Showing posts with label Joseph Calleja. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Joseph Calleja. Show all posts

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Seen at Macbeth...

The Met, bless its cotton socks, has a new project to display as an adjunct to its HD worldwide cinecasts. It says the intention is to expand its visual arts initiatives "with a new series of short films created by visual artists and set to music from operas in the Met’s current season." Macbeth (above) is a Toiletpaper project by Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari. Enjoy. 

Onwards. Yesterday's performance of Verdi's Macbeth itself was a treat of the first order thanks to the (mostly) superb singing, but above all for the mind-blowing performance of Anna Netrebko as Lady Macbeth. 

I wouldn't have recognised that glittery girl I interviewed the morning after her Barbican concert with Rolando Villazon all those years ago. Then, the diamond necklace she'd worn for the show was still around her throat. Now...they're inside her larynx. She's grown into a different kind of singer and a mature, glowing, towering artist; the colour, magnitude, range, depth and charisma of the voice have moved up to another level altogether, and her prowess as actress looks second to none. Joseph Calleja remarked, during my recent interview with him, that he "would sweep the streets to work with Anna" - and now we can see why. 

If you missed it, but there's an "encore" showing round your way, don't think - just go. Calleja, Pape and above all Lucic as Macbeth gave their everything too, and their everything is quite something.

A few little iffy things. Adrian Noble's often fine staging nevertheless turned the witches into the kind of gathering that gets handbags a bad name, and there were one or two unaccompanied moments in which certain people's intonation went seriously awry. The rest was so fine, though, that one managed not to mind too much, surprising though it was. 

Hooray for worldwide cinecasting - and there's plenty more lined up for the rest of the season. I can thoroughly recommend the Richmond Curzon for its comfy seats, friendly ambience and top-notch ice-cream. 

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

A little celebration of insomnia?

Er, no, it's Nessun dorma ("None shall sleep"). Known affectionately among some aficionados as Nissan Dormer. Here is my little celebration of Puccini's last stand, to kick off Turandot at the Royal Opera House (opens Monday).

And here, to prove the points, are a few samples of what's happened to the thing over the years.

1990 World Cup Grandstand (those were the days...)

Jackie Evancho (oh help)

And if you watched that, you've earned the real thing: Joseph Calleja at the Last Night of the Proms last year:

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A solution to vocal problems? Oh yes! Oh yes!

Argy-bargy at the Royal Opera House press conference yesterday: in the course of a highly operatic morning, Tony Pappano had a go at everyone about the misinformation and conspiracy theories that circulated around the Robert le Diable cast changes a few months back.

Leaving aside the possibility that the work itself is jinxed and should just be quietly buried...what happened, Pappano said, was this: first Florez decided against moving into heavier repertoire, following an unhappy experience with the Duke of Mantua; next, Diana Damrau got pregnant; and though Maria Poplavskaya was ill, she then recovered and went back into the show because her doctor said she was was well enough to do so. The saga with Jennifer Rowley is another issue altogether...

Apart from that, there's plenty good stuff next season including a recital on the main stage by Jonas Kaufmann, who'll also be singing in Puccini's Manon Lescaut; three Strauss operas for the composer's anniversary year, including Karita Mattila in Ariadne auf Naxos; Faust with Calleja and Terfel; Les Dialogues des Carmelites with Magdalena Kozena on stage and Simon Rattle in the pit; a new production of Parsifal; and a lavish, expensive staging together with the Royal Ballet of The Sicilian Vespers. In ballet, there'll be a full-length creation by Christopher Wheeldon based on Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale, with a new score by Joby Talbot, and Carlos Acosta will be in charge of a new staging of Don Quixote. Sales are up, with ballet reaching 98% of box office and opera hot on its heels (so to speak). More opera 13-14 news here. More ballet 13-14 news here.

Still, it was clear that TP is fairly fed up with singers who cancel, and that it does happen more than it used to.

What to do? Maybe the ROH needs to invest in some vibrators.

