> Editor's Choice
Joseph Calleja: "The Maltese Tenor"
Arias and duets by Bizet, Boito, Gounod, Offenbach, Massenet, Puccini and Verdi. With Kurzak. Choeur d'Hommes du Grand Théâtre de Genève, L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, M. Armiliato. Texts and translations. Decca 4782720
Tenor Joseph Calleja's sound now has a beautiful shimmer and Mediterranean sunniness to it, coupled with an honest, authentic virility.
I have always been very sensitive to vibrato; the difference between a flicker and a bleat, or a vibrato-rich voice and one with a wobble, immediately determines my enjoyment of a singer. Thirty-three-year-old tenor Joseph Calleja has officially joined the group that includes Pilar Lorengar, Frederica von Stade, Rockwell Blake and other of my favorite singers: his rapid vibrato has slowed down as the voice itself has beefed up. Calleja's sound now has a beautiful shimmer and Mediterranean sunniness to it, coupled with an honest, authentic virility. In no way can the voice be described as baritonal, yet its manliness is evident even when the singing is at its most nuanced. It's reassuring that as his voice grows in size, Calleja the artist (and guardian of his vocal capital) employs a wide dynamic range, from the most delicate and effortless of pianissimos to full-throttle (but never forced) open-throated fortes. There are only a couple of surprises of repertoire in this recital, recorded in August 2010: Adorno's Act II aria from Simon Boccanegra was included after Calleja's major success at Covent Garden with Domingo in the title role, and he does an impressive job with the epilogue from Mefistofele.
Calleja sings especially well in the French-language selections: in Faust, Hoffmann and Manon he manages the tricky feat of projecting plausible-sounding French without resorting to nasality or any restriction of his beautifully open sound. The addition of soprano-on-the-rise Aleksandra Kurzak in the duets from La Bohème and LesPêcheurs de
Perles is, to my ears, a miscalculation. She sounds a bit white and astringent in rep where more vocal velvet is called for. I couldn't help remembering my early days of listening, when the as-yet-unknown Kiri Te Kanawa or Arleen Auger might have filled the bill on a Luciano Pavarotti Decca recital.
One doesn't listen to Calleja for incredible dramatic insight or a singular "take" on an aria; these are gifts much more in evidence with another major tenor contender on the Decca label, Jonas Kaufmann. But the sheer beauty of Calleja's voice and the artistry with which it is employed make this disc worthy of a place in any tenor-lover's collection, and of repeated listening. As I continued to listen, I realized that the empathetic knot in my stomach that accompanies most of my recital listening these days — the one that grew out of my fear (and indeed, expectation) that the chosen repertoire would be beyond the vocal means of the singer — was nowhere to be found. Calleja is more than equal to his foray into the spinto repertoire, without losing the beauty of tone and ease of production that characterized his earlier recordings.
Calleja's success here must be shared with that most accommodating of "singers' conductors," Marco Armiliato. While maintaining the shape and dramatic impetus of each selection, the maestro clearly is always aware of who's supporting whom.
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