Joseph Calleja on the perils of opera

5 September 2012, 12:37 | Updated: 5 September 2012, 12:48

Opera singing and fine red wine - the Maltese tenor has certain techniques to make sure his amazing voice is at its best.

Your new album features music by star of stage and screen, Mario Lanza. What attracted you to his music?

I think the same thing that attracted millions – his charismatic voice, which also happened to be one of the most beautiful on record, his incredible stage persona on the reel, in film. He really is the reason why many people started following opera, and he’s the reason I started pursuing my studies back when I was 13 or 14.

You’re singing some opera classics, ‘Nessun dorma’ and ‘Vesti la giubba’. Is it difficult to swap between the popular music and the more operatic?

The beautiful thing about these songs is that they require a classical approach in how you sing them. They’re not nursery rhymes, they’re really difficult songs to make successful and to sing the right way. It really requires a full-blown tenor lyric voice to perform the way the composer wanted them performed.

And some of the songs are particularly high – in 'Be My Love' you sing a top C, right at the top of a tenor’s range – how do you keep your voice in good condition?

I do everything possible: I don’t talk much, I don’t drink, and I eat as healthily as possible, but in the end it’s also a matter of luck – not getting a cold, not getting a sore throat. We travel so much as opera singers that we’re constantly bombarded with germs and dry air on planes, so it’s a bit of a taxing life! You try to learn with experience. Even though I’m only 34, I started my career when I was 19, back in 1997, so I’ve had a lot of time to get used to and possibly avoid the many perils that an opera singer might encounter.

You said Enrico Caruso used to drink red wine to help him reach the high notes. Does that help you sing?

I’m a big fan of the Saint Emilion Bordeaux! I can’t drink much when I’m singing but I do have a pretty good wine collection and I travel to the region pretty often to sample the wines and meet some of the great wine makers I have the privilege to call friends. Château Figeac, Château Ausone, Château Cheval Blanc – I met them all, and they love having me around, I sing for them and I love drinking their wine!