Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Maltese Tenor: Joseph Calleja launches CD at LPR

Having eagerly awaited the U.S. release of Joseph Calleja's new album, I ventured down on Monday to hear him perform at Le Poisson Rouge in honor of its launch. This was, for me, an adventure outside my comfort zone. Walking down Bleecker Street, I passed the building with the suited men in clipboards supervising its entrance, which was further presided over by an oversized fish skeleton. I was sure it couldn't be the place I wanted. It was. "Where do I get my ticket?" I asked the man who stamped my hand. "That is your ticket," he said pleasantly. Oh. The staff were friendly and accommodating to me and the other confused-looking folk who were clearly outside their usual concert-going habitat as well. I'm still not sure how I feel about black paint on the walls. "It was like a scary Bond villain lair!" I wailed to the Beloved Flatmate later. "Or... a club?" she said. Oh.

Propped against a pillar, I tried to take deep breaths. Calleja was greeted by the audience with enthusiastic applause, and greeted us in turn with warm cheer which did much to help me relax. In addition to singing, he provided buoyantly good-humored banter throughout the evening. (Announcing the album: "The original project concept was The Three Maltese Tenors, but the other two candidates were a dog and a falcon.") And then he sang. "Ma se m'è forza perderti" was the bold opener, and for me one of the highlights of the evening. Calleja's rendering was elegant and impassioned, and I understood every syllable.
Steven Mercurio and his orchestra provided able support throughout the evening; what sounded like a few timing issues were quickly corrected (and I suspect attributable to short rehearsal time.) An unexpected bonus was getting to hear colleagues and friends of Calleja's who also participated in the evening. Katie van Kooten is a new name to me; perhaps this should be a Shameful Confession, as she displayed a rich-hued soprano. Her "Měsíčku Na Nebi Hlubokém" was more determined and less dreamy than Rusalkas often are. (I was a little surprised that, in the absence of texts/translations, no brief contextualizations were given for the opera excerpts. Maybe it can be assumed that people who decide to be at a Joseph Calleja party know the standard rep?) Most of the selections were classic showpiece arias, but Calleja treated each of them with care. His account of "Pourquoi me reveiller" was very sensitive, with a delicate tapering to piano on "printemps." "E lucevan le stelle," although passionately sung, did not make me cry. Daniel Hope was welcomed with great fanfare, and gave a graceful, sensual "Meditation" from Thais. It must be said in their favor that the LPR audience did not clap at the deceptive near-silence before the end.

I often wish that tenor-baritone duets which aren't "Au fond du temple saint" might be performed more often in concert; however, Calleja and Luca Pisaroni gave a rendering of it which nicely blended sensuality and awe. If "O soave fanciulla" is sung well, I honestly don't care how often it's excerpted; I love it. And Calleja and van Kooten sang it very well indeed.  Calleja's Rodolfo was earnest, charming, besotted, and just a little bit naughty: in other words, perfect. Pisaroni's catalogue aria (on one of his days off! notte e giorno faticar...) was another of the evening's highlights. Stylishly suited, with a catalogue on a deftly wielded smartphone, this was a deliciously wicked Leporello, sung with style and relish. Calleja rounded out the evening with some popular favorites: a showy, sunny, splendid "Granada," and an "O sole mio" that succeeded surprisingly well, due, I suspect, to an interpretation that was straightforward and open-hearted, not trying to make it too complicated. "I think you will know this one," said Calleja of the last selection. " 'Because.' " I didn't... but it turned out to be an Edwardian parlor ballad (recorded by Caruso.) The sincerity with which it was given made it charming.  After many smiles and bows from the artists (but no encores) the festivities continued for those who were eating and drinking, or getting CDs signed. Since my music budget is devoted almost exclusively to live events, I just went home. But I do recommend the album, The Maltese Tenor, which you can listen to here for a limited time.

Calleja is bringing the waistcoat back

Applause for all

Pisaroni, Calleja, Mercurio, Hope


  1. Sounds like fun! A little weird to have an opera night in a club, though I love the mental image of people walking around looking confused. Glad to hear it's a good cd; I'll have to check it out.

  2. @Christie "Opera night" might be stretching it... though it was definitely a party, there was only about an hour and a quarter of music (sigh.) The other confused opera-goers did make it a lot more fun though. :) It's a very exciting CD; let me know what you think when you find it.


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