”You need to feel the experiences in your own life to be able to express them on stage

Foto: PR


He's got the physics and the voice that make him capable to do, what he likes the most.

He was born in Malta, but Copenhagen was the place to be, as he got spotted by Decca Classics.

There are a number of no's before you get a yes, is one of his professional experiences.

Now, he is on tour around the world letting his virtouso voice, which has been given a number of great nicknames, enter the  best and finest opera houses.   

Klassisk bureau has had the exclusive opportunity to bring an interview with the big star tenor Joseph Calleja.

In October this year he will be on stage in The Dallas Opera, USA, where the role as Cavaradossi from ”Tosca” is waiting for his appearance. 

“Go on, go on, go on”, Joseph Calleja says in the telephone with a fresh tempo presto, as I in a quiet and descreet manner let him know, that I am about to exceed the time frame of the interview.

His command appears in a friendly, energetic and at the same time effective impatience, and Joseph Calleja seems truly interestet in our conversation, I let my self assume. 

Just like in the beginning of our conversation as the telephone connection got troubled but he insisted in continuing and completing the interview. Despite he must have been busy relaxing and saving his voice at the hotel room in Paris, where he was located at the time for the interview. That because he was performing at the Opéra Bastille in "Carmen" . An opera work well suited for Joseph Calleja with the heroic and charming role as Don José.

Joseph Calleja is one of the most acclaimed and sought-after tenors in our time. In the world. He  himself as well as his voice are called a wide number of various, sweet nicknames. For example "the honeyed tone", "the golden voice from Malta", "an ingratiating style", "a sunny sound" and "one of the most exciting lyric tenors". When it comes to style he is regarded as a classical Italian operasinger. A statement he agrees on. 

”That is correct. I think my voice is just like that. I've been speaking Italian from the age of three", he says and goes on explaining the close connection between his upbringing in Malta with Italy being a both geographically and cultural close neighbour
”I also did the older stuff from the period before the Italian operas, but my voice is mostly romantic. Like in the style of Donizetti, who was going into romantics. People can relate more to that kind of music, and Italian operas are often used in films. It appeals to people in general and inspires people", is his assessement.

Then, there are the many comparisons with great names such as Pavarotti, Jussi Björling, Beniamino Gigli and Enrico Caruso. But how does it feel to be compared to somebody, I would like to know from him. Isn't it enough just saying "Joseph Calleja" since he has already reached a very high artistic level? However, he is calm and cool. 

”I understand the journalists because of the point of reference", Joseph Calleja says with a calm and diplomatic spirit. "The comparisons are compliments for me and it makes me happy. The comparisons are good, but you also need to take them with a grain of salt”, he says with thoughtfulness. He repeats the formulation "a grain of salt" a few times.
”These people are legends, and I try to focus on what I am doing myself. I know, what I am doing and what I am worth", he explains and sounds like a singer with his feet on personal solid ground. "It is not healthy for a singer to compare to much with other singers. On the other hand, you can use their lives as a lesson, use their experience".
These are the words from a singer who in fact is about to become a legend himself. Or alreday is.

"A dolphin and a chimpanse are different from each other.

It is useless to be jealous of an other singer's talents."

Joseph Calleja, tenor

Foto: PR

The 45-year-old world famous tenor with hometown Mellieha in Malta speaks English in a proper tempo and with a beautiful and mild accent. That is the natural result of gradually many years as international and coveted opera singer. Quite interesting, Denmark plays an not unimportant role in his career. That is, because he got spotted by the British record label Decca Classics, as he was on stage as a guest singer at The Royal Danish Theater in Copenhagen in 2003. The leading artistic director of Decca Records was among the audience and discovered Joseph Calleja and his talent. Shortly after the contract was turned into reality. Now, Joseph Calleja's list of recordings counts among other things five solo albums from Decca Classics.

It must be quite hard being on stage night after night in so many different corners of the world. Also the great expectations out there as a consequence of a great talent and worldwide fame taken into account. I asked him how he finds the energy.

”It's all about mental health. That is extremely important”, is his first impulse on that question. To have this, some things in the personal setting have to be in control. ”It is important to be aware of the balance between work and rest, to keep the focus and to have a good partner. And to learn. If you fall, you must get up again and treat failure to learn from and to move forward again", he points out. "It takes a lot of hard work", he continues. "A show is fifty-fifty, good or bad. Some nights are easy, like yesterday's evening", he mentions as a reference to his role in "Carmen" in Paris earlier this year.  