This is not a joke. (At least, I don't think it is.) Just look at this news from the University of Alberta:
Vibrators are being used by researchers at the University of Alberta to help give actors a little bit more vocal power. The team of researchers found that pressing the sex toys against the throats of actors helps to give them improved projection and range – vocally, of course.
“You can actually watch on a spectrograph how vocal energy grows,” said David Ley, who worked on the project. “Even when you take the vibrator off, the frequencies are greater than when first applied.
He said he has used this method with singers, schoolteachers and actors, and so far the vibrator technique has always worked...
Ley headed over to a local love shop in search of some hand-held vibrators in order to test out whether they could help release various forms of muscular tension. He was looking for a vibrator with a frequency somewhere between 100 and 120 hertz, which is close to the range of the human voice. Once he applied the vibrator to an actress’ neck over the vocal cords, she was able to produce striking results.
(As reported on RedOrbit - Your Universe Online - read the whole thing here.)

Saturday, January 12, 2013


[NB: Tenor rave alert. If you don't like tenor raves, look away now.]


If Pavarotti had been making his Royal Festival Hall recital debut, you'd want to be there, and later you'd want to know you had been there, even if it was one of those multi-lollipop Gubbay gigs, and you'd go. And it might have sounded a bit like Joseph Calleja did last night. I've heard of great voices, but this is ridiculous.

A friend wrote to me afterwards wanting to know whether he projected OK in the RFH, which can be a tricky acoustic for voices. Projected? If they'd opened the doors, you'd have heard him all the way from Crystal Palace to Kenwood.

Take several thousand volts of personality, a tone so focused and powerful that it can flatten you in two notes, a technique so strong that you'd like to make musical instrument cases out of it, and the effortless confidence to convey passion for music and singing in a truly universal way - and that might just be the biggest opera star of the next few decades grinning at you off the platform.

You know how much I love Jonas Kaufmann and Juan Diego Florez, of course, and to think that we're lucky enough to have all these guys around to hear at the moment is gratitude-inspiring. Different types of voice, different kinds of personality, different purposes, different fates, all miraculous to hear. For a few minutes in the first half, with the Puccini arias from Tosca and the Flower Song from Carmen, I nearly dared to miss Kaufmann's subtlety, the emotional darkness, the variety of colour. Calleja is 50-degree Maltese sunshine all the way.

Yet the shadows were soon gone. Do we love him? Oh boy, do we love him. A bit of Mascagni, a spot of Verdi and some delicious Mario Lanza numbers by Brodszky, and the Golden Age of Singing is alive and well and sipping the conductor's bubbly for the 'Brindisi' final encore.

Spare a thought for the guest soprano, Indra Thomas - fortunate to share a platform with him, but unfortunate in that her vocal technique is nowhere near as strong as his, despite a lovely tone quality at its best in "Pace, pace mio dio" from La forza del destino (as usual, "the best is the enemy of the vaguely OK"). She seemed thoroughly caught up in the enchantment of Calleja's stagecraft, though, as he led her purposefully out of sight for the last phrase of 'O Soave Fanciulla', and who can blame her? The Philharmonia fizzed away happily under the baton of Andrew Greenwood and the evening flew by in a whirl of heady delights and Italianate winter sparkle.

You can follow Calleja on Twitter, where he is @MalteseTenor and describes himself as
"Maltaholic, opera singer, father to a princess and terminator, fly fishing enthusiast and St Emilion fanatic." And he blogs about life on the singing superhighway, here.

Above, hear "Joe" singing the title track from his Mario Lanza tribute album, Be my Love. Be warned, though, that listening to Calleja on disc is a little like watching a Wimbledon final on TV. You appreciate some of the marvels - but to grasp the full power of it, you need to be there...  

Friday, September 28, 2012

Gramophone needles

Quite a feast at the Dorchester yesterday for the Gramophone Awards.

