Home / Arts & Life / A Third of the Three Tenors, José Carreras Exits on His Terms

A Third of the Three Tenors, José Carreras Exits on His Terms

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 ’72. It sounds scary, but it’s true!


Teresa Stratas, left, and Mr. Carreras in Franco Zeffirelli’s production of “La Bohème” at the Metropolitan Opera in 1981.

Erika Davidson/Metropolitan Opera

Tell me about when you got leukemia, in 1987. You were 40 years old and filming “La Bohème” in Paris. What happened?

I felt exhausted, bad enough that even in the middle of working I told a friend, “Look, I want to go to a hospital to have a checkup.” I went, they made 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.”

Altogether, I was in hospitals for 11 months. The chances were really very poor. But I’ve been extremely lucky.

How did the Three Tenors come about?

Let’s face it, people think there is a lot of rivalry between tenors, and particularly at the time with Plácido 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. The three of us are tenor lovers, so we had the possibility to enjoy ourselves very much. And on top of that we are completely different personalities, and kinds of artists, and physically also very different from one another. And I think that created a kind of chemistry.

The Three Tenors in concert, 1994, Los Angeles, full Video by mmacalina

When you look back at your opera career, was there a particular role that 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 ’75. That night I was really very lucky. At your debut at La Scala to give your best, this is lucky.

Some critics thought that you sang some dramatic roles, like Radamès in “Aida,” too soon, and it damaged your voice.

Why did I sing Radames in “Aida?” Because that was Salzburg, with Herbert von Karajan, the Vienna Philharmonic, Mirella Freni, etc., etc. If you don’t take this opportunity as an artist — I’m not talking about career, or business, but as an artist. To have this extreme joy of being not just in the first league, but at the top of the very first league — you have to take this risk.

When you are a young singer you’re told: “You have to sing with the interest, not with the capital.” But the capital is your voice. You have to use your capital! In business, when you invest in something, you have to use your capital.

What do you most enjoy singing now?

In the end, what I realized is 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, “Ah, 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!”

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