Malta's national hero opera tenor set to tackle Madame Butterfly in Houston
Joseph Calleja is something of a national treasure as the island nation of Malta's most famous opera tenor. The 32-year-old began his career in Malta at age 16 and has since had leading roles in 28 operas around the world. He joins the Houston Grand Opera beginning Friday as Pinkerton in Puccini's Madame Butterfly.
Due to already-popular demand — the first three performances have sold out — HGO has added an additional performance Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m.
With opening night approaching, Calleja talks to CultureMap about his escapes to Galveston, his love for Malta and the challenges of playing Pinkerton.
CultureMap: Is this your first time performing in Houston?
Joseph Calleja: It is my first time, and I love it. I have been to Galveston, and I can't wait to do some fishing. It's my third week here, but I have to leave immediately after the last performance for performances in Europe.
CM: You grew up in Malta. Have you ever been to Luciano's in Valletta?
JC: Don't tell me you know Malta! I don't think I've been, but I know the place.
CM: I am quite familiar with Malta. Do you find most Americans know your country?
JC: Some of them do, some of them don't, but I don't blame them, you know. America is so big and Malta is not — you cannot even see it on a map. But people here know history, especially that related to the second World War.
CM: Are you proud to be representing Malta in the states?
JC: I'm very patriotic, I have to say that. Perhaps coming from a very small place which has not been a republic for very long, there is a sense of pride and sort of responsibility in doing well, because every time I do well my country is portrayed in a positive light. And they're very proud of me.
CM: Is this your first time performing the role of Pinkerton?
JC: Actually it's not the first time — the first time was in Bari, Italy in Teatro Petruzzelli, but we didn't have much time for rehearsals there, so this really feels like the first time. It's a theater in which there is a really positive attitude and atmosphere. (Ana María) Martinez is fabulous, (Levi) Hernandez, Lucy Schaufer. It's a very nice team.
The Houston Grand Opera's production of Puccini's Madame Butterfly will run Oct. 22 through Nov. 11. The co-production in collaboration with Geneva Opera is under the direction of Michael Grandage (Hamlet – Broadway 2009; Frost/Nixon – Broadway 2007) and draws visual inspiration from traditional Japanese art. Malta's star tenor Joseph Calleja will play the part of Pinkerton, opposite Ana María Martínez as Geisha Cio-Cio-San.