Joseph Calleja sings Verdi, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, September 2013Posted on 5 September 2013
Glorious singing from Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja in Prom 72 with the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi under their chief conductor Xian Zhang. The theme of the concert was anguish and despair, well suiting Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony in the second half.
Manfred, based on Byron’s poem of the same name, bears a burden of guilt and remorse for his earlier love of Astarte, whereas in most of the Verdi tenor roles that Calleja sang the young man thinks himself betrayed by the woman he adores. These started with Foresto’s aria in Attila expressing what he believes is Odabella’s treachery, and Henri’s aria from the revised version of Les vepres siciliennes when he thinks he will lose Hélène, but what really moved things into top gear was the excerpt from Simon Boccanegra. Starting with O inferno! Calleja expresses Gabriele Adorno’s appalled belief that his beloved Amelia is Boccanegra’s lover, when in fact she is simply his long lost daughter. This excruciating misunderstanding was followed, after an orchestral interlude, by the terrible betrayal Rodolfo feels in Luisa Miller when he reads the letter she was forced to write. Calleja brought out hugely strong feelings here, with a terrific ending.
The orchestral pieces were well chosen, starting with the thrilling overture to La forza del destino, and including an exciting Triumphal March from Aida with fine playing by four natural trumpets on either side of the organ. After the dramatic Luisa Miller excerpt, Calleja changed attitude completely with the devil-may-care La donna è mobile from Rigoletto, which the audience knew and loved. But that points to one small omission.
After several stage calls by Calleja and conductor Xian Zhang, the audience continued applauding, expecting an encore. Finally Calleja came back, clearly expecting the conductor to follow, but she never did. As one woman behind me said, “He just stuck to his contract”. That may be unfair, but the arias were not well-known, apart from La donna è mobile, and it just needed one more old chestnut to round things off. Although we didn’t get it, we did hear some very fine singing, and he will be performing again at Proms in the Park on Saturday.