything has to be turned into a political football. Others simply measure by their own yardstick. For the record I got no remuneration by the government, whether directly or indirectly, in the deal they made with NNG promotions nor form part of same company.  To my knowledge, the funds are wisely spent on the filming, editing and international distribution of the concert creating an incredible advert for Malta. Should the government sponsor such initiatives? Of course it should- as what better advertisement can Malta have to increase the much coveted “cultural tourism”?

In Malta we have the curse but also the blessing of being very small. So small in fact that you can walk from one end of the island to the other in less than a day. And what a walk that would be. Despite our small size, our location – smack in the middle of the Mare Nostrum  – made sure that every major civilization left its mark throughout our 7000 year history. Natural resources are pretty much non existent and even for fresh water we have to turn to the sea. Still our island nation enjoys the most important resource of all – its people. Once you remove our petty and constant bickering which (surprise surprise) usually revolve around politics, the Maltese are a force to be reckoned with and a nation that shy away from challenges we are not. Most of us are at least bi-lingual , hard working, resourceful and good hearted. Talent is also another virtue that this island has and never before  did we have so many young budding artists on the verge of an international career. When I was studying to be an opera singer there was literally no one else on the scene on a professional level bar Miriam Gauci. Nowadays we have close to a dozen. Clare Ghigo, Nico Darmanin, Cliff Zammit Stevens, Joseph Lia, Nicola Said and Marvic Monreal are already chasing their dream in conservatories and colleges abroad. Nico Darmanin in particular is already performing professionally and has already debuted at the Royal Opera House. This from a nation of 400,000.

Indeed it is a time of renaissance for at least classical music in Malta. So many festivals whether in Gozo, the place of my very first performances,  or Valletta. In fact it is time that the government notices the elephant in the room and launch THE proper summer festival our island deserves. The raw material is in place already it just needs to be coordinated and a month long festival is really within our grasp and no there is no multi million euro outlay as we have the necessary infrastructure in place already.  Our airport and airline are top notch and hotels comparable to the best on mainland Europe. All that is needed is that nudge, the concentration of the laser beam, the proverbial pulling of the same rope and Malta could host a festival that would rival any in Europe. This government has won with such a majority that it should really use that majority to implement changes that no one had the courage to do before. Redundant boards and committees should be restructured or removed altogether. Competent people should be given executive power to effect necessary changes and not waste their time and energies navigating the endless meanders of bureaucracy caused by useless boards.

 

Last but not least lets give Malta its cultural home back and move ahead with a National Theatre/auditorium. I hear there are great plans for the MCC, now is the time to move forward and turn these plans into reality. We have so much to offer and it would be a great sin to miss out on this opportunity. I dream of the day when Valletta will turn into a major and globally renowned  artistic hub. Believe me when I tell you that we have what it takes.

July 11, 2014

10 tips to overcome vocal fatigue

The end of my operatic season is night and pretty much invariably, year after year, its when I feel most tired and in dire need of my annual summer break. Singing the last few performances culminating with my Malta yearly summer concert can be a challenge – especially when I have to tackle a total of around 19 arias/songs!
Thankfully there is stuff that works for a tired physique and voice. Here is what works for me –

1. Move! Working out, swimming and even a long brisk walk will do wonders for your circulatory system. Don’t do this on the day of the performance but definitely in between.

2. Silence. If you are singing a lot than it is imperative that you keep mum during other hours and only talk if its absolutely necessary. Limit phone conversations too as much as possible.

3. Diet – 3 main meals a day are a must. Avoid foods high in lactose and sugar and go instead for protein, veg and loads of fresh fruit. Keeping your blood sugar relatively constant is important and regular, healthy meals will lessen the likelihood of acid reflux. Its also important not to eat late in the evening. I try to avoid eating after 6pm whenever possible.

4. Steam inhalations – Get a big pot or steam inhalator, throw in some bicarbonate of soda and sea salt and just inhale the healing/relieving vapours! This is really beneficial to basically all your upper respiratory tract and will dislodge mucus and other impurities from your throat.

