Facing the music: Joseph Calleja

The tenor loves the Beatles, gets cosy to Nat King Cole and would have loved to sing with von Karajan

What was the first record or cd you bought?

A tape of the Beatles. I was about 11 years old and think I eventually wore it out from playing it over and over again. I’m still a huge fan of the Beatles today and only wish I’d had the chance to see them perform live.

If you had six months free to learn a new instrument, what would it be?

The piano or the guitar.

What was the last piece of music you bought?

A vinyl record of Nat King Cole. I adore his voice and at Christmas time I love to light up the fireplace and cosy up to his songs.

How do you mostly listen to music?

Since I’m on the go a lot, I often listen to my music libraries on Spotify and iTunes. However, I still enjoy the vinyl experience most and look forward to those moments when I can unwind at home with a nice glass of wine and listen to some of my classics.

What’s your musical guilty pleasure?

Eminem at 2014’s Lollapalooza Festival.
Go-to artist ... Eminem performing at 2014’s Lollapalooza Festival. Photograph: Cindy Barrymore/REX Shutterstock

Eminem. Definitely. He’s my go-to artist for a good workout.

What’s the most unusual place/venue you’ve ever performed?

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Turkey is such an intoxicating country. It’s saddening to see the turmoil there at the moment.

Did you ever consider a career outside of music? Doing what?

Not really. As a child I would sing constantly, and I had what you could call a loud voice for my age. I remember simply chatting with my friends on the school bus and getting scolded by the supervisor for shouting! My girlfriend who is a lawyer, often chides that I would make a good lawyer.

What single thing would improve the format of the classical concert?

Indirectly, the diffusion of concerts on mainstream media; and directly, more audience interaction.

If you had to pick one work to introduce someone to the wonders of classical music, what would it be?

Puccini’s La bohème. It is so cinematic. I have no doubt that if Puccini was alive today he would be collaborating with the movie world.

Which conductor or performer of the past would you like to have worked with?

Von Karajan. Arguably the best singers’ conductor while being equally peerless in symphonic work.

Which non-classical musician would you like to work with?

I have two top choices. Céline Dion and Elton John. Both are exceptional performers whose music I grew up listening to.

Imagine you’re a festival director here in London with unlimited resources. What would you programme - or commission - for your opening event?

An opera about the ongoing tragedy in Syria. I think few subjects nowadays are more worthy.

What do you sing in the shower?

Otello. All tenors sound like Otello in the shower…

It’s late, you’ve had a few beers, you’re in a Karaoke bar. What do you choose to sing?

Wicked Game by Chris Isaak. Perhaps the sexiest and most beautiful ballad ever written.

Joseph Calleja performs in Norma at the Royal Opera House, London from 12 September. The performance on 26 September will be relayed live into cinemas around the world.

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