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Watch: Joseph Calleja in conversation – ‘Mimicry is the best asset a singer can have’

The Maltese tenor on his musical upbringing, the challenges of opera stardom, and the role he would still love to tackle.

By Hayley Bartley (Former Content Producer (Learning))

25 November 2014 at 12.41pm | Comment on this article

Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja was the subject of a ROH Insight event when performing in Faust last Season.

Before his return to the Covent Garden main stage in Katharina Thoma’s Royal Opera production of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, Calleja spoke of how he took to singing from a very early age: ‘My mum says that I started singing before I could even talk and there are old tapes that unfortunately prove this…I had a very good ear to mimic, and mimicry is the best asset a singer can have.’

Aged 15, he found his teacher Paul Asciak, who encouraged Calleja to pursue a career in music.

‘I went with “Nessun dorma” – light stuff,’ he jokes, ‘and when he [Paul Asciak] saw this music he went, “Oh God, not another one!”. Then I started singing it and he was startled. So, I thought - immediately that I am either very bad or I am either very good. He called my father – he didn’t tell me – and he told him, “Your son has a world-class voice. It needs work of course, but he has the potential of becoming a world-class tenor”’.

Calleja went on to make his operatic debut at the age 19 in Verdi’s Macbeth and has since appeared at many of the world's leading opera houses. When asked about how he deals with fame and celebrity he responds, ‘I am not Brad Pitt, so it’s not that bad. It’s nice to be recognized, but it’s really not why I do it. My upbringing, my sense of humour, the ability to laugh at yourself; that is the most important thing for your psychological health.’

With 30 roles already under his belt, there is still one more that he would love to sing: ‘It’s clichéd but I’d love to sing Otello. I’ll sing it in my family bathroom if nobody will have me – when I’m 55 or 60 – I have to sing Otello. I think that in the long distant future I will have enough voice to do a respectable job of it. It is the benchmark of a tenor, isn’t it?’

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Find out about upcoming ROH Insights events.

Un ballo in maschera runs 18 December 2014-17 January 2015. Tickets are still available.

The production is a co-production with Theater Dortmund and Scottish Opera staged with generous philanthropic support from the Royal Opera House Endowment Fund.

By Hayley Bartley (Former Content Producer (Learning))

25 November 2014 at 12.41pm

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged by David McVicar, by Katharina Thoma, Faust, In conversation, insights, interview, Joseph Calleja, opera, Paul Asciak, Un ballo in maschera

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