5. Nasal irrigation – Not the nicest “procedure” but it does remove all kinds of “junk” from your nose. Make sure you always rinse with saline water and there are prepared sachets you can get from virtually any pharmacy.

6. Sleep – Its boring but a good 8 hour sleep is unbeatable to get the voice back in shape. Acid reflux sufferers will also find relief by tilting their head upwards by using two pillows to avoid nasty acid creeping up their throat during their slumber.

7. Stress – or the lack of it. Absolutely avoid stressful situations which may include noisy places/bars. Your throat tenses up automatically even if you don’t speak apart from the fact that you can “tire” your ears out. There have been some studies that our “ears” tire out too so the avoidance of high decibel places is a must!

8. Vibrator – Yep that one. Apparently tests have shown that massaging your throat with a vibrator is beneficial to the surrounding neck muscles. Apparently there are some therapists that employ such “devices” already…

9. Humidity – A constant dry environment can spell disaster for your voice and general well being. If you are in a cold climate and the heating is at full blast, chances are that the relative humidity is low. Invest in a humidifier and let them rip! We all have slightly different comfort levels. For me what works best is around 55 to 65% – just like a good cigar!

10. Arguments – Whether of a business or personal nature do walk away from these when you are singing. Even if talking is not involved the mere thought or presence of something negative will automatically tense your neck muscles and raise the incidence of acid reflux!

 

If everything of the above fails than you need a vacation! Choose a high humid climate with beautiful, clear seas at hand. Swimming in the ocean/sea is truly beneficial for the voice as long as one avoids the worse hours of the sun.

May 11, 2014

Malta’s best eateries according to moi – Part 1

Baia beach, Malta

Baia beach, Malta

Often I am asked by people where to lunch/dine out in Malta and since its basically already summer in Malta here are my favourite haunts in Malta and Gozo. Disclaimer – This is truly my opinion and yes you might see me there. There is no ranking/order in the below and I do not get any freebies/free meals either. :)

 

Baia Beach – Little Armier Beach (Mellieha)

One of the most stunning restaurant locations in Malta. Relax with a glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc whilst nibbling on Mediterranean goodies. Arriving by boat? No problem. Drop the anchor and they will come and fetch you with their dinghy and take you back to your boat after you’re done. Bliss!

Grabiel Restaurant – Marsascala

One of the best fish restaurants in the south run by Giovanni, Mario, Paul and Karmenu. The latter are all brothers and experts in veritable fish feasts. Try the local “Rossi shrimps” and if you want fish ask for “Gurbell” or “Ciapulazz.” Portions are gargantuan and big eaters will love a plate of “pasta vongole”  (pasta with clams) or “nero,” the latter done with fresh squid ink. This is a good first stop in Malta as Karmenu will give you a list of who is who in Malta together with the latest gossip and political intrigue. They also love talking about their nephew who apparently did quite well for himself…

Tarragon Restaurant – St. Paul’s Bay

Marvin has created a charming restaurant in the heart of the picturesque sea side village of St. Paul’s Bay. The décor is tasteful and it includes sizeable aquariums with lobsters  intended for cooking of course. The staff is attentive, so much so that they run around with “star trek type” ear pieces to make sure that they are in constant touch with the kitchen. Whether you’re out for some “molecular food preparation” or some good old plain fish this multi award winning restaurant is also a must! Ask for the raw appetizers and for an “al sale” prepared fish.

 

De Mondion Restaurant – Xara Palace, Mdina

In the second world war this building was apparently used as a residence for the allied ace pilots. Legend has it that the Luftwaffe pilot knew this and it wasn’t uncommon for them to strafe its beautiful, historical terrace with bullets… Nowadays Xara Palace is a 5 star boutique hotel with an amazing restaurant specializing in French/Maltese cuisine. It is not cheap but the excellent food, service and extensive wine list makes experiencing this restaurant a must. Ask for a table on the terrace so that you can enjoy the view of multiple village fireworks. The rabbit menu washed down by a bottle of St Emilion is especially delicious!

