Calleja provides a grand night of singing in Celebrity Series recital
Joseph Calleja is riding high these days.
The Maltese tenor has received widespread acclaim for his performances in principal roles at the Royal Opera House, the Viennese Staatsoper, and the Metropolitan Opera. His meteoric rise even attracted the attention of Hollywood as he made his film debut last year impersonating Enrico Caruso in The Immigrant.
As a recitalist, Calleja is a newcomer to the United States and Friday night at Jordan Hall, in a concert sponsored by the Celebrity Series, the tenor made his long-awaited Boston recital debut with a program of songs and operatic favorites.
The tenor sings with radiant warmth with a rapid vibrato that gives his voice a vibrant touch.His resplendent vocal style even has some commentators comparing him to such luminary singers as Pavarotti and Gigli. His golden tone is especially suited for opera roles and listeners had the chance to catch a glimpse of his dramatic presence through several arias Friday night.
His singing was mesmerizing. With dark, penetrating tone, Calleja rendered a powerful and sensitive “Pourquois me réveiller” from Massenet’s Werther. The angst-filled aria provided ample opportunity for the tenor to deliver the expressive goods, singing his phrases with full-throated tone while still being capable of lofting the soft passages with the utmost delicacy.
The aria “Il était une fois à la cour d’Eisenach” from Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann showed the tenor at his most humorous. The singer drew out his lines, punctuating the melody to capture the quirky characteristics of the song’s main character, Kleinzach.
For the “Lamento di Federico” from Francesco Cilea’s L’arlesiana, Calleja captured the bucolic essence and spaciousness of the music. He gave his phrases in the song’s climactic points the sound of sweltering passion.
Also moving was the aria “Ah, la paterna mano” from Verdi’s Macbeth, which Calleja rendered with a tone that was equal parts stately and sweet. “E lucevan le stelle” from Puccini’s Tosca was given the ring of sadness, with Calleja capturing the nostalgia of the song’s lines through phrases of profound strength and yearning.
Calleja was an equally powerful and affecting presence in the songs performed Friday night. He mined the suffering and sadness from Tchaikovsky’s Net tol’ko tot, kto znal, Op. 6 No. 2, a piece awash in dark lyricism. The tenor’s voice rang to penetrating effect in Antonio Caldara’s Alma del core, the song’ passionate lines put across through both delicate phrases and bold statements. The grief-filled passages of Pergolesi’s Nina were aching in effect, with Calleja softening his lines to a haunting glow.
Other songs were just as dramatic. Stefano Donaudy’s Vaghissima sembianza sounded with passion while Francesco Paolo Tosti’s Ideale was astounding in its range of expression.
Throughout, pianist Kevin Miller proved a sensitive accompanist, mining the darkness from the Tchaikovsky and Pergolesi songs and adding a pearly-toned accompaniment for the Caldara. Some of his most brilliant playing came in the Massenet, where his heavier touch captured the dark sonorities of the original orchestral accompaniment. His handling of the sprightly accompaniment to the Offenbach aria was light and dexterous.
The short program, which lasted about an hour with intermission, left plenty of room for encores, and Calleja and Miller delivered five.
The first, “No puede ser” from Pablo Sorozábal’s La Tabernera del Puerto, was rich in tone and expression. The lines of the second, Tosti’s “A Vucchella,” sounded with radiant energy.
For Edith Piaf’s “La vie en rose,” Calleja proved to be a true showman as he wandered into the aisles of Jordan Hall to sing the charming lines in the midst of the audience.
Leoncavallo’s Mattinata sounded with the same powerful expression that characterized the arias heard previously, and the final encore, a stirring rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” sent the audience home with a spring in their step, all the richer for the experience.
The next Celebrity Series concert will feature Trio Jean Paul in music of Beethoven, Rihm, and Dvořák 8 p.m. Wednesday at Pickman Hall. celebrityseries.org; 617-482-2595.
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