With this debut CD/Sacd, Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja joins the front ranks of our current generation of opera singers. He has voice, technique, and enough temperament to project his characterizations through the music, not externalized hysterics. As a lyric tenor, Mr. Calleja must be grouped with Marcelo Alvarez, Juan Diego Florez, and Ramon Vargas. If he can resist the big bucks marketing machine that will no doubt try to turn him, via marketing and poor advice, into Jose Cura;he is more than likely to be around for quite a while. The late Alfredo Kraus sang well into his sixties, and never tried to be any other kind of tenor than the tenor he knew he was.
Some of the repertoire he presents in this recital is familiar and predictable: Traviata, Rigoletto, L'elisir d'amore, Lucia di Lammermoor, and Madame Butterfly. But when was the last time you saw Cilea staged? Calleja bravely includes Adriana Lecourvreur and L'arlesiana. Since he sings Cilea with such involvement and conviction, not so much as tenor display, but as music and as character; you may find yourself wishing you could see them stages with him in the cast. Verdi's Macbeth is included, too. The entire last scena of Edgardo is played and sung so well that you will be hunting for tickets if Calleja comes to town in the part. Admittedly, Calleja's climactic high notes are sometimes compromised by sounding oddly placed. He seems to have the breath support to reach upwards, but sometimes it doesn't sound as if he is quite sure exactly where the note will exactly end up in his head. In live performance this can become a save, just by singing out anyway; but in a recording it is more obvious. At just 26 years old, Mr. Calleja still has plenty of time to keep learning, and get even better.
The Italian orchestra under Ricardo Chailly has this music entirely in its mind, heart, and fingers. The deep familiarity that could lead to phoning in their accompaniments, however, catches fire and tenderness in many moments that reveal them as true partners. Chailly can be wonderful when he really wants to be, and sometimes he can be routinely excellent. In leading the music here, he partners in a flexible and alert way with the tenor, and the pacing of arias seems good for Calleja's ways with a phrase, as well as for his dramatic personifications.
Surround SACD brings all the music into your room, vividly; the chorus and the adjoining singers are welcome, too. You actually get to hear people singing, just as you would in that opera, instead of some solo instrument having to play the line as filler. If you like tenors, I think you will like Mr. Calleja and enjoy what he is doing on this disc. Highly recommended.