Even if there are some trials and tribulations in the personel setting, you still have to find the will and the energy to go on stage, meet the audience, the reviewers, observers ect.
"We also have to perform even if we have different problems in our family, with our children or anything else. It is a very naked kind of singing and we don't use microphones. We just have our voice and no filter", he explains and lets one know that human raw material in a clear and vulnerable shape is what he has to give.

Then, what is the biggest challenge as a professionel singer, I wonder?

"That is keeping yourself in the level and performing night after night. You have to be mentally healthy. Mostly, it is a competition rather with yourself than with other singers. Thankfully, I have never been suffering from prefessional jealousy", he says in a convincing tone.
Just like everything else he says, in general.

However, Joseph Calleja also realizes that you to a certain grade are able to control your own possibilities and become a good singer. There are some things, that actually can be done.
”A dolphin and a chimpanse are different from each other. It is useless to be jealous of another singer's talent. And thankfully, that didn't happen to me", he says. 

Overview of life

He was born in Malta 1978.

16 years old he started singing in the church choir before taking lessons by tenor Paul Asciak. 

At the age of 19, he made his debut as operatic singer by singing the role Macduff in Verdi's "Macbeth" at the Teatru Astra in Malta. 

Since 1999 he has been performing with worldwide leading opera settings.
Same year, he was price winner at Plácido Domingo’s Operalia.

In 2003 he got spotted by Decca Classics at The Royal Danish Theater in Copenhagen.

Joseph Calleja has been married to soprano Tatiana Lisnic, with whom he has two teenage children, Xandru and Clara.

Photo: PR

I ask him what his advice for new up coming singers would be and then a few things come to light. The first thing is that you have to fight for your voice. If your voice is something special, mind you. ”If you've got the talent, then believe in yourself. It is a hard career, and there are a number of no's before you get a yes", he lets us know with a clear voice.

The other thing is linked to the chimpanse and the dolphin. "You need to have a voice, that is unique, and don't ask something from your body that it can't give you. Like, I am never going to be a ballerina", he foresees without sounding disappointed. "My body is not made for it. Everybody has its own place", he concludes. 

As earlier mentioned, there are a few things to do to become a good singer. One of those tings are also to learn the word 'no'. 

"Can we go for at pizza or some Chinese food"

"Also, I can't go for poker, because I need to spare my voice before the next performing", Joseph Calleja explains in a parody telling us how he often has to reduce his social activities to be 100 pct. ready for his next show.

Then, we must hope that it is worth all the suffering. Because, why should we at all go to the opera, I would like to know? What has opera to give to us?

"You go to the opera because there are too much political correctness. We are not allowed to call a spade a spade", Joseph Calleja says, now with clear commitment and light irritation in his golden voice. 

”This means that pera is becoming an escape; a dimension of real feelings", he says and takes the maternal love to a child as an example of uncomplicated feelings. Opera is an outlet of such feelings. ”We complicate our lives too much", Joseph Calleja says with a worrying sound when speaking of our daily lives. ”The outlet of emotions in an opera is something that all people can identify with", he assesses. 

The real life as we live it day by day is the source of inspiration to Jospeh Calleja when he is preparing and creating his charachters on stage. By feeling the love for his children and experiensing the pain when loosing beloved ones. It is as simple as that, he says. 

"If you have not experiensed suffering, you can not express that feeling on stage. You need to feel the experiences in your own life to be able to express them on stage", is his assessment.

On May 13th this spring Joseph Calleja was to perform with Aarhus Symfoniorkester at Musikhuset Aarhus. In order to give the Danish audience a taste of the pure and unmixed emotions in the bright colours of the opera. Unfortunately, logistic problems came in the way as officially spoken, and the concert got cancelled.
Instead, fans now have the chance to see him in Dallas, USA, this autumn. From 12 to 21 October, he will perform at The Dallas Opera in Dallas for the first time. Here he will take care of his heroic role in "Tosca", which exactly is one of his own favorite operas. 

Perhaps both because of its pure emotions and moving music that in an uncomplicated way appeals to all human kinds and takes a story to a higher artistic level. 

Published September 5th 2023

Rachel Einarsson