- Category : Singer - Classical
- Type : PSE
- Profile : 2/4 - Hermit / Opportunist
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Consciousness 4
Josep Carreras i Coll (born December 5, 1946), better known as José Carreras, is an operatic tenor.
One of the most prominent singers of his generation, and particularly eminent in the operas of Verdi and Puccini, his operatic career has encompassed over 60 roles on stage and in the recording studio.
He gained fame with a wider audience as one of The Three Tenors along with Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti in a series of mass concerts that began in 1990 and continued until 2003. Carreras is also known for his humanitarian work as the president of the José Carreras International Leukaemia Foundation (La Fundació Internacional Josep Carreras per a la Lluita contra la Leucèmia), which he established following his own recovery from the disease in 1988.
The youngest of three children, Carreras was born in Sants, a working class district in Barcelona, Spain. In 1951, his family emigrated to Argentina in an unsuccessful search for a better life. However, within a year they had returned to Sants where Carreras was to spend the rest of his childhood and teenage years.
He showed an early talent for music and particularly singing, which intensified at the age of 6 when he saw Mario Lanza in The Great Caruso. In his autobiography, Singing From The Soul, Carreras wrote that the film "stirred up a desire, a desire I didn't know I had. It made me want to sing what really excited me about the film was the music - the arias, and the way Mario Lanza sang them." The story recounted in his autobiography and numerous interviews is that after seeing the film, Carreras sang the arias incessantly to his family, especially 'La donna è Mobile', often locking himself in the family's bathroom when they became exasperated with his impromptu concerts. At that point, his parents, with the encouragement of his grandfather Salvador Coll, an amateur baritone, found the money for music lessons for him. At first he studied piano and voice with Magda Prunera, the mother of one of his childhood friends, and at the age of 8, he also started taking music lessons at Barcelona's Municipal Conservatory.
At the age of 8, he also gave his first public performance, singing 'La donna è Mobile' accompanied by Magda Prunera on the piano, on Spanish National Radio. (A recording of this still exists and can be heard on the video biography, José Carreras - A Life Story ). On January 3, 1958, at the age of 11, he made his debut in Barcelona's great opera house, the Gran Teatre del Liceu, singing the boy soprano role of Trujamán in Manuel de Falla's El retablo de Maese Pedro. A few months later, he sang for the last time as a boy soprano at the Liceu in the second act of La Bohème.
Throughout his teenage years, he continued to study music, moving on to the prestigious Conservatori Superior de Música del Liceu and taking private voice lessons, first with Francisco Puig and later with Juan Ruax, whom Carreras has described as his "artistic father". Following the advice of his father and brother, who felt that he needed a 'back-up ' career, he also entered the University of Barcelona to study chemistry, but after two years he left the university to concentrate on singing.
1970s and 1980s
Juan Ruax encouraged Carreras to audition for what was to become his first tenor role at the Liceu, Flavio in Norma, which opened on the 8th of January, 1970. Although only a minor role, the few phrases he sang caught the attention of the production's leading lady, the eminent soprano and fellow Catalan, Montserrat Caballé. She asked him to sing Gennaro with her in Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia, which opened on the 19th of December, 1970. It was his first principal adult role, and the one which he considers to be his true debut as a tenor. In 1971, he made his international debut in a concert performance of Maria Stuarda in London's Royal Festival Hall, again with Caballé singing the title role. Caballé was instrumental in promoting and encouraging his career for many years, appearing in over 15 different operas with him, while her brother and manager, Carlos Caballé, was also Carreras's manager until the mid-1990s.
During the 1970s Carreras's career progressed rapidly. In late 1971, he won first prize in Parma's prestigious Voci Verdiane competition which led to his Italian debut in La bohème at the Teatro Regio di Parma on 12 January, 1972. Other major house debuts followed - the Vienna Staatsoper in 1974, as the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto; London's Royal Opera House in 1974, as Alfredo in La traviata; the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1974, as Cavaradossi in Tosca; and La Scala, Milan in 1975, as Riccardo in Un ballo in maschera. By the age of 28, he had already sung the tenor lead in 24 different operas in both Europe and North America, and had an exclusive recording contract with Philips, which resulted in valuable recordings of several less often performed Verdi operas, notably Il Corsaro, I due Foscari, La battaglia di Legnano, Un giorno di regno, and Stiffelio.
