At first I thought that this album featured Humphrey Bogart. Then I thought it was about a small dog. At last I realized it was tenor Joseph Calleja’s (born Jan 22, 1978 – yet another January birthday) newest album of arias and duets. He’s from Malta and some PR person had a goofy idea for a title. The soprano on the two duets is Aleksandra Kurzak – she’s very good. L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande is conducted by Marco Armiliato. The full program is below.

The new album has been both a critical and sales success. Calleja’s singing has been compared to that of Gigli, Björling, and Di Stefano – heady stuff. This, of course, raises expectations to unreachable heights. Calleja’s singing is very good; his voice is bright and he sings with intelligence. The rapid flutter that characterized his earlier work is still present, though it’s more subdued than it was. It is most noticeable when he sings high notes piano. His rapid vibrato obviously concerns him as he discusses it in the liner notes:

[H]is voice has often been described as “old-fashioned”: grace and elegance matched to a timbre that’s lighter than that of many other tenors of Calleja’s generation and flecked by a rapid, persistent vibrato. Early on in Calleja’s career, some found that intrusive. “For a period of time, my vibrato was very, very fast”, Calleja concedes. “But people fail to mention or think about how old I was at the time. If you listen to very early recordings of Jussi Björling, Enrico Caruso or Giuseppe di Stefano, they all have it. Eventually it settles down and matures.”

I can’t imagine what recordings he was listening to, but none of these singers had a rapid vibrato. Caruso changed the way tenors sang by almost eliminating vibrato. We have recordings of these three when they were much younger than Calleja is now and there’s no rapid vibrato. The only major tenor of the post Caruso era who had it was Franco Corelli and he worked very hard to lose it. After 1955 it was gone. This vocal tic doesn’t bother many listeners. I’m put off by it. You’ll have to make up you own mind about it.

But aside from this vocal characteristic, this is a major voice that should be at its peak for the next 20 years. If you like tenors, this is a must have album. The two duets are particularly well done. In the Boheme Calleja opts not to take the high note at its end. A decision I think wise. It makes for a lovelier conclusion. The Pearlfishers duet is  intrinsically beautiful and gets the singing it deserves.

Just for fun here’s Calleja singing the first act aria from ToscaCalleja Recondita armonia.

Compare to Caruso’s 1909 recording (he was 36 then). Caruso Recondita armonia

Now here’s Gigli singing the same aria when he was 28. Gigli Recondita armonia.

Di Stefano recorded this version when he was three years younger than Calleja. Di Stefano Recondita armonia.

Jussi Björling was 48 when this recording was made at the Met. As there was never a broadcast of Tosca with  Björling, it seems that the prompter preserved this performance. You can hear him easily. Jussi Bjorling Recondita armonia.

Finally, listen to Fernando de la Mora sing the piece. Fernando who? Well, this fine artist shows how more than talent is needed to succeed in any profession. He released a CD in 1996, made a few appearances at the Met, but never had a high impact career. I heard him sing Hoffmann in Miami 10 or more years ago. His voice was glorious. I guess he didn’t have the backing that was needed to fully realize his gifts. But I suspect you’ll concede that his was a major voice. De La Mora Recondita armonia.


JOSEPH CALLEJA —The Maltese Tenor
1 Che gelida manina Puccini La Bohème
2 O soave fanciulla Puccini La Bohème
3 O inferno! … Sento avvampar nell’anima Verdi Simon Boccanegra
4 Il était une fois à la cour d’Eisenach Offenbach Les Contes d’Hoffmann
5 Recondita armonia Puccini Tosca
6 E lucevan le stelle Puccini Tosca
7 Dai campi, dai prati Boito Mefistofele
8 Giunto sul passo estremo Boito Mefistofele
9 Quel trouble inconnu me pénètre! … Salut! demeure chaste et pure
Gounod Faust
10 Ma se vi talenta … Tra voi, belle, brune e bionde Puccini Manon Lescaut
11 Donna non vidi mai Puccini Manon Lescaut
12 Je suis seul! Seul enfin! … Ah! Fuyez, douce image Massenet Manon
13 Oh! fede negar potessi agli occhi miei! … Quando le sere al placido
Verdi Luisa Miller
14 Forse la soglia attinse … Ma se m’è forza perderti
Verdi Un ballo in maschera
15 De mon amie, fleur endormie … Léila! Léila! Dieu puissant …
Ton cœur n’a pas compris le mien! Bizet Les Pêcheurs de perles

Joseph Calleja tenor
with Aleksandra Kurzak soprano
Chœur d’hommes du Grand Théâtre de Genève 4
Chorus master: Ching-Lien Wu
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Marco Armiliat