OPERA NEWS - Road Show: Joseph Calleja in Malta
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Road Show: Joseph Calleja in Malta

An international star tenor extols the beauty of his native island.
by Eric Myers. 

Road Show Valletta hdl 217
The cityscape of Valletta
© eye35/Alamy Stock Photo
Malta Picks


Casa Ellul
81 Old Theatre Street, Valletta

Xara Palace
Misrah il-Kunsill, Mdina

Corinthia Hotel
St. Julians

Kempinski Hotel
San Lawrenz
Triq Ir-Rokon, Gozo

Grand Hotel Excelsior
Great Siege Road, Floriana


Meridiana Wine Estate


Church St., St. Paul’s Bay

Tmun Mgarr
Triq Martino Garces,



Mdina Glass
Crafts Village, Ta’Qali
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Road Show Calleja in Malta lg 217
© Simon Fowler/Decca
Road Show Mdina sm 217
© nadja1/shutterstock

WHEN HE SPEAKS of his native country, Joseph Calleja can’t help sounding hyperbolic. “You have seven thousand years of history,” he says. “And it has quite dramatic natural beauty. It also has the intense East–North African light, so painters and photographers love it. Artists tell me that this is like light on steroids.”

Malta’s architecture has been influenced by nearly every major civilization that has passed through Europe. “Even private homes here will have a Roman rubble wall, or an altar, or a tomb,” says Calleja. “The must-see is definitely the megalithic structures, which are reputedly the oldest in the world. There are temples that predate Stonehenge by a millennium. There are Roman towns that became medieval towns, such as Mdina, the old capital city of Malta. And, of course, Valletta, the new capital, which is a beautiful Baroque city. Benjamin Disraeli called it ‘a city … built by gentlemen for gentlemen.’”  

In Malta, people of means can choose from many deluxe accommodations. “If you want a boutique hotel in Valletta,” Calleja says, “it’s Casa Ellul. If you want a big hotel, then any of the Corinthia hotels. Xara Palace is all about seventeenth-century opulence. Casa Ellul is the haunt of Michael Fassbender. It’s very small, with excellent views of the harbor, and the service is second to none. The Corinthia Palace Hotel has hosted the queen a couple of times. In Gozo, a Kempinski hotel, the San Lawrenz, is a real oasis of Maltese beauty and relaxation.” He also recommends the Grand Excelsior in Valletta, with its stunning view of Marsamxett Harbor and Manoel Island.

With its open-air markets and local products, Malta can be great fun for shoppers. “Mdina Glass is a company that sells wonderful objects of blown glass,” says Calleja. “Ornaments, ashtrays, really anything you can think of. It is truly a fine art, developed over the centuries.” At the Crafts Village at Ta’Qali, you can not only purchase items but see the artisans blowing the glass. 

“There is special Maltese lace which is extraordinarily beautiful,” Calleja adds. “It is very rare—you should definitely buy some if you find some. Of course, our wine industry is picking up, and Maltese wine is becoming sought after.” Try the Meridiana Wine Estate in Central Malta. At Marsovin Wines, the indigenous Gellewza grape produces a buoyant rosé.

Malta is “the epitome of a Mediterranean island,” Calleja says. “We have world-class beaches, but most of them are small, pretty coves. The water is some of the best in the world. It is a diver’s paradise, and when you swim in the ocean, it’s like swimming in the pool.”

Disraeli called Valletta ‘a city … built by gentlemen for gentlemen.’”

Malta’s rather arid land has nonetheless given rise to a local cuisine that is a magnet for foodies. Calleja has dozens of favorite restaurants, among them Tarragon in St. John’s Bay, where the decor mimics the interior of a nineteenth-century ship. Dishes have included a starter of duck-liver terrine with wild berry and truffle chutney and an entrée of duo of lamb—marinated filet and rack with wholegrain mustard and pistachio herb crust. At Tmun, in the harbor town of Mgarr, you can start with homemade giant tortellini stuffed with prawns and gurnards. Calleja also frequents Grabiel, for “fish that is practically alive on your plate—the freshness is second to none.”

There’s one Maltese dish Calleja will warn you against: “Pastizzi is the most incredible snack. It’s like a soft cheesecake, with millefoglie kind of pastry around it. It is the food of the gods—the taste is divine. But the calorific value is horrifying! I gain five pounds just by looking at it. When Bryn Terfel came here, I believe he had a dozen at one go!” spacer 

Eric Myers has contributed to Playbill, Time Out New York andThe New York Times Magazine and “Arts and Leisure” section. 

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