First of all, it was Benjamin's big day [left]. Since the BBC has moved many of its TV operations, including the Breakfast news programme, to Salford - about 200 miles away from most of the action, eg. the government, a daft decision if ever there was one - he was up north at crack of dawn to appear there. Then whisked all the way back to London just in time to be catapulted onto live Radio 4, for which The World at One was able to cover the awards since the news of them was out early. Next, into the ballroom to accept two prizes, make a couple of speeches and play two party pieces [below], and receive the goodwill of the music industry, which was his by by bucketload.

The indefatigable James Jolly more than lived up to his name as he presented the prizes, aided and abetted by Eric Whitacre and "Sopranielle" de Niese, as someone managed to dub her. Danni treated us to a performance of Lehar's 'Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiß', over which our host quipped "I bet they do"... Live music too from the mesmerising violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaya, playing the Bartok Romanian Dances in authentic Romanian Gypsy style; and Granados from Leif Ove Andsnes, who was in town to play at the RFH and came in to collect the chamber music prize, awarded to him and Christian and Tanya Tetzlaff for their glorious  recording of Schumann trios. [Above, he collects his award from Danni.]

There were touching moments aplenty. Think of the filmed interview with Murray Perahia, who scooped the new Piano Prize, proving yet again why genuine musicianship cannot be trumped by anything, ever; or the turbo-charged voice of Joseph Calleja, scooping Artist of the Year. Most moving of all, though, Vaclav Talich's granddaughter came in to accept the historical recording award on his behalf: his Smetana Ma Vlast, given in concert in 1939 two months after the Wehrmacht marched into Prague and featuring a moment in which the audience spontaneously broke into singing the national anthem. There's no other moment like it on disc, said Rob Cowan.

Priceless, too, was the announcement of Record of the Year, which went to the Baroque Vocal category for Schütz's Musikalische Exequien - from the Belgian choir Vox Luminis and its director Lionel Meunier. A towering figure (literally) with a blend of charm and modesty that captured everyone's hearts as he stood, overwhelmed, by the microphone [left], Lionel explained that the whole recording was organised in his kitchen and he could hardly believe he was going to go back to his choir the next day and say "We f***ing got Record of the Year!

Plenty of time for chat, gossip and networking in between, natch: a chance to clink glasses with some and say "Better times ahead?" and others to say "Bravi", and others still to reflect on the growing parallels between two of our greatest tenors now, Calleja and Kaufmann (who pre-recorded a thank-you speech for the Fidelio recording with Abbado and Nina Stemme that took the opera prize) and, respectively, force-of-nature Pavarotti and deep-thinking, dark-toned Domingo. 

Among my most interesting encounters was a discussion with a critic who'd come in from the pop culture world to see what it was all about. He was furious. Why? Because, he says, there's all this incredible music, yet it's somehow been sectioned off and the world at large never gets to hear it! The decision-makers in the British media don't include it as part of culture in general, and they should. It's been ghettoised. And not through any fault of its own - millions of people love it when they have the chance. Why keep it out of the mainstream with some cack-handed inverted snobbery that says the general public isn't capable of appreciating it?

One more Gramophone needle: here's the line-up of winners for the final group photo.

That's right, they're all blokes. 

Violinist Isabelle Faust won the concerto category, to be fair-ish; Tanya Tetzlaff features in the chamber music, and Nina Stemme in Fidelio, but the latter scarcely got a mention while everyone was drooling over Jonas's speech and adulating Claudio Abbado who won the Lifetime Achievement award. The two women who collected awards did so on others' behalf: Talich's granddaughter and Perahia's wife. 

Of course, there's a strong feeling that these awards are for musical achievement alone and gender balance shouldn't matter. In an ideal world, yes, fine. But this isn't one. Given the number of world-class female musicians on the circuit at present, how is it possible that only one-and-two-bits were among the winners of so many major awards? 

