Turning dreams into reality
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Turning dreams into reality

Charles Buttigieg is a young Gozo baritone on a tough journey to hit the world stage. Interview by Josef Cutajar.

Charles Buttigieg

Charles Buttigieg

“I have a dream” – four words that have resonated throughout the past five decades having been pronounced  by the charismatic Martin Luther King back in August 1963.

Though the context back then was a trailblazer for more rights to blacks in America, this famous phrase is a wake-up call for anyone who is determined enough to turn dreams into reality.

Charles Buttigieg, a 19-year-old baritone from Gozo, has embarked on a tough journey to achieve his sky-high ambition to become an international opera singer. The last thing that comes to mind about teenagers is opera. Most men and women of his age are into pop music.

This up-and-coming singer found out he has a golden voice quite by chance. 

“I started singing aged 10, when I put my name to sing at a Christmas gathering in Għajnsielem, my home town.”

On that occasion he sang Apologise by One Republic. “Believe me, I was awful. I wasn’t well-tuned and knew then that pop wasn’t the kind of bread I wanted to chew,” he said, his cheeks turning red as he laughs.

“I never fancied operatic music and whenever there was that kind of fare on TV, I would switch it off immediately.”

When did the penny drop? He got star-struck one day when he listened to Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and José Carreras, and felt this great urge to sing like them.

“I gave it another shot on a public stage, this time with an operatic aria, and the intensity of the feeling was totally different from the first time I sang.”

When the young baritone tackled opera, he wowed the audience. The archpriest of Għajnsielem, Fr Frankie Bajada, got him on board Chorus Urbanus in Gozo, directed by Mro Dr John Galea.

“I was, and still am, extremely shy. As my voice improved, I felt this was a clear sign that I had to start treating it seriously.”

A breakthrough came in 2012, when aged 12, he was awarded The President’s Award for Creativity by then President George Abela. He had been nominated by his school, the Gozo College Boys secondary. The award seems to have given him the celestial nod to pursue further studies.

“I saw myself on the news and excitement kicked in. A lot of people whom I didn’t know spurred me on.”

He couldn’t control butterflies in his stomach when he first performed in the presence of the internationally-acclaimed Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja

The musical journey started to gain ground when he attended lessons with voice coach Juliette Bisazza. The aspiring artiste says that the lessons were a psychological journey dotted with fresh discoveries.

“During the lessons I felt that opera was a way of expressing my inner feelings.” The young baritone started to practise different musical genres that called for a whole spectrum of emotions ranging from the tragic to the euphoric.

“While practising such musical pieces you automatically start to take in the sweetness as well as the bitter tastes of life. This is because the voice is not everything. Additionally, you need to ‘touch’ the audience.”

Soon enough, Charles started to get invited to sing in public events and weddings and he joined the BOV Joseph Calleja Foundation.

“The Foundation helped me foster a thick skin and continue to strengthen my vocal chords.” Although he makes this sound like a walk in the park, he admitted that he couldn’t control butterflies in his stomach when he first performed in the presence of the internationally-acclaimed Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja.

Calleja was apparently impressed with Charles’s voice. “He told me I have gold in my throat.” Recalling the moment he was invited to sing alongside Calleja at a Christmas concert, he said: “I didn’t know what to say and I was going to make up all kinds of excuses not to attend. But I gave it a shot and it was just as memorable as one may, perhaps, imagine.”

Singing took him to Westminster Cathedral in London in 2012. He’ll always remember, he says with a dash of boyish charm, the first time he jumped on a plane together with Chorus Urbanus to sing at the famous London landmark. Another milestone was when, supported by Għajnsielem local council, he performed in Tolfa, a town near Rome, Italy. Later, he sang in Sicily thanks to the Foundation.

“Through these experiences, I got a small dose of how the international scene functions. It was a quantum leap for me.”

Another fresh page in his book came last March when the Foundation suggested that he audition at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia which is one of the most prestigious in America.

“When you hear so many students, with such impressive voices, your hopes won’t be so high and you don’t see much chance of making the grade.” The institute picks only four per cent of the crème de la crème who audition.

“I got shortlisted. Then it came down to seven candidates which was more than I could ever dream of.”

On getting the good news that the Curtis door was open to him, Charles said: “I started to cry. I just couldn’t believe that I was accepted.”

The sheer amount of messages pouring in his inbox and so many people calling to congratulate him was overwhelming.

“I’m still overwhelmed and often pinch myself to make sure this is for real. It’s healthy to dream and have aspirations. Believing in yourself is what makes dreams come through. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from. If you believe enough you will achieve.”

For Charles, it seems like the sky is not the limit.

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