Carreras's leading ladies during the 1970s and 1980s included some of the most famous sopranos and mezzo-sopranos of the day: Montserrat Caballé, Birgit Nilsson, Renata Scotto, Ileana Cotrubas, Sylvia Sass, Teresa Stratas, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Frederica von Stade, Agnes Baltsa, Teresa Berganza, and Katia Ricciarelli. His artistic partnership with Ricciarelli began when they both sang in the 1972 La bohème at Parma and lasted for 13 years. They made a studio recording of La bohème in 1979 for Philips Classics and can be heard together on over 12 other commercial recordings of both operas and recitals, predominantly on the Philips and Deutsche Grammophon labels.
Of the many conductors he worked with during this period, the one with whom Carreras had the closest artistic relationship and who probably had the most profound influence on his career was Herbert Von Karajan. He first sang under Karajan in the Verdi Requiem at Salzburg on 10 April, 1976, with their final collaboration in a 1986 production of Carmen, again at Salzburg. With Karajan's encouragement, he increasingly moved towards singing heavier lirico-spinto roles, including Aïda, Don Carlos, and Carmen, which some critics have said were too heavy for his natural voice and may have shortened his vocal prime. (See the section on Carreras's voice.)
The 1980s saw Carreras occasionally moving outside the strictly operatic repertoire, at least in the recording studio, with recitals of songs from zarzuela, musicals, and operettas. He also made full-length recordings of two musicals - West Side Story (1985) and South Pacific (1986) - both with Kiri Te Kanawa as his co-star. His 1987 Philips recording of the Argentine folk mass, Misa Criolla conducted by its composer, Ariel Ramirez, brought the work to a world-wide audience. Although many of Carreras's stage performances are available on DVD and video, he also ventured into film. In 1986, he portrayed the 19th century Spanish tenor Julián Gayarre in Romanza Final (The Final Romance) and in 1987, he started working on a filmed version of La bohème directed by Luigi Comencini.
It was during the filming of La bohème in Paris that he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and given a 1 in 10 chance of survival. However, he recovered from the disease after undergoing a gruelling treatment involving chemotherapy, radiation therapy and an autologous bone marrow transplant at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Following his recovery, he gradually returned both to the operatic and the concert stage, embarking on a tour of come-back recitals in 1988 and 1989 and singing with Montserrat Caballé in Medea (Merida, 1989) and in the world premiere of Balada's Cristóbal Colón (Barcelona, 1989)
1990 - present
The 1990s continued to see Carreras performing on the operatic stage in Carmen and Fedora and making role debuts in Samson et Dalila (Peralada, 1990), Verdi's Stiffelio (London, 1993), and Wolf-Ferrari's Sly (Zurich, 1998). However, his opera performances became less frequent as he increasingly devoted himself to concerts and recitals. His final performance in a fully-staged opera was on July 12, 2002 in Tokyo, where he reprised the title role in Sly, while his final operatic performances at the Gran Teatre del Liceu, the opera house where his career began, were in Samson et Dalila (March 2001).
In 1990 the first Three Tenors concert, took place in the Baths of Caracalla in Rome on the eve of the 1990 FIFA World Cup finals. It was originally conceived to raise money for Carreras's leukemia foundation and as a way for his colleagues, Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti, to welcome their "little brother" back to the world of opera. However, it and the subsequent Three Tenors concerts brought Carreras a fame that went far beyond the opera house. It is estimated that over a billion people around the world watched the television broadcast of the 1994 Three Tenors concert in Los Angeles. By 1999, the CD from the first Three Tenors concert in Rome had sold an estimated 13 million copies, making it the best-selling classical recording of all time. The early 1990s also saw Carreras serving as the Musical Director for the opening and closing ceremonies of 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, and performing in a world-wide concert tour in tribute to his first singing hero, Mario Lanza.
Carreras's recording and concert repertoire has now moved almost entirely into Neapolitan songs, the light classical genre, and 'easy-listening'. He has also increasingly performed and recorded with artists from outside the classical music world, such as Diana Ross, Lluis Llach, Peter Maffay, Udo Jürgens, Klaus Meine, Kim Styles, Sarah Brightman, Sissel, Debbie Harry, Majida El Roumi, and Giorgia Fumanti.
Following his own recovery from leukemia, Carreras sought both to repay the debt he owed to medical science and to improve the lives and care of other leukemia sufferers. On July 14, 1988 he established the José Carreras International Leukaemia Foundation (Fundació Internacional Josep Carreras per a la Lluita contra la Leucèmia) in Barcelona. The foundation, which publishes a tri-monthly magazine on its activities, Amigos de la Fundación, concentrates its efforts in four main areas:
Development of clinical research into the cure and treatment of leukemia through scholarships and research grants.
