Maltese tenor Calleja: "My best is now"

Thu Jul 21, 2011 9:57am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja's homeland is small, but his fan club stands to grow exponentially when he joins America's soprano sweetheart Renee Fleming for a broadcast from Jerusalem and sings Verdi's "Requiem" at a BBC Proms concert in London.

"My best has just started now," Calleja, 33, told Reuters, still basking in the glow from a concert in the Maltese capital Valletta where he sang opera and crossover hits, including the theme from "The Godfather" movies, for an audience of 9,000.

That's slightly more than will see him sing Verdi's roof-raiser with Russian glamour soprano Marina Poplavskaya in London's Royal Albert Hall Sunday, but a fraction of the audience for the Jerusalem concert on July 28, to be broadcast to almost 500 U.S. cinemas.

It is another major achievement for Calleja who is young for a tenor but already is being compared to greats like Luciano Pavarotti or Beniamino Gigli -- even though Calleja doesn't find the comparisons particularly helpful.

Pavarotti, he said, came into his prime at a time when LP and CD recordings were money-spinners -- before piracy and the Internet killed off sales -- and opera still got an occasional airing on commercial television instead of niche art networks.

"Of course I'm flattered when someone says you remind me of Luciano -- I'd be a liar if I said a compliment like that doesn't give me pleasure -- but from saying that to saying you're the next one after him is a whole different kettle of fish. You'd have to be a little bit crazy to even have the expectation to fill his boots."


Calleja says he got the opera bug from the movies -- specifically, the 1951 bio-pic "The Great Caruso," with Mario Lanza playing the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso who rose from Neapolitan street singer to superstar.   Continued...

<p>Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja performs in a concert in Floriana, outside Valletta, July 9, 2011. Calleja was joined on stage by Italian songwriter and musician Lucio Dalla and New Zealand singer Hayley Westenra. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi</p>