Joseph Calleja

The Maltese Tenor

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Every few years there's considerable hype about a young singer heralded as the Next Great Tenor. There is generally more hype than substance in these promotions, but in the case of Joseph Calleja, it's easy to imagine that if he manages his voice and career well, he may well live up to the exalted expectations. The Maltese Tenor, released in 2011 when he was 33, is his third solo album of operatic arias, and with it he seems to have hit his stride. It comes on the heels of a series of acclaimed performances at some of the world's top opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, and the Vienna State Opera. Critics have frequently commented that his is a voice reminiscent of the golden age of bel canto, and their accolades don't seem misplaced, based on his accomplished performances on this album. He focuses on Romantic Italian and French opera, but apart from the music from Tosca, La bohème, and Faust, the selections come mostly from the periphery of the repertoire -- Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, Boito's Mefistofele, Puccini's Manon Lescaut, Massenet's Manon, Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles, Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffmann -- many of them roles that he had just recently sung on-stage. The basic quality of his voice -- large, glowing, open, vibrant, and ringing but warmly Italianate -- is supported by an assured, effortless-sounding technique that produces shapely legato arcs, and it's the combination that sends critics scrambling for superlatives and comparisons with great tenors of the past. His exemplary vocal production and his colorful, intense interpretations are consistent throughout the album. In the two arias from Tosca his strengths are on full display, in the lush Romantic ardor of "Recondita armonia" and the subdued melancholy of "E lucevan le stelle." It's in small details, though, like the startling, focused power of his entrance in "O Inferno" from Simon Boccanegra, and in "Salut! demeure chaste et pure" from Faust, the way his radiant, soaring final high C fades away almost to nothingness, that his distinctiveness is most pronounced.

Marco Armiliato leads l'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in distinguished, beautifully nuanced accompaniment. Decca's sound is clean, nicely rounded, and the balance is excellent.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
La Bohème
1 04:45 Amazon
2 04:09 Amazon
Simon Boccanegra
3 05:01 Amazon
Les Contes d'Hoffman
4 05:20 Amazon
5 02:46 Amazon
6 03:06 Amazon
7 02:38 Amazon
8 02:57 Amazon
9 05:55 Amazon
Manon Lescaut
10 01:40 Amazon
11 02:53 Amazon
12 04:54 Amazon
Luisa Miller
13 05:06 Amazon
Un ballo in maschera
14 05:15 Amazon
Les Pêcheurs de perles
15 09:15 Amazon
blue highlight denotes track pick