The History of José Carreras

José Carreras

Born: 5 December 1946
Spanish Tenor

When Giacomo Aragall was resting at home in Barcelona in 1965, between performances at la Scala, he was contacted by his teacher, Professor Pugh and asked to come along and hear a young tenor, whose voice, the professor thought, greatly resembled his own.
This prospect didn’t particular please Aragall, who like every other tenor ever born, liked to think, his was a unique voice, which in fact it is.
To his astonishment, when the young student opened his mouth and began to sing, Giacomo had to admit, that their voices were indeed similar in many ways.

And so, we are introduced to Jose Carreras, present day superstar and now much more famous, than his older friend and compatriot.

Carerras was born in Barcelona in 1948, the catalyst, which decided his future, occurred at the age of seven, when he went to see Mario Lanza, in the film, the Great Caruso. He came out of the cinema under a spell and from that moment, never stopped singing. And that is meant quite literally.
Playing, dressing, or going about his daily routine, Jose was singing.

His parents were not musical, his father had been a teacher with republican sympathies and because, after the end of the civil war, could not get a job teaching, he became a traffic policeman.
However, as Jose did nothing but sing, all day long, his parents decided that he might as well be taught properly and enrolled him in the local Conservatoire, where he first studied piano, as well as singing.

He actually appeared in Barcelona’s, indeed Spain’s most illustrious Opera House, Alessio, at the age of 11, when he sang the role of the boy narrator, in one of Manioc Defile’s operas.

At the Conservatoire, he studied under Professor Pugh, who already know was Aragall’s teacher also.
His career was started by one of those fortunate incidents, that we have come across from time to time, during our survey.

By chance, the impresario, Carlos Kavalier, the brother of the famous soprano, had come to hear another pupil and happened to overhear part of Carerras’s secession.
He was so impressed, that he told the young tenor, to get in touch with him when he felt he was ready.
Carerras did so and true to his word, Kavalier arranged for his debut at the Alessio, as Ishmael, in Verdi’s Nabucco, in 1970.

I do not know that he has recorded anything from Nabucco, but here he is in another early Verdi opera of the same period. Attila.

Foresto’s Romance / Attila / 1981 – José Carreras

By the following year, 1971, Carerras was singing with Montserrat Caballe in Lucrezia Borgia. And in the same year, he made his Italian debut at Parma in la Boheme. Next came his triumphant American debut in Madam Butterfly, at the New York City Opera.
So successful, that he was offered and accepted, a three-year contract there.
An astonishing feat here, was that during the 1972/73 season, he learned 11 new roles in 16 months.

During these three seasons, Carreras also made his debuts at San Francisco, and Buenos Aires. 1974 was a red-letter year.
His debuts at the Metropolitan, Tosca, at the Vienna state Opera, in Rigoletto, at Covent Garden in Traviata, and at la Scala in Un Ballo in Mascaras, with Cabbale.
By which time, von Karajan had already booked him for Don Carlos and the Verdi Requiem.
This started the now famous Karajan, Carreras collaboration.

It began in 1976, with a performance of Verdi’s Requiem at the Salzburg Festival. And the recording, followed by a stage production of Don Carlos.
In 1986, his production of Don Carlos, was revived and filmed.

So, we now have a permanent visual and oral record of this partnership. However, for his second record, I have chosen an aria from an opera by a composer, we haven’t heard a note of so far, in our survey.
And yet, in his day, he was as popular as his contemporaries, Bellini, Donizetti, and the early Verdi.

Saverio Mercadante, 1795 to 1870, the Opera, il Guiramento. The aria, Bella Adorata Incognita.

Bella Adorata / I-Giuramento / 1977 – José Carreras

We know that Aragall, quite deliberately chose Alfredo Krauss as his model. Carefully selecting his roles and restricting his appearances.
Jose Carreras’ model was rather Giuseppe DiStefano. Which meant, something very different.

A born gambler, in more ways than one. To whom, routine spells anathema, Carreras cannot stand the thought of going around the world, year after year, with a repertoire of half a dozen roles, even if he were to sing them near perfectly.

He would consider this a boring career and wants to be able to say, when his career is over, that he sang what he wanted to sing.
Many tenors have thought the same way. Distefano, one of them. But the unfortunate result, is that usually they tend to sing their voices away quickly, and I’m inclined to think that Carreras, would be no different from the rest, in this respect.

So, Carreras has tackled the spinto roles, that his fellow Spaniards, Krauss and Aragall, would simply not count in at his age. Andrea Chinai, Carmen, Don Carlos, Il Trovatore, Verta, Turandot, the Force of Destiny, all in his repertoire by his mid-30s and he had hoped to tackle Wagner at 40.

Here he is, tackling Donizetti at 32, aided and abetted by that wonderful soprano, Catia Ricciarelli. Poliuto.

Duet w-Ricciarelli / Poliuto / 1980 – José Carreras

Now a very quick look at Aragall and Carreras, in those rather plaintive songs, that seem to suit the Spanish tenor voice to perfection. Second verses only.

Spanish Song – José Carreras

Jose Carreras passed over the invisible line from purely operatic fame, to mass worldwide popularity, by two very different routes.
The first was a recording and video of West Side Story, with the celebrated conductor, Leonard Bernstein, who of course, also composed the piece.
The result was a popular chart hit, with very handsome Carreras, an idol almost overnight.
This was to be followed by South Pacific, another success story for Carreras and his star partner Kiri Takanawa.

The second route was Tragedy, the newfound tenor hero was struck down with Leukaemia, and the Opera world watched and waited with bated breath.
Fortunately, he has made a remarkable recovery. As his recent World Cup concert with Domingo and Pavarotti, have shown.
The esteem in which he is held, may be gauged from his comeback concert, held in July 1988, in Barcelona, to raise funds for the research and treatment of his disease. More than 60,000 fans turned up, some paying as much as £1250 each for front row seats.

Here he is, in an Aria from Leon Cavallo’s, Zaza. Followed by the improvise, from Andrea Chenier, one of his most popular roles.
Aragall, a great admirer of Carreras, found himself completely carried away, by his famous compatriot grandiose performance of this role

O Mio Piccolo Tavolo / Zaza /1980 – José Carreras

Un Di All’Azzurro / Chenier / 1980 – José Carreras

History of the Tenor - Sydney Rhys Barker

The History as it was Recorded

Sydney Rhys Barker