In what has become a traditional annual event on the island of Malta, Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja has drawn thousands to his summer concert.
The 36-year old opera star, who has been singing since the age of 16 and performs at major opera houses around the world, wants to introduce opera music to a wider audience: “I know of no other concert that makes this mix nowadays, literally nowhere, because I have done them all. [It’s] like a Trojan horse using pop music, there were many people here tonight, who came for the pop music of Leona Lewis and Claudio Baglioni, and then they were exposed to classical music,” he said.
“It is an unfortunate fact that classical music sales are going down and we have to find new ways to attract new audiences and this is one way of doing that,” he added.
A host of international celebrities were invited to perform duets with Calleja. The enthusiastic crowd was treated to a double performance of Italian opera superstar Claudo Baglioni’s 1970’s hit “Questo piccolo grande amore”.
But by far the biggest celebrity this year was British X Factor winner Leona Lewis. Her 2006 victory on TV talent show helped launch her international career. Now a world-famous performer, the 29-year old has not let it go to her head and says there’s always room for improvement: “It’s amazing. I actually studied classically when I was younger, so I have always loved classical singing, opera. And the tenors are so powerful, I’m in awe of them, I’m in awe of their strength and their stamina, and I’d just like to learn from people like this because it makes me become a better singer,” she said.
Maltese mezzo-soprano prodigy Federica Falzon was also among the guests. The 11-year old will represent her country at this year’s Junior Eurovision song contest being held in Malta in November.
Another rising star on the world opera stage is Clare Ghigo, also from Malta. Although she has already performed at some of the biggest opera houses in Europe, she admits to suffering from stage fright: “I think it’s my first experience on such a big stage. Singing outside is very taxing because we’re trained to sing indoors, but, of course, nowadays you have to be more versatile. But we made it,” she said with a big smile.
Welsh bass baritone Bryn Terfel impressed the audience with his energetic performance. He talked about his difficult beginnings as a young opera singer: “I could sing from a very early age and my parents guided me wonderfully through that. It wasn’t cool to be a singer – don’t get me wrong – you know, some of the pupils in my school were making fun of me. But I rode through that and you have to go with what talent you are given,” he said.
Thanks to his summer concerts, Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja hopes to broaden the appeal of classical music, in line with the philosophy of the Three Tenors – Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras. And it is also a way of sponsoring new opera talent.
One of the biggest cultural events on the island of Malta, this year’s concert drew some 25 000 people – an impressive turnout on an island of just 450 000 inhabitants.