Carreras, José: 1946—
José Carreras: 1946—: Opera singer
With classic Latin good looks and one of the great voices of the twentieth century, José Carreras has lived the image of what it means to be a star operatic tenor. Carreras had already become a success on opera stages and in the world of classical-pop "crossover" music, when he endured a near-death experience in 1987—a bout with an often fatal form of leukemia. He survived the disease and went on to new heights of fame as one of the Three Tenors, a trio of opera giants who have performed megaconcerts in performances for audiences around the world.
Josep Carreras was born in Barcelona, Spain, on December 5, 1946; his original first name was the Catalan form of the Spanish "José." His parents faced hard times in Spain because they had resisted the ascendancy of the right-wing dictatorship of Francisco Franco, and when Carreras was four they emigrated temporarily to Argentina. On the boat across the Atlantic, Carreras's performing abilities made an early appearance as he entertained passengers with impressions of Argentine tango performers.
Appeared in Boy Soprano Role
At age seven Carreras saw the film The Great Caruso, starring American opera star Mario Lanza as the legendary Italian tenor. Although Carreras's parents had little interest in music, they knew something unusual was happening when their seven-year-old learned to sing all of the operatic arias heard in the film. They enrolled Carreras in the Barcelona Conservatory and took him to see a performance of Verdi's Aida at Barcelona's Teatro del Liceo. Within three years Carreras was appearing at the same theater in a boy soprano role in Manuel de Falla's opera El retablo de Maese Pedro —a role usually left to adult female singers because of its difficulty. After his voice broke and his talents remained undiminished, he devoted himself more and more intensely to opera. On his twenty-first birthday, he resolved to make opera singing his career.
Many of Carreras's vocal classes were with non-professional singers, and the International Dictionary of Opera described him as "largely self-taught." But Carreras found something of a mentor in the great Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé when he appeared opposite her in a 1970 production of Donizetti's opera Lucrezia Borgia in Barcelona. Caballé's brother and manager, Carlos, guided the young tenor's career onto a sharp upward track, and Carreras made his Italian debut in 1971 as Rodolfo in Puccini's La bohème. The following year he performed the same role at the New York City Opera, and a three-year contract resulted. Carreras learned 11 new roles in 16 months, and scaled the twin pinnacles of the opera world with performances at New York's Metropolitan Opera and Milan, Italy's La Scala in 1974 and 1975, respectively.
At a Glance . . .
Born Josep Carreras on December 5, 1946, in Barcelona, Spain; son of Josep María (a teacher and traffic policeman) and María Antonia (a hairdresser) Carreras; divorced; children: Alberto, Julia. Education: Graduated from Barcelona Conserva-tory, 1962; studied voice at University of Barcelona.
Career: Made operatic debut at Liceo Theater, Barcelona, 1970-71 season; made Italian debut in Parma in Puccini's La bohème, 1971; made U.S. debut with New York City Opera in Puccini's Madama Butterfly, 1972; made Metropolitan Opera debut in Puccini's Tosca, 1974; made La Scala Opera House debut, Milan, Italy, in Verdi's Un ballo in maschera, 1975; founded Josep Carreras International Leukemia Foundation; formed the Three Tenors, with Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo, 1990; musical director, Barcelona Summer Olympics, 1992; appeared in Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari's Sly, Washington (DC) Opera, 1999; released numerous solo crossover classical albums, including Around the World, 2002.
Selected awards: Grammy award, Best Classical Vocal Performance, 1990, for The Three Tenors; Albert Schweitzer Music Award, 1996.
Addresses: Label— Warner Classics/Atlantic Records, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, 27th Floor, New York, NY 10104. Agent— William Morris Agency, c/o Dick Allen, 151 S. El Camino Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90212-2775.
For the next decade, the pieces of a top-notch operatic career seemed to fall in place for Carreras. His singing seemed to combine power, interpretation, and charisma in equal measure. "As I've often said, when you're a tenor you must start singing in the heart, move up to the head, then let it out through the voice," he told the UNESCO Courier. He seemed equally at home on the operatic stage, in solo concert performances and, after the early 1980s, in semi-popular crossover music. He recorded an album of romantic ballads, Love Is … for the Philips label in 1983, and his 1985 starring role in the musical West Side Story, although criticized by some operatic purists, was a commercially strong outing.