Campaigns to increase bone marrow and cord blood donation for leukemia patients requiring transplants, along with the operation of REDMO, the Spanish national registry of bone marrow donors.
Strengthening of the research and clinical infrastructures in both leading international institutions and hospitals and laboratories in the developing world.
Provision of social services to leukemia patients and their families, including free accommodation near transplant centres.
The José Carreras International Leukaemia Foundation also has affiliates in the USA, Switzerland, and Germany, with the German affiliate the most active of the three. Since 1995, Carreras has presented an annual live television benefit gala in Leipzig to raise funds for the foundation's work in Germany. Since its inception, the gala alone has raised over 65 million euros. Carreras also performs at least 20 charity concerts a year in aid of his foundation and other medical related charities. He is an Honorary Member of the European Society for Medicine and the European Haematology Association, an Honorary Patron of the European Society for Medical Oncology, and a Goodwill Ambassador for UNESCO.
Awards and Distinctions
Carreras has received numerous awards and distinctions for both his artistic and humanitarian work. These include: Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and Chevalier dans l'Ordre de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Française; Gran Croce di Cavaliere and Grande Ufficiale della Repubblica Italiana; Großes Ehrenzeichen für Verdienste um die Republik Österreich; the Cruz de Oro del Orden Civil de la Solidaridad Social from Queen Sofia of Spain, The Prince of Asturias Prize, and the Bundesverdienstkreuz from the Federal Republic of Germany. On February 23, 2004, the Austrian Post Office issued a 1€ stamp to commemorate the 30th anniversary of his debut at the Vienna Staatsoper.
He has Honorary Doctorates from the University of Barcelona and Miguel Hernández University (Spain); Napier, Loughborough and Sheffield universities (United Kingdom); the Mendeleyev University of Moscow (Russia); the University of Camerino (Italy); Rutgers University (United States); the University of Coimbra (Portugal) the National University of Music in Bucharest (Romania); and most recently, Philipps-Universität Marburg (Germany).
Throughout his childhood in Barcelona, Carreras's father, Josep Carreras i Soler worked as a traffic policeman. He had originally been a French teacher. However, he had fought on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War, and when the Franco government came into power in 1939, he was no longer allowed to teach. His mother, Antonia Coll i Saigi, ran a small hair-dressing salon, where as a child Carreras often sang to the customers in return for pocket money. He was very close to his mother, who always had faith that he would one day be a great singer, and her death from cancer when he was only 18 affected him greatly. In José Carreras: A Life Story, he said that "even now, every time I go on stage, I always, always, have a quick thought for her." In 1971 Carreras married Mercedes Pérez. They had two children - a son, Albert (born in 1972) and a daughter Julia (born in 1978). The marriage ended in divorce in 1992, and in 2006, Carreras married Jutta Jäger. Carreras's nephew, David Giménez Carreras, is a conductor and Director of the Orquestra Simfònica del Vallès. He has conducted many of Carreras's concerts in the last 10 years as well as his opera performances in Sly at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in June 2000.
In its prime, Carreras's voice was considered one of the most beautiful tenor voices of the day. . The Spanish critic, Fernando Fraga has described it as a lyric tenor with the generosity of a spinto, having "a noble timbre, richly coloured and sumptuously resonant". This is particularly true of the middle range of his voice. Fraga also noted, as has Carreras himself, that even in his youth the high notes of the tenor range were always somewhat problematic for him, and became more so as his career progressed. Like his idol, Giuseppe di Stefano, Carreras was also known for the beauty and expressiveness of his phrasing and for his passionate delivery. These qualities are perhaps best exemplified in his 1976 recording of Tosca with Montserrat Caballe in the title role and conducted by Sir Colin Davis.
According to some critics his assumption of the heavier spinto roles such as Andrea Chenier, Don José in Carmen, Don Carlo, and Alvaro in La Forza del Destino put a strain on his naturally lyric instrument which may have caused the voice to prematurely darken and lose some of its bloom. Nevertheless he produced some of his finest performances in those roles. As the critic for the Daily Telegraph wrote of his 1984 Andrea Chenier at London's Royal Opera House: "Switching effortlessly from the lyric poet Rodolfo in La Bohème a few weeks ago to the heroic poet Chenier, the Spanish tenor's vocal artistry held us spellbound throughout." Of his 1985 performance in Andrea Chenier at La Scala (preserved on DVD), Carl Battaglia wrote in Opera News that Carreras dominated the opera "with formidable concentration and a cleverly refined vocal accent that imparts to this spinto role an overlay of intensity lacking in his essentially lyric tenor."