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Joseph Calleja shines in Concertgebouw

For the second time, tenor Joseph Calleja performed at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam on Monday night 22 June, accompanied by the Gelders Orchestra conducted by Frederic Chaslin. A native of Malta, Calleja (b. 1978) is a world-renowned top singer. His timbre evokes memories of the finest voices of yesteryear: the controlled vibrato of Jussi Björling and the crystal-clear, powerful pitch of Pavarotti. In 2013, he sang a programme of love arias from his CD 'Be my love' and now 'Amore' is the sequel. Has his voice grown since then? And has he remained himself, or is he now a divo?

To give the singer some vocal rest, the accompanying orchestra often plays some instrumental pieces. At this concert, however, these were clearly too many. The audience came for Calleja and not five-part ballet music from Charles Gounod's opera Faust. In Calleja's accompaniment, the orchestra sometimes dominated the voice. A bit more modesty would have been appropriate here.

Zen posture

Right from the very first aria 'Net, tolko tot, kto znal' from Tchaikovsky's Six Romances (1896), I knew why I wanted to see and, more importantly, hear this charismatic tenor again. It is his beautiful timbre, flawless pronunciation and the power of his voice in both the highs and lows. Standing in a Zen posture, determined, he mastered vocal technique perfectly naturally in this Russian love song.

calleja and Amore

What was noticeable was that at the beginning he played off a stiff format: down the stairs, conductor's hand, sing and go back up the stairs. The little conversations he had with the audience two years ago were absent this time. It was suggested in the corridors that he was saving his voice because he had a cold. Indeed, at times his voice sounded slightly ragged, but it did little to detract from the great performance. The first real emotion came with the aria 'L'amour' from Gounod's opera Romeo et Juliette. He gave away a display of vocal power, from riveting legato lines to the dying away of the last note. What magnificent control.


After the break, Calleja's voice seemed to have cleared up a bit. He was looser in his skin. 'Ideale' (1882) by Franceso Paolo Tosti is about the ideal woman, and for the first time the tenor gave more space to that much vaunted delicate vibrato he has mastered. Then he suddenly addressed the audience. He looked at his watch a lot, but it turned out to be a pedometer to count the hefty steps of the Great Hall. Thankfully, Calleja did not become a male diva, but still remained the engaging singer with a playful nature.

Towards the end, the Gelderland Orchestra played 'Intermezzo' from Manon Lescaut by Giacomo Puccini. Why Chaslin turned this on so firmly was not clear. Too much force worked against it here. That was certainly not the case with Calleja. The dramatic arias struck most, such as the not often sung aria 'È la solita del pastore' from the opera L 'arlesiana by Franciso Cilea. With appropriate facial expressions, he delivered the poor shepherd's account of heartbreak with conviction.

The tenor concluded with "E lucevan le stelle" from Tosca. What lyrical power and expression! Calleja, unhampered by any throat problems, gave four more encores. The virtuoso tarantella 'La danza' by Rossini, the meedeiner 'Mattinata' by Leoncavallo and the zarzuela 'No puede ser' by Pablo Sorozábal which he even sang twice. Strong colourful arias in which he exulted brilliantly. It is certain: Joseph Calleja has only got better.

Seen: Joseph Calleja and Het Gelders Orkest, conductor Frederic Chaslin. 22 June 2015, The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam

Photos: Simon Fowler and Mathias Bothor

Rudolf Hunnik

Rudolf Hunnik is a cultural journalist, trainer and film programmer. For more information visit www.diversityathome.nlView Author posts

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