Diagnosed with Leukemia
In the mid-1980s some observers began to notice that Carreras was showing fatigue, both vocally and in his overall demeanor. At first his problems were chalked up to his grueling schedule, but on July 15, 1987, Carreras was diagnosed with acute lymphocitic leukemia and given a one-in-ten chance of survival. The singer underwent a year of chemotherapy and bone marrow surgery, and even after these treatments were successful, many observers doubted that he would ever return to his previous vocal level. A crowd of 150,000 turned out to hear Carreras return to the stage in Barcelona in July of 1988, a concert the singer described as his second debut. "It was the most incredible, the most touching moment in my life," he told Billboard. His first few concerts that summer put an end to any doubts about his voice, which was darkened but undiminished.
One positive outcome of Carreras's ordeal was that top tenors Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo, previously considered Carreras's rivals, became his friends. He told the UNESCO Courier, "When it was time for them to leave after paying me a visit, one of them would say 'Bon courage, champ!' and the other 'José, you've got to pull through, otherwise there won't be anyone left for me to match myself with.'" In 1989 Carreras began devoting time to a foundation he created to support anti-leukemia efforts, and he rein-vigorated his career, giving two American concerts and returning to the operatic stage in Mérida, Spain.
The following year, Carreras's friendship with Domingo and Pavarotti bore new artistic and commercial fruit. At Carreras's suggestion, the three joined together for a televised concert in Rome, Italy, to benefit his Josep Carreras International Leukemia Foundation. The concert took place on July 7, 1990, at the end of the World Cup soccer competition, one of the most-watched sporting events on the planet, and it drew a live audience of 6,000, as well as a television audience estimated at between one and one-and-a-half billion. The album, Carreras, Domingo, Pavarotti: The Three Tenors in Concert, sold well over ten million copies and became the best-selling classical album of all time.
Three Tenors Became Popular Phenomenon
The Three Tenors reunited in 1994 to perform at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles after that year's World Cup, and subsequent appearances and recordings sustained their momentum. They became household names in the United States, with a popularity that extended well beyond the usual reach of opera and classical music. Carreras capitalized on their success with a 1991 autobiography, which appeared in English as Singing from My Soul, and with a renewed series of crossover albums that included My Romance, Pure Passion, and Around the World, a selection of international songs.
Nor did Carreras neglect the traditional opera repertory. Among his operatic appearances in the 1990s were those he made in Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari's opera Sly in Zurich in 1998 and at the Washington (D.C.) Opera in 1999. Some criticized Carreras for his crossover activities, but the singer pointed out to Billboard that he was following time-honored precedents. "I believe in this music, just as much as I believe in Mozart or Verdi or Puccini," he said. "And we have examples of the past, like Enrico Caruso or John McCormack or Beniamino Gigli or, more recently, Giuseppe di Stefano. They all sang the light music of their time." Carreras argued that his recordings could attract new audiences to opera—and indeed that is something he has already accomplished over the course of his superb career.
Ave Maria, Philips, 1984.
Love is José Carreras, Philips, 1984.
You Belong to My Heart, Philips, 1984.
Carreras, Domingo, Pavarotti: The Three Tenors in Concert, London, 1990.
From the Official Barcelona Olympic Games (with Monterrat Caballé and Plácido Domingo), RCA, 1992.
Zarzuelas, Erato, 1993.
Merry Christmas, CBS, 1995.
Celebration of Christmas, Elektra/Asylum, 1996.
Passion, Elektra/Asylum, 1996.
My Romance, Elektra/Asylum, 1997.
Caresses, B.C.I., 1998.
The Best of José Carreras, Erato, 1998.
A Tribute to Operetta: A Franz Lehar Gala, Poly-gram, 1999.
Pure Passion, Erato, 1999.
Love Songs from Spain, E2, 2000.
Around the World, Warner Classics, 2002.
Appeared on numerous recordings of operas by Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini, and others.
Contemporary Musicians, Volume 34, Gale, 2002.
International Dictionary of Opera, 2 vols., St. James, 1993.
Slonimsky, Nicolas, ed. emeritus, Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, centennial ed., Schirmer Books, 2001.
Billboard, February 8, 1992, p. 10; October 1, 1994, p. 1.
Opera News, January 2002.
UNESCO Courier, February 1993, p. 4.
—James M. Manheim
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