Jose Carreras to retire from singing

Famed for being part of the Three Tenors, opera singer Jose Carreras gives himself about two more years to perform on stage

Now at 70, Jose Carreras (above) is on a long world tour that will take him to Carnegie Hall in New York City on Thursday.
Now at 70, Jose Carreras (above) is on a long world tour that will take him to Carnegie Hall in New York City on Thursday.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • To many people whose knowledge of opera began and ended with the Three Tenors juggernaut, he was known, in the words of a memorable Seinfeld episode, as "the other guy": the tenor who was not Luciano Pavarotti or Placido Domingo.

But to those who heard Jose Carreras in his prime, he was unforgettable in his own right, with a meltingly beautiful voice and movie-star looks.

He was well on his way to operatic stardom before he was 30; inaugurated Franco Zeffirelli's still- popular production of Puccini's La Boheme at the Metropolitan Opera in 1981; and sold millions of records.

Then, at 40, he was stricken by leukaemia and forced to undergo months of gruelling treatment. He did not know if he would live, let alone sing again.

But he recovered and his next act was remarkable. When Pavarotti and Domingo decided to salute his comeback - and the World Cup finals - by singing a concert with him at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome in 1990, the Three Tenors, a best-selling crossover phenomenon, was born.

Since then, Carreras has enjoyed a career mostly as a concert artist, while working with the Josep Carreras Leukemia Foundation, his first name given its Catalan spelling.

Now, at 70, he is retiring from singing, on a long world tour that will take him to Carnegie Hall on Thursday. He reflected on his career in an interview backstage at the hall.

How did you decide when to call it a day?

Sooner or later, you have to face the reality, no? To stop your professional life. The projects I have now go through 2018 and maybe part of 2019 - two years from now.

Every time I go on stage now, I realise much more how I enjoy it and I realise that the end is very close - so I enjoy it more and more. But I don't think more than two years.

Is it melancholy to think of this being your last Carnegie performance?

I was thinking today, the first time I ever sang here was in Verdi's I Lombardi, with Eve Queler, and that was December 1972. It sounds scary, but it is true.

When you got leukaemia in 1987, you were 40 and filming La Boheme in Paris. What happened?

I felt exhausted, bad enough that even in the middle of working, I told a friend, "I want to go to a hospital to have a check-up."

They ran some tests and, a few hours later, they told me I had to stay for the night. I said, "What? Are you kidding? There's a crew waiting for me."

I was in hospitals for 11 months. The chances were really very poor. But I have been extremely lucky.

How did the Three Tenors come about?

People think there is a lot of rivalry among tenors and, particularly, at the time with Placido and Luciano.

I talked to my colleagues and, from the first moment, they were happy with the idea. It was very soon after my recovery and they thought that with this, they could give me a welcome back.

Did you imagine it would become such a huge success?

It was unbelievable. It was also unbelievable the kind of relationship we had, the three of us. We are tenor lovers, so we had the possibility to enjoy ourselves very much.

On top of that, we are different personalities and kinds of artists and, physically, also very different from one another. And I think that created a kind of chemistry.

When you look back at your opera career, was there a particular role you felt suited you best or a performance where you felt most successful?

Maybe I sound arrogant, but I think the best performance - if I think about a performance that was a step forward to a higher level - was my debut at La Scala (in Milan) with Un Ballo In Maschera. That was in 1975. That night, I was really very lucky. At your debut at La Scala to give your best, this is lucky.

What do you most enjoy singing now?

I realised that what the audience wants to listen to is the repertoire I enjoy myself: the Italian songs, the Spanish songs, Neapolitan songs.

I sang a recital a couple of years ago at La Scala and somebody asked me at a news conference, "But your repertoire, Mr Carreras, is so-and-so."

I said: "Look, I've sung in this beautiful opera house more than 40 years. Allow me to enjoy myself now."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2017, with the headline 'Jose Carreras to retire from singing'. Subscribe