It’s seven years since Joseph Calleja made his solo recording debut, and he’s still only 33 years old. The hype which attended the arrival of this wunderkind in opera’s top tier has settled somewhat now, but he has maintained his place at the top of his profession and avoided the burnout which too often strikes such early and feverishly promoted bloomers.

The Maltese Tenor, Calleja’s third collection of mostly popular, mostly Italian arias, finds him in bright and healthy voice. Once greeted by some as the second coming of Pavarotti, it’s clear now that Calleja is not quite – or at least not yet – as exceptional as that, but his honeyed, Italianate tone is swoonworthy just the same, and his delivery is underpinned by a solid technique which bodes well for a long future.

Gorgeous legato, rather than textual detail, is Calleja’s specialty. He spins ardent favourites like
E lucevan le stelle and Donna non vidi mai out with impeccable lyricism and audible sincerity, but there’s still a degree of characterisation missing. Still, there’s burnished colour aplenty in Calleja’s ardent Quando le sere al placido, and infectious energy in Offenbach’s jaunty Légende de Kleinzach, and Massenet’s Des Grieux also brings out some of the voice’s more interesting possibilities.

A more vivid orchestral partner would help, however, as Armiliato’s tempi tend towards sluggishness, and the playing he draws from the Suisse Romande is respectable but unexciting. Decca also manages to plug one of its newly-signed singers – soprano Aleksandra Kurzak – who is out of place in O soave fanciulla but a crystalline Leïla in the Pearl Fishers selection which concludes this wholly enjoyable disc.

Interview: Joseph Calleja

The album title refers to my Maltese heritage, which made me who I am and moulded my voice the way it is. It is the same as with wine: the quality is a result of the natural climate and the way it is raised. Opera goes back hundreds of years in Malta, so much so that one of the oldest functioning opera houses in the world is situated here – the Manoel Theatre.

Although I am very proud of my first two albums, there are a couple things that stand out to me on this new release. The main thing I feel is that there is a maturity to the voice, as well as a more rounded instrument. The phrasing and singing of the line is the work of a more complete artist than when I was in my mid-twenties. It is great to have captured this progression on the records; by listening to them one can hear the evolution of the voice.

What I try to do in my recordings, and something which I asked of maestro Marco Armiliato, is to make the arias believable and fresh. We did this by recording the tracks with as few takes as possible. The recording period can be beautiful as much as it can be horrendous. If the singer has a cold or even if they are hungry, the microphone will detect each and every defect. I thank God that I was in great shape for our sessions. We moved very fast which was a sign that everything was going well.

Each and every aria on the album has its own story for me – I know that’s a cliché but it’s true! Giunto sul passo estremo was one of the first arias I studied with my teacher, and E lucevan le stelle has become my signature tune because I have sung it on many TV shows and radio broadcasts.

I believe that for a voice to be great, it has to have individuality. If you hear a tenor on the radio and you can’t say who it is, then that is a problem. Like Björling and Caruso: it has to be beautiful, individual, and have a certain range. That’s what I strive for.