I still have the feeling that to be fully recognised as a woman musician, you must work five times as hard as the men and look perfect as well. There's an unfortunate double-bind in the music industry: those charged with selling the artists via image doll up the women as sex symbols, only for a fair number of critics to succumb at once, consciously or otherwise, to the prejudice that "they're being sold on their looks, so they can't be any good". This isn't the way it ought to be. 

I begrudge none of these marvellous male musicians their prizes: each and every one was fully deserved. Yet is it now time to introduce an alternative industry award, like the erstwhile-Orange Prize for Fiction, to boost the wider recognition of female classical musicians on the strength of their artistry, not their looks? Sad to say, but the answer is yes.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Olympians head for Last Night of the Proms

You'd think the presence of Nicola Benedetti and Joseph Calleja would be musical Olympics enough, but there's an extra dimension to tonight's Last Night of the Proms. Look who's coming to listen.

Last Night of the Proms welcomes Team GB and ParalympicsGB to celebrate the end
of an extraordinary summer
Saturday 8 September 2012
The BBC Proms is delighted to announce that athletes from Team GB and ParalympicsGB will be joining the Last Night festivities at the Royal Albert Hall and in Hyde Park tomorrow evening. Following an invitation from BBC Proms Director Roger Wright to all that took part in this summer’s Games, the Proms is delighted to welcome over 80 athletes to the Last Night celebrations.
In keeping with the return of Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea-Songs in the traditional second half of the Royal Albert Hall concert (live on BBC One), the BBC Proms is thrilled to be joined in the hall by rulers of the waves themselves: Team GB Gold medal winners in the Mens Coxless Fours Alex Gregor, Tom James MBE and Pete Reed; Silver medallist in the Lightweight Mens Double Sculls Zac Purchase MBE and the complete ParalympicGB Mixed Coxed Fours Gold medal winners David Smith, James Roe, Naomi Riches, Pam Relph and Lily van den Broecke (cox).

Last night at the Vienna Philharmonic, the front-section Promenaders did their best to get into the spirit of the LNOTP by doing a few knee-bends to the encore, J Strauss's waltz Voices of Spring. Only a few, though. For a nuanced write-up of the concert I'm going to refer you to the sterling Boulezian.

As for tonight, fabulous to know that 900-carat Calleja will be beamed out to the entire world. So everyone can hear that the golden age of the Tenor Voice has by no means been and gone. It's alive and well and flying out fresh from Malta. Here's an extract from his new album, Be My Love - a tribute to Mario Lanza. Actually he leaves Lanza standing. (Be my love? Any time, Joe. Any time.)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

And the winner is...

Congratulations to STEPHEN LLEWELLYN, winner of the JDCMB 'Chacun a son gout' competition. Yes, bizarrely enough, that is indeed the same Stephen Llewellyn who was the proud champion of Miss Mussel's first #operaplot competition. Stephen, you will be the lucky recipient of the new CD by Joseph Calleja, 'The Maltese Tenor', which will be sent to you straight from the offices of Universal Classics.

The correct answers: 'Chacun a son gout' is featured prominently in Johann Strauss II's opera Die Fledermaus. And it is sung by Prince Orlofsky. I am impressed that everybody who entered the competition - and there were lots of you - got it right.

The prize draw took place last night in the concertmaster's dressing room at the Royal Albert Hall, just after the London Philharmonic had completed its 'Vladothon' all-Hungarian Prom, which involved Kodaly's Dances of Galanta, Bartok's Piano Concerto No.1 with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet as soloist, and to end, Liszt's Faust Symphony.

We asked the orchestra's one actual Hungarian violinist, Katalin Varnagy, to select the winner's name from the many entries that mingled in the violin case... You can see the very glam Kati talking about her Hungarian musical heritage in the Prom interval when the concert's televised on Thursday evening.

Then, since the occasion was also Tomcat's birthday and, besides, marked the 25th anniversary of him joining the LPO (odd, as he's only 21...) everyone came along for a drink, including the adorable and stupendous Mr Bavouzet...


