A new voice for a new generation | Cliff Zammit Stevens

In his first interview prior to his seventh, annual summer concert, tenor Cliff Zammit Stevens speaks to Iggy Fenech about his recent successes and the journey that has led him here

The day after Cliff Zammit Stevens joined Joseph Calleja and Anastacia on stage, my Facebook newsfeed erupted into a choir of praise for the young, talented tenor. I’ve known Cliff for a few years, and I had heard him sing before, but there’s something about his recent performances that truly encapsulates the feeling that a star has been born. And given his recent successes, I don’t think I’m the only person who feels this way.

Over the past few years, Cliff has been invited to sing at the legendary Royal Albert Hall in London, at one of Robert Sutherland’s master classes – he was an accompanist to Maria Callas, I’ll have you know! – as well as at the Office of the Prime Minister here in Malta, and even on BBC Radio London, just last month.

Moreover, Cliff was one of only six students chosen for enrollment at the Royal College of Music in London in his particular year – a feat in itself considering that alumni of this school include West End and Broadway titan Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the composer of the Titanic soundtrack, James Horner. 

Yet while his accomplishments may be many, particularly considering he is only 26 (going on 27 in three days’ time), Cliff has always remained true to his roots, never forgetting to return home and serenade Maltese audiences with his powerful and sonorous vocals. 

“This will now be my seventh annual summer concert,” he tells me, “and I am so lucky that it has been growing every year. I am very excited as it’s always a privilege to perform back home to the amazing Maltese public.”

Cliff’s upcoming concert, called ‘The Cliff Zammit Stevens Concert with MPO’, will feature the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Australian conductor Mro Natalie Murray Beale, who is renowned for conducting the opera commission ‘We Are Shadows’ at the Spitalfields Festival, which was the winner of a Royal Society Award in 2012. Alongside Cliff and the MPO, there will also be guest soprano Hannah Sandison, the winner of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Governors Recital Prize for singing.

Achieving this success was quite the journey, however. And Cliff’s humble beginnings in music are not what many would assume them to be. 

“As a child, I was never exposed to music, let alone opera!” Cliff explains. “All I remember is going to karaoke nights with my Aunt Annemarie and loving it. That’s when I first experienced the feeling of being on stage, and performing there felt exhilarating.”

It was then that Cliff joined Stagecoach Theatre Arts School and, later, Masquerade. Then, at the age of 14, he met renowned Maltese soprano Gillian Zammit, and under her wing, Cliff flourished as one of Malta’s most promising tenors.

“We worked really hard and I decided that I needed to further my studies abroad at a leading conservatoire,” he continues. “I auditioned for a place at the Royal College of Music and I was lucky enough get in. 

“My experience at RCM was fantastic. It was full-on hard work, obviously, but when working with such professionals and in such a vibrant group of young, aspiring singers, it makes it all worthwhile. I am very lucky to be able to work and perform around the world doing what I love most.”

Cliff’s schedule is now bursting with events, and some of his upcoming concerts include one in New York, as well as a touring concert with the Touring Opera Company all over the UK. He will also take part in ‘1565 in Concert’, which will take place on Sunday 6 and Monday 7 September at the MCC in Valletta.

“I’m very excited about all that’s coming up, but also looking forward to a well-deserved break after my concert, which will be held at Pjazza Teatru Rjal on Friday 4 September,” he jokes. “It’s been a hectic and eventful year, though, and I couldn’t have wished for anything better!”

As aforementioned, Cliff has also performed alongside world-renowned tenor Joseph Calleja and global superstar Anastacia, to an audience of over 20,000 people.

“It had been my dream to perform at one of Calleja’s concerts ever since I went to one,” he says. “I always dreamt of being up on that stage with him, and this year it happened! Calleja is a very special and humble man and his love and passion for Malta and his unbelievable talent are impressive.

“Then there was Anastacia – a beautiful, talented woman, who it’s little wonder became a star. It was a very special experience that I will cherish forever,” he adds. “After all, performing in front of 20,000 people and having the concert televised on Sky Arts is crazy – but we did it and was a massive success!”

Now, with less than two weeks to go until his own concert, Cliff is working hard on making sure everything is as good as it can be, and is collaborating with everyone involved to ensure that the programme and atmosphere on the night will appeal to people of all ages – be they operatic connoisseurs or people looking for a fun evening out.

“I always try to choose a well-balanced programme with both famous pieces and others that are not so well known,” he explains. “I want to share my passion with the guests at the concert and this has always worked well so far.

“Ultimately, I believe that people go to concerts to enjoy the performance as a whole, and music is so powerful that if you have the right atmosphere and performers, then you will be thrown into another world where anything is possible – if only for a few hours,” he concludes.

Considering the various local and foreign reviewers that have sung his praises after every of his past concerts, audiences to Cliff’s upcoming event are surely in for a treat! And I, for one, can’t wait.

Cliff Zammit Stevens Concert with MPO will take place at Pjazza Teatru Rjal in Valletta on Friday 4 September at 8pm. The concert is supported by the Malta Tourism Authority, BOV, XFM, WriteMeAnything.com and Wembley Store. Tickets can be purchased from www.ticketline.com.mt.