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University of Malta sings Joseph Calleja’s praises

‘Opera isn’t just for elite’

Tenor Joseph Calleja was yesterday awarded an honorary degree by the University of Malta that sang his praises for being one of the world’s finest opera singers and the cultural ambassador for the country.

The internationally renowned singer soon returned the favour and sang the Panis Angelicus and the Ave Maria, wearing the University of Malta’s gown, and filling the Valletta chapel with his powerful voice.

“It gives me immense pleasure that my achievements abroad are recognised here in Malta. I’m very much a Maltese product.

“I’m very proud of my heritage… it’s genuine love I feel for this nation,” the 34-year-old said moments after receiving the degree of Doctor of Literature Honoris Causa.

The event started at 5pm when Calleja arrived at the University’s Valletta campus and walked to the University’s chapel accompanied by numerous academics.

The ceremony was opened by the University Sinfonietta orchestra, directed by maestro John Galea, which performed music by Bach. Calleja mouthed along to the familiar tune and even bobbed his head to the music as he sat in his seat. Professor Joe Friggieri then delivered a speech in which he traced Calleja’s passion for music to his childhood.

He started his formal training with former tenor Paul Asciak who immediately recognised his exceptional voice. Calleja went on to make his professional debut in Gozo in 1997, playing the role of Macduff in Macbeth.

Since then he has practically toured the world performing on most of the world’s leading opera stages, including New York’s Metropolitan and London’s Royal Opera House.

The opera singer leads a life of self-discipline to preserve his voice that allows him to do what he really loves, Prof. Friggieri said.

He said Calleja believed that opera was for everyone and not just the elite. He made it possible for millions of people around the world, regardless of age and social background, to have their lives enriched by being exposed to the beauty and power of his voice.

“We as a nation are justifiably proud of his achievement. The University of Malta is the first academic institution to grant him an honorary degree. It will certainly not be the last,” Prof. Friggieri said.

University Rector Juanito Camilleri conferred the degree onto Calleja who then shared a few words to mark the prestigious event.

He said he was honoured to be awarded the degree and joked that the event had almost been cancelled since he was told he needed to present his Form 2 report.

The crowd broke into laughter at the tenor’s reference to Nationalist MP Franco Debono’s decision to produce his Form 2 school report to a newscaster to prove his worth.

On a more serious note, Calleja said that earlier in the day he had been at the park with his two children. Other children went up to him and asked if he was Joseph Calleja and started singing Nessun Dorma.

“That is when I say to myself: mission accomplished,” he said, adding that he loved seeing the opera bug spread.

After paying tribute to his late father, Charles, Calleja then signed the University book, the liber aureus, and walked back to his seat.

But he soon stood up again, surprising the crowd, and headed to the microphone where he sang his first song as a graduand.

Tenor Joseph Calleja was yesterday awarded an honorary degree for his accomplishments. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

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