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Three Tenors, The


Formed: 1990, Rome, Italy

Members: Jose Carreras (born Barcelona, Spain, 5 December 1946); Plácido Domingo (born Madrid, Spain, 21 January 1941); Luciano Pavarotti (born Modena, Italy, 12 October 1935).

Genre: Classical

The Three TenorsJose Carreras, Luciano Pavarotti, and Plácido Domingoare the biggest-selling classical music act of all time. Although classical artists usually perform in concert halls, the Tenors sold out a succession of stadium shows around the world throughout the 1990s. The Tenors have sold more than 20 million recordings of their concerts and have been seen on television by billions of viewers. Their recordings dominated the classical recording charts for much of the 1990s.

Soccer fans all, the tenors first got together for a concert celebrating the 1990 World Cup in Rome. Considered the world's leading tenors at the time, the three had considerable star appeal individually that multiplied by an order of magnitude when they joined forces. They performed together for the first time at the ancient Roman ruins of the Baths of Caracalla before an audience of 6,000 (100,000 fans had tried to buy tickets). The concertfeaturing a huge orchestra of 200 conducted by Zubin Mehtawas televised throughout the world and became an immediate sensation. The concert recording sold 11 million copies, and the video became a staple of public television pledge drives, selling millions more.

The three singers had donated all their earnings from the concert to charitiesDomingo to earthquake relief in Mexico, Carreras to cancer research (he had recently been treated for leukemia in Seattle), and Pavarotti to medical care in Italybut were astonished by how much money the event generated. So in 1994 they came together again for another concert in Dodger Stadium at the World Cup in Los Angeles. Tickets sold for hundreds of dollars apiece, and the stadium was filled with 60,000 fans, among them hundreds of Hollywood celebrities. The concert was carried live on TV (hosted by violinist Itzhak Perlman) and watched by more than 1 billion viewers worldwide.

Now the tenors, each of whom had busy careers in his own right, began playing stadiums around the worldin Tokyo, at Wembley Stadium in London, Giants Stadium in New York, Olympic Stadium in Munich, Skydome in Torontoearning millions of dollars for these appearances.

In 1998, with another World Cup, the Tenors performed under the Eiffel Tower in Paris with l'Orchestre de Paris conducted by James Levine, this time drawing more than 100,000 fans to the free concert and a worldwide television audience of 2 billion viewers in seventy-five countries. Over the next five years, the trio slowed the pace of stadium appearances to a couple per year, performing in the Forbidden City in Beijing, Las Vegas, Sao Paulo, Seoul, Vienna, and Japan.

The Three Tenors have been a phenomenon of shrewd marketing. Promoter Tibor Rudas helped create story, spectacle, and occasion to sell the concerts more as multimedia happenings than as musical events. Outings were packaged more in the style of rock concertswith massive stages, giant video screens, and special lightingthan classical music concerts. The first concert was billed as a welcome back for Carreras, who had battled cancer and was trying to restart his career. Then the story line focused on who was the best singer of the three.

There is no concert literature for three tenors, and programs resembled a kind of friendly musical slugfest in which each singer took turns belting out a popular aria or pop song. The repertoire was familiar, and the three sang in half a dozen languages, adding to the international appeal. Special arrangements of popular tunes were made so the tenors could sing together, and onstage the three kibitzed and engaged in good-natured rivalry.

They alternated singing one another's favorite tunesNessun Dorma, La donna è mobile, O Sole Mio, Grenada, Tonight (from West Side Story )pretending to try to outdo one another. At their best, Pavarotti, Domingo, and Carreras were high-spirited, gracious stars enjoying one another and the enormous crowds.

The Three Tenors concerts received mixed critical notices. Amplified and piped out to tens of thousands in the audience, the voices sounded processed and manufactured. In time, the good-natured play between the singers onstage sometimes seemed forced or indifferent, and lack of rehearsal and preparation made some of the concerts seem slapdash. Critics engaging in which-tenor-is-best games also could not fail to notice that Carreras's voice had not recovered fully from cancer treatments; his voice could not match those of his partners.

Nevertheless, the Three Tenors were such a crossover sensation that the classical music world worked overtime trying to understand the secrets to their success; the trio spawned numerous imitators, and the "Three Tenors Phenomenon" spawned a new era of slick mass-marketing and crossover stratagems in the financially strapped world of classical music.

Spot Light: The Three Tenors at the Baths of Caracalla

There have been many "concerts of the century." Most are just hype. But the night when tenors Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, and Jose Carreras first got together in the ancient Roman ruins of the Baths of CaracallaJuly 7, 1990deserves due consideration for the title. Of course the concert was hype. Was it the best concert ever? Of course not. Did it even bring the three best tenors in the world together, as it claimed? Probably not. But as an "event," an extraordinary occasion bigger than the music being sung, it was a complete and utter success. Everything about it was super-sized: three enormous egos; an orchestra of 200; 100,000 fans trying to buy tickets (6,000 got in); and a television audience numbering in the hundreds of millions. A recording of the proceedings sold 11 million copiesmore than any classical recording in history. And millions more videos were sold. The concert launched the Three Tenors franchise, which changed the way classical music is marketed. Over the next decade the three singers were seen and heard by billions of fans.


CarreraDomingo Pavarotti: The Three Tenors in Concert (London, 1990); The Three Tenors In Concert: 1994 (Atlantic, 1994); The Best of the Three Tenors (Universal, 2002).


douglas mclennan

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