 

Kartell Restaurant – Marsalforn, Gozo

I have been going to this restaurant, right on the water’s edge of Gozo’s main seaside resort of Marsalforn since the age of 10. The location is literally on the water and Philip, the owner,  a gracious and efficient host. Fare is predominantly Mediterranean although do ask for the Gozitan cheese and Maltese “Awwista.” Not the first time that I ended up serenading the guests impromptu at this restaurant accompanied by Pawlu Carbonaro, one of Malta’s finest post war artists. Ask for a taste of Gozitan local wine from the “Ta’ Mena” estate especially the Vermentino!

 

 

 

Xara Palace De Mondion Restaurant

Xara Palace De Mondion Restaurant

 

 

May 7, 2014

The silent voice killer

Did it ever happen to you to vocalize before a show, find that you are absolutely fine only to get tired, without cause and suddenly during a performance? If you are not sick and didn’t strain your voice then there is quite a big probability that you are suffering from acid reflux.

Basically the stomach produces acid in order to digest the foods you digest. Sometimes this acid, in liquid or gas form, can travel up your food pipe and end in your larynx wrecking your throat and voice.  Indeed I rate acid reflux as the worst affliction a singer can have after tracheitis and laryngitis.

If you suspect that you suffer from the condition do contact your doctor who, if indicated, will probably put you on some “proton pump inhibitors” to lower the acid your body makes. This medication will help but its also good to rely on a good diet with foods that don’t trigger a surplus of acid. Personally I find fried foods, bread and over indulgence of alcohol to be the worst. Bananas, rice and whole wheat pasta bring some relief.  The medication “Gaviscon” will become your best friend and sleeping with a “raised” pillow is also a must together with not eating after 6pm.

Remember that tight costumes and stress in general can also cause an upsurge in acid and never persist on singing with a feeble voice as this can only worsen the condition.

April 27, 2014

Accommodation and singing opera.

One thing I seldom see being discussed is the type of accommodation an opera singer really needs. Indeed I rank the place where you live, sleep and eat as one of the most imp0rtant factors to be able to perform consistently and at an acceptable level. Noise levels, cleanliness and (perhaps most important) humidity really do factor and contribute to one’s general vocal health. Lets take humidity as an example. Anything below 40% relative humidity is generally going to be problematic for most singers. Your nose will probably bleed and you will feel a sensation of a “parched throat.” Chamomile tea with honey will sooth this temporary but it is advisable that you go out and buy humidifiers immediately.

Temperature is another thing which is often overlooked. I tend to keep my room at 19 to 20 degrees Celsius. I open windows to let in fresh air as often as possible and do not mind different temperatures in different rooms of the apartment. In fact I find changes of temperature to be rather invigorating much like a cold shower after a few minutes in the Sauna…

Last but not least I cannot stress how sound insulation is a must especially in noisy cities. It is quite boring but what the voice really needs to recover is loads of sleep and the latter is difficult to get if you can hear noisy sirens and horns all night long!

 

 

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Joseph's Blog

March 30th, 2015

Tracheitis – a singer’s worst nightmare?

It is without doubt that trauma to the vocal folds is a singer’s worst nightmare. Burst veins, nodules etc. is really bad news and can end a career if not treated with utmost care. Thankfully I never had to deal with the latter but what I had to face, very recently, was a terrible influenza which left me with tracheitis, which is a much dreaded inflammation of the wind pipe. My excellent doctor put me on antibiotics which dealt with the bacterial infection but what can one do with the irritation that the infection leaves behind in the trachea? Not much I am afraid. Steam inhalations and pulmicort (inhaled steroid)  will help control the cough but it can have the side effect of leaving you with candida (fungus) in your larynx that will also impair your singing. Loads of alcohol and caffeine free fluids is strongly recommended and cold air is a definite “no no” during recovery.  Humidifying the air where you live is also imperative especially in the bedroom.

In the end it boils down to keeping the immune system as  healthy as possible. Probiotics, good sleep and exercise will do wonders to prevent sickness or to speed up recovery if one succumbs to a bug.

Last but not least NEVER self medicate and always seek out the opinion of a trusted doctor!