I’m sure we are all familiar with the story of Romeo & Juliet. One would argue that you wouldn’t have even had to read the entirety of Shakespeare’s classic tale to know how the story ends. There are countless pop culture references and the story is constantly played out on stages across the world.

However, there are plays and there are books, and television shows often act out the tragic tale, but no performance of Romeo & Juliet is like the Opera. The passion and at times despair is felt through each belting note that echoes throughout the theater. It’s one thing to read the tale, but to see it performed in front of your very eyes brings whole new meaning to this Shakespearean drama.

Throughout the years, many Sopranos have attained the coveted role of Juliet and many Tenors dreamt of the day they would become Romeo. With each performance, a new life comes forth from the classic tale and Lyric Opera’s Susanna Phillips (Juliet) and Joseph Calleja (Romeo) breathed new life with their outstanding Lyric Opera performance.

The highly anticipated performance left not one empty seat in the Civic Opera Theater. As I look upon rows of people eagerly awaiting for the curtain to rise, I learned that after 100’s of years, the crowd still looks forward to new performers taking on the iconic role.

Photo Credit: Todd Rosenberg
Photo Credit: Todd Rosenberg

One would argue since the tale is so familiar, this is many Opera lovers introduction to the beauty that is the Opera.

However, while there is familiarity with Romeo & Juliet, the Opera has a way of bringing forth newness within each performance. No matter how many times you read the play and decipher Shakespeare’s prose, there is always a new takeaway from Romeo & Juliet.

With Lyric Opera’s rendition, Joseph Calleja brings something new to the stage as he adds his own special touch to the iconic character of Romeo Montague.

Exclusively to The Chicagolite Joseph shares his Operatic beginnings, common misconceptions of the Opera, and what he brings to the Lyric Opera stage.

Photo Credit: Todd Rosenberg
Photo Credit: Todd Rosenberg

TCL:   Hi Joseph! Can you give us a little background on your Opera story. When did you know that you wanted to become an Opera singer?

JC: It was certainly when I heard Mario Lanza in the movie The Great Caruso at the age of 13. I started to imitate him and an operatic voice immediately came out though of course it was coarse and unpolished. I never looked back after that.

TCL: For those who don’t know the complexities of Operatic singing, can you share what type of training’s involved and what steps do you have to take to make sure your voice is in impeccable shape?

JC: It’s not different from athletic preparation. It takes at least 5 years of intensive studying to start mastering the technique required for operatic singing.


TCL: Unfortunately, some people especially younger people don’t go to the Operas in droves, what would you say are common misconceptions about the Opera? 

JC: That it is boring and old-fashioned.

TCL:  If you are describing the Opera to someone who has never been how would you describe it? 

JC: The highest form of performing arts, period. If in a humorous streak I would say that opera is when the tenor wants to make love to the soprano but is prevented from doing so by the baritone…

TCL: What would you say distinguishes Opera from other forms of musical theater?

JC: Opera is more difficult. The technique and concentration required to project one’s voice, without amplification, into a hall that can sometimes accommodate 4000 people is by itself a gargantuan task. Add to that beauty, musicianship, musicality, acting and interpretation…

Photo Credit: Todd Rosenberg
Photo Credit: Todd Rosenberg

TCL: What has been a career highlight for you thus far?

JC: The beauty of singing at this level every night is potentially a highlight!

TCL: Romeo & Juliet is an incredibly popular story, why do you think the story remains relevant today?

JC: Love never goes out of fashion and this is arguably one of the most beautiful love stories…

TCL: There have been tons of performers who have played Romeo, so what would you say you bring to the character Romeo?

JC: I am 6’3 and built like one of the boulders in Stonehenge. I play him as a man not a young boy…which perhaps makes the sacrifice more touching in the end…

Photo Credit: Todd Rosenberg
Photo Credit: Todd Rosenberg

TCL: What is the best part about playing Romeo?

JC: What everyone knows; true love does exist but it is rarer than rare.

TCL: What do you want the audience to take away from the performance?

JC: To be transported in the world of yore. When love, honor, regret and honesty were much more important than now.

Lyric Opera’s Romeo & Juliet ends its run March 19th