This disc was recorded back in 2003, when Joseph Calleja was a virtually unknown twenty-six year old, and on the threshhold of his career. At that time, the voice was a light lyric tenor with a distinctive fast vibrato, more akin to the sound of tenors like De Lucia and Bonci than what we have become used to since.
Repertoire on the disc is judicially chosen, and I am very surprised to see that in his most recent disc of Verdi arias, he tackles music for Otello, Manrico and Radames (though I don’t think he has sung any of these roles on stage yet). Listening to the performances on this disc, one wouldn’t suspect for a moment that the voice would develop to embrace that repertoire. So far he has taken his career slowly and I do hope he doesn’t push himself too far.
But back to the recital disc in question, and I must say I find it very satisfying. Far from the can belto of so many tenors, there is lighness and grace to his singing, and he refreshingly brings as much attention to recitative as he does to an aria. Take the opening piece, the recitative to Alfredo’s Dei miei bollenti spiriti, which brims with joyful high spirits, softening with a touch of intimacy at Qui presso a lei. The aria itself is sung with a nice buoyancy and affectionate phrasing, switching to a more propulsive manner for the cabeltta.
The Macbeth aria is sung with a deep sense of melancholy, whilst the Duke is all charm and insouciance, though the top D he attempts is a little insecure. Nemorino’s Quanto e bella is delivered with a nice winsome charm, and Edgardo’s final scene is suitably tragic.
I’m not sure the aria from Adrianna Lecouvreur was a good choice for him, as it seems to cry out for a beefier sound. Nevertheless his restraint is most welcome, and it is good to be free of all those sobs and aspirates that used to pass for emotion in some Italian tenors of an earlier generation
In all Riccardo Chailly offers impeccable support, and it is good that scenes are given complete with chorus and interjections from other singers (Linda Easley as Annina and Giovanni Battista Parodi as Raimondo).
All in all a very successful debut recital, and it is good to know that Calleja is still active today, largely fulfilling the promise he showed in this one.