Joseph Calleja: "Moscow has some of the World’s Warmest Audiences!"

On 21 November, Moscow’s popular modern Zaryadye Concert Hall will host a concert featuring the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra and Joseph Calleja, Malta’s most famous tenor, legend of the Mediterranean island and a world celebrity, as the soloist. In this interview, Joseph Calleja speaks about his love for Malta, opera and Russian culture.

Joseph Calleja: "Moscow has some of the World’s Warmest Audiences!"

Joseph, you are Malta’s Cultural Ambassador, the public knows you as a Maltese tenor, the ‘Maltese falcon’. What does it all mean for you? How does this affect your creative development, your personality?

I am proud of the name the international press has given me. I always remember my native island; I talk about it in every interview with foreign journalists. I invite famous performers to Malta; I try to find investors for cultural projects on the island. I am very earnest about my role as cultural ambassador for my homeland, which I love dearly.

How would you describe cultural life in Malta today?

Cultural life has definitely become more dynamic. The present government has certainly done a lot for our culture. Yet still much more can be done… Developing cultural tourism on the island has great prospects, as has creation of cultural programmes for all visitors to our island.

Every August, you perform in Floriana in Malta together with world-famous musicians. How do you choose the guest performers for those universally beloved concerts? Are they just colleagues on the international stage? Or are you fast friends?

Some of the guests do, indeed, become friends, for instance, Andrea Boccelli, Riccardo Cocciante, and the late Lucio Dalla…

Do you have favourite places in Malta? What is your perfect day at home?

Mellieħa and some spots on Gozo are my favorites. Then there are certainly Valletta and Mdina. A perfect day for me is a long walk around the island but it is best done in winter. For summer, I would choose something else: a boat ride exploring our picturesque coastline.

Malta has so much, concentrating thousands of years of history. The island is right in the middle of the Mediterranean and all the great civilizations of antiquity left their mark here. This is unique, so one can explore Malta endlessly.

Rock music was your first love (in one of your interviews, you said that you were in a rock band at school), but opera became your main passion. How did that happen?

As a teenager, I played with Konrad Pule in the band Scar. It was at the De La Salle school. I liked Queen, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Deep Purple, Nirvana… But I was born with an operatic voice and that ultimately determined my musical path.

When I was 13, I saw “The Great Caruso” starring Mario Lanza. And when I heard his voice, I decided I wanted to sing opera arias. Later, my teacher Paul Asciak told me I had what it takes to make my dream come true. The confidence my teacher gave me launched my operatic career.

Your life is filled with concert tours. Which performance is the most memorable and why?

I could name a great many concerts but, if I had to choose just one, then singing at Wimbledon in front of 20,000 people was amazing. It was a few months ago at the celebration of the re-opening of Tennis Court No. 1.

I performed Boccelli’s Con Te Partirò and the BBC broadcast it live. After the concert, I was so inspired by it all that I myself streamed live on Facebook, as a tennis fan in the stands.

Once you said there is no need to go to university for 25 years to go to operas. Yet what do you think it actually takes to understand opera?

An ear for music and a bit of time to evaluate what you are hearing. Just absorb the sound. Like you would a good cigar or a glass of wine!

On 21 November, at the Zaryadye Concert Hall in Moscow, the European Foundation for Support of Culture, together with the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, is organizing a concert as part of the ‘MPO Moscow Tour – A Union of Cultures.’ Why did you decide to take part in this international project?

I have always admired Russian culture: I like Russian literature, Russian romances… as for the audiences, well, Moscow has some of the world’s warmest audiences! I have performed in Moscow several times and I can say this with confidence.

The EUFSC, the organizer of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra’s tour, is a key player in developing classical music in Malta and abroad: it holds multiple musical festivals, concerts, master-lasses, competitions and other important events. What is your opinion of the significance its activities have for Malta?

I know that the Foundation organizes the annual Malta International Music Festival, which attracts world-class classical performers and allows Malta to take an important place on the world’s cultural map. Of course, the work of the EUFSC is very important for development of our culture in general and I hope the number of the Foundation’s projects will increase by the year.

What do you think are the unique features of the Russian mindset?

I’ve always admired the Russian ‘sense of honour’ and love of their country. Besides, talking about Russia, we always talk about recognized cultural riches, works of classical music and literature.

What will you certainly take with you to Moscow?

Warm clothes. Your audiences are very warm but the autumn can be quite cold.

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