...and also Vladimir Jurowski and concertmaster Pieter Schoemann (pictured below - l to r, Vladimir, Tomcat, Kati and Pieter). The flag is Hungarian - there's a green stripe at the bottom.

I'd just like to reassure any Hungarian Dances fans that the characters of Karina (semi-Hungarian) and Rohan (South African) were not actually based on Kati and Pieter. It's all pure coincidence, honest to goodness, guv. These things happen with books sometimes. Life imitates art. It does.

Quite a late night. Please excuse the JDCMB team while it adjourns to the kitchen for extra coffee....

Sunday, June 26, 2011

And in the news today...

* Glyndebourne is filming Die Meistersinger this afternoon and it will be webcast live and free on The Guardian's website. It's also to be shown in the Science Museum in South Kensington. Stephen Moss will be doing a live Meisterblog and tweets are invited, as on the first night, with the hashtag #diemeistertweeter. There's a treasure-trove of supporting articles and webcasts on the site. Details of the streaming, interview with Vlad etc, here.

* In similar vein, Norman Lebrecht makes the point in today's Telegraph that all of a sudden the issue of access, access, access is no longer relevant. We have access, thanks to webcasts, cinecasts and the Big Screens, and apparently this, our very own wet and soggy island, is where the future of opera is being carved. (Discuss...)

He also had a high old time at the ENO's new Nico Muhly opera Two Boys, which I had not initially planned to attend. Had it been sold as a "Susan Bickley is Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect" opera (as every man and his cat has been saying that it is since the premiere on Friday), I'd have booked in at once. But from the marketing it sounded like a niche thing that was fashioned for young gay blokes who live online; therefore it mightn't be interesting for married, female, 40-something technotwits... There shouldn't be a problem getting in, though. When I checked the website on Thursday to see if there were seats left for Monday, the place was less than half full. If all is well up north (we have difficult family issues at present), I may go. Alternatively I might catch up with DVDs of another wonderful woman detective: Brenda Blethyn as Vera in the ITV series based on the absolutely brilliant Geordie detective novels by Ann Cleeves, if said DVDs are yet available.

* This morning @MalteseTenor Joseph Calleja was on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1, singing 'E lucevan le stelle'. Michael Gove, our education minister - currently trying to avert a strike by teachers this week - was listening from the sofa, where he'd been trying to say he wasn't really intending to exhort parents to strike-break. He applauded enthusiastically... Feel the power, Micks. Let the people hear the music. Let the people learn music, too, at school. Music for all, please: right here, right now.

Speaking of opera and the internet, Calleja shared my blog on his Facebook fan page the other day. Aw shuks. Can you imagine a world in which Richard Tauber had internet access?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Psst - want a legal high?

If so, sit back and turn up the volume. Listen to Joseph Calleja singing 'E lucevan le stelle' from Tosca (on Youtube, below). Then imagine being just four metres away from him as he does so. That, dear reader, is how I was privileged to spend my lunchtime. If they're going to crack down on 'legal highs', as some newspapers are reporting today, then what are they going to do about tenors?

Calleja has grown up: the Maltese falcon is flying. I heard his first CD some years ago - bel canto arias in what seemed a pleasing, light, precise voice. So I wasn't prepared for what hit us today when Decca put on a showcase half-hour performance by him in the Royal Opera House's crush room, to preview his new album 'The Maltese Tenor'. At about 32, he's not a slender, tender tenor type, but instead a big, bullish, walking soundbox imbued with roaring charisma. By the time he'd finished his programme, mostly Verdi and Puccini, I reckon the entire gathering was head over heels in love. Afterwards the chat was mostly about how unbelievably lucky we felt to be there to hear such an artist at all, let alone at such close quarters. And we all want to go and see him in Malta, his homeland, where he has just founded a new festival.

This is a major, major star in the making. If he's coming to a stage near you soon, you don't just want a ticket; you need one, fast. And you can follow him on Twitter at @MalteseTenor. Hope you love him as much as we did.