World-famous tenor Jose Carreras, perhaps best known for his concerts in the 1990s alongside Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarroti, has distinguished himself in opera and while performing recitals in the most prestigious concert halls throughout the world. Ahead of this performance at the Belfast Waterfront this evening, he tells JOANNE SAVAGE why he loves Verdi and playing Don Jose in Carmen, how he takes care of his voice and why he simply had to give up chemistry - against his father’s wishes - to pursue a life in song
Q. Do you remember what age you were when you decided you wanted to grow up to be a singer?
A. It maybe sounds strange but practically I wanted to be a singer all my life and when I saw the movie “The great Caruso” with Mario Lanza it was clear that I wanted to become a tenor. Singing is my life!
Q. Was it always obvious to your family that you had been gifted and blessed with an incredible voice?
A. Not from the beginning. And even later when it was clear that I had a quite A good voice my parents wanted that I would study chemistry. So you know the result – I gave up and became a singer! But I must say that especially my mother supported me a lot in my desire to become a tenor.
Q. You first performed in opera aged 11, as Trujamán in Manuel de Falla’s El retablo de Maese Pedro. Do you have clear memories of this? Did you enjoy the experience?
A. Well I recall that I liked very much to be on stage. It was my first time in the limelight! But even when we emigrated for one year to Argentina I sang on board in order to entertain the passengers. My older brother remembers that very well too...
Q.You then went on to a career that encompassed over 60 roles on the stages of the world’s leading opera houses and in the recording studio. How any of these roles stand out in your memory and why? Which roles are you most proud of?
A. I consider myself a very fortunate person that I had the chance to work with the best maestri and great collegues around the globe. Well basically I like all the roles I performed but if I should point out a couple I would say Rodolfo in “Boheme” and of course Don Jose in “Carmen”. When I recorded “Carmen” with Maestro Herbert von Karajan which for me was the best conductor ever he came after the recording to me and said:”I had to become 75 years old till I had the chance to hear Don José as I’ve been dreaming of.” This was the greatest compliment to me ever – and of more worth then all the awards I have won in my careeer.
And now I prepare for a new opera role. The premiere of “El Juez” (The Judge) a new opera will be in April 2014 in Bilbao. I sing the title role and I look forward very much to going back to the opera stage again!
Q.You are known to have a great love for and affinity with opera by composers such as Verdi and Puccini. What is it about Verdi and Puccini’s work that most speaks to your soul?
A. It is this unbelievable complete work, the orchestration, the melodies, the ability to modulate certain movements – and for Verdi especially his fantastic orchestrations for the choirs!
Q.You gained fame with a huge international audience as one of The Three Tenors along with Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti, playing a series of mass concerts throughout the 1990s. Can you tell us what some of the highlights of these years were for you? Did all three of you perfect your vocals together and did you all become great friends off stage?
A.This was a great time! We enjoyed a lot to sing together and also backstage we had a lot of fun. I think that one of the secrets of our success was that we had different voices, but the voices matched perfectly. Yes, we were friends and I must say that I miss Luciano a lot.
Q.You are well known for your humanitarian work as the president of the José Carreras International Leukaemia Foundation, which you set up following your own recovery from the disease in 1998. Do you find it hard to combine life as an entertainer with life as a humanitarian?
A.This year we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of our foundation. This is fantastic! And we have been able to raise more then 300 million euros in order to spend on treatments, scientific research etc. We were able to achieve a lot but it is also still a long way till we will reach our aim that leukemia shall be curable one day. Sometimes it is tough to combine my artistic work with my work for the foundation, but I am so thankful that I would work 24 hours if necessary.
Q.What sustained you throughout your own recovery Jose?
A. The will, the music and the trust into my doctors. My chance to survive was only 10 per cent but I believed that there would be light at the end of the tunnel.
Q.This is your first trip to Belfast - what are your first impressions?
A. It is a wonderful city. Full of culture and also many of the modern buildings are impressive. I hope that I can see a little more when I have got time to do a little sightseeing.
Q.Finally, do you have to do a lot to protect your incredible voice?
A.First thank you for your compliment! A singer carries their instrument 24 hours a day. Therefore it is important to care about this instrument which is also a gift. But I am not overdoing it. I wear a scarf when it is cold, I ask for a humidifyer in the room, I vocalise etc. Quite normal I think.
Jose Carreras performs at the Waterfront Hall, tonight (Oct 17) as part of the Belfast Festival at Queens. Visit www.waterfront.co.uk or call 02890 334455.