Calleja was born in Attard, Malta, on January 22, 1979. His training was fairly brief and took place entirely in his home country. Calleja was inspired to become a singer by the Mario Lanza
film The Great Caruso when he was about 13. He joined a choir, began taking piano lessons, and started doing vocal exercises and solfège. It was not until 1994 that Calleja began voice lessons with Maltese tenor Paul Asciak, who said, "Over a period of three years Joseph's voice assumed many of the qualities of this old school of singing, and developed beautifully into a light, flexible and mellow instrument with both a distinctive timbre and a promising ringing top."
After those three years, Calleja began to make an international impact. He toured Italy with a program of operatic arias and made his non-Maltese debut in 1997 in Donizetti
's Maria Stuarda with the Netherlands Reisopera. He won several major prizes, including one in Plácido Domingo
's 1999 Operalia International Opera Competition, and those led to bigger operatic roles in Italy and increasingly around Europe and Britain. He made his U.S. debut as Rinuccio in Puccini
's Gianni Schicchi at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. After the turn of the century came debuts at major European houses: he appeared for the first time at the Bayerische Staatsoper München and the Frankfurt Opera as Rodolfo in Puccini
's La bohème, then made debuts as the Duke in Verdi
's Rigoletto at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and the Royal Theatre, Copenhagen.
Calleja released his first album, Tenor Arias, on the Decca
label in 2004. The conductor was Riccardo Chailly
, who called him "a voice that could match the past." He was named Gramophone magazine's Artist of the Year in 2012 and also headlined the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in London that year. He has continued to record for Decca
, and in 2012 released on that label a tribute to Mario Lanza
, the artist who had inspired him. In the 2017-2018 season, Calleja appeared in several roles at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, taking time off for a holiday season turn in Bellini
's Norma at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.