[WATCH] Joseph Calleja lauds Maltese artistic talent: ‘There seems to be something in the air’

On Xtra Sajf, the Maltese tenor says the country is punching above its weight when it comes to artistic talent

Tenor Joseph Calleja
Tenor Joseph Calleja

Malta is punching “way above its weight class” when it comes to emerging artistic talent, according to celebrated tenor Joseph Calleja.

The international artist lauded the prodigious outpouring of artists in different mediums and genres. “There seems to be something in the air,” he said, when interviewed on TVM’s Xtra Sajf.

He was speaking during a wide-ranging discussion, which touched upon different topics, including Calleja’s famous love of good wine, his annual concert on the Floriana Granaries, and the ongoing musical journey that resulted in international renown, and which is probably the best evidence of Malta’s propensity for artistic talent that he speaks of.

Calleja spoke of the early years of his operatic career, reminiscing on his time with the late Paul Asiack – or the ‘benevolent dictator’, as Calleja labels him – who he speaks of in reverential tones.

He credited his mentor with helping to temper his own strong personality, and guiding him in the early stages of a journey which has since spanned the globe.

“I was like a sponge, absorbing information,” Calleja recalled, looking back to his first steps onto the international stage, expressing the importance of always being humble and ready to learn, especially within a genre that requires different skills.

“Opera is the highest form of artistic expression; there are all the artistic media in it: art, dance, technique, music… everything is stuffed in the same box,” Calleja said.

Nowadays Calleja’s career has reached heights unmatched by any other local artist, with the tenor speaking of such memorable moments as when he performed at Wimbledon during the inauguration of its new £70 million roof to raucous applause, or when he joined forces with Andrea Bocelli at the Granaries in front of an electrified local audience, as well as memories of performing in front of crowds all over the world, some of whom, especially in New York, can be very vocal with their opinions, both positive and negative.

However, just as Asiack did with him, Calleja is making sure to focus not only on his own illustrious career, but on helping to pave the way for other local artists.

He does this primarily through the BOV Joseph Calleja Foundation, which was set up five years ago, with the aim of fostering local talent, and helping to guide Maltese artists onto the international stage.

Calleja spoke proudly of the foundation’s work, highlighting their sponsorship of cultural activities for children coming from disadvantaged backgrounds.

He stressed that the programme does not just provide monetary support for its scholars – as the beneficiaries of the foundation are known – but also makes it a point to occupy the role of mentor for these young artists.

“We do not merely sign the cheque and leave, although we have given a lot of funds every year, but we also take on the role of mentors,” he said.

Calleja’s own musical journey continues, as he will soon be performing in the Lyric Opera of Chicago, where he will be working on a new production of Luisa Miller, an opera by Verdi.

The tenor expressed his opinion that a singer’s voice is like a fine wine, in that it can get better with age, as well as his hope that, with care, his own voice can last even into his sixties.

Asked whether he has yet reached his peak, Calleja responded: “We’ll know in 20 years’ time, but let’s just say that my voice hasn’t diminished yet.”