More than three years ago I reviewed tenor Joseph Calleja’s first recital CD. Though it received many favorable notices,I wasn’t all that impressed. I heard the broadcast of his Met debut as the Duke in Verdi’s Rigoletto and still wasn’t impressed. What annoyed me the most was his fast vibrato (or bleat if you’re inclined to be harsh). I wrote that given time it might spontaneously abate. I thought it would take a few years to go away. The tenor is still quite young; he just turned 30 last month
I have yet to hear this singer in the house so my opinion rests on shaky ground. But several You Tube postings seem to indicate that he’s getting better at a rapid rate. His singing of Federico’s Lament from Cilea’s L’arlesiana shows that the excessive vibrato is just about gone. His forward vocal placement and bright tone is reminiscent of Björling. I don’t want to push that comparison too far, Björling sets the bar awfully high. But just for fun here’s the great Swede singing the same aria in a 1947 recording(Federico’s Lament).
Calleja seems to have gained more control over his voice with maturation. His high note are produced with greater ease and they are focused. He came to prominence at such a young age that his vocal growth has happened in plain sight. His tone also seems sweeter than it initially was and he sings softly with greater ease.
Also from the same July 2007 recital is a performance of Nessun Dorma complete with chorus. It too is quite good. Calleja’s only scheduled performances at the Met this season are three appearances as Macduff in Macbeth in May. This is essentially a one aria role, though the aria is a really good one. Since outstanding lyric tenors are as rare as common sense let’s hope that Calleja continues to improve and has as splendid a future as many have already predicted for him.