Born José Maria Carreras Coll on December 5, 1946, in Barcelona, Spain; son of José Maria (a teacher and traffic policeman) and Maria Antonia (a hairdresser; maiden name, Coll) Carreras; married Mercedes, 1971; divorced, c. 1990; children: Alberto, Julia. Education: Attended Barcelona Conservatory, 1954-62; attended the University of Barcelona, c. 1963-64; studied voice with Jaime Francisco Puig, beginning c. 1963. Addresses: Record company--Warner Classics/Atlantic Records, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, 27th Floor, New York, NY 10104, fax: (212) 405-5470, phone: (212) 707-2892.

The tenor voice "has always electrified operagoers more than any other kind of voice, male or female,'' José Carreras asserted, as quoted by Helena Matheopoulos in Divo: Great Tenors, Baritones, and Basses Discuss Their Roles. "Something about the physical qualities of this sound and of its vibrations, to say nothing of those high notes at the top of the register, seem to arouse an instant, visceral excitement in the audience.'' Judging from critical and popular reactions, since early in his career Carreras has easily validated this belief. In a 1978 article for the New York Times, John Gruen attested to Carreras' "aura of immediacy and theatrical credibility," a product of his "superior voice of lyric, verging on dramatic, quality [and] romantic good looks which invariably enhance any role he undertakes.'' But as Carreras' career and life progressed, his dominant human spirit, exemplified in his life story of triumph followed by tragedy followed by triumph again, informed his various stage personas and was communicated to his receptive audiences. After more than 60 operatic roles and 150 recordings, Carreras remains one of opera's brightest stars.

Carreras was born in on December 5, 1946, in Barcelona, Spain, then a country ravaged by World War II and oppressed by the fascist Francisco Franco government. Carreras' family was poverty-stricken--his father had been a teacher before the Spanish Civil War but lost his position due to his Republican loyalties. When Carreras was seven years old, he saw a film about the great Italian operatic tenor Enrico Caruso that made a lasting impression on him. After listening to their son's constant imitation of Caruso, Carreras' non-musical parents realized the young boy's potential and enrolled him in the Barcelona Conservatory where, for eight years, he studied music in addition to a traditional curriculum. Afterward, Carreras entered the University of Barcelona to pursue a career in chemistry, concurrently beginning voice lessons with a non-professional, Jaime Francisco Puig. Carreras left the university after only two years, however, deciding to return to the Barcelona Conservatory to continue musical studies. Puig remained his only vocal instructor.

Luck and Hard Work

These dramatic career moves might have proven unsuccessful for an average individual, but given Carreras' "talent, drive, ambition, and ... professionalism," according to Gruen, he was able to attain his goal of becoming a professional opera singer. Gruen also commented on the way luck and the friendship of the Caballes--the famous soprano Montserrat and her manager/brother Carlos--provided the young Carreras with opportunities to prove his talent. Montserrat Caballe was so impressed by Carreras' debut opposite her in the 1970 Barcelona production of Gaetano Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia, that she and her brother helped guide the young tenor's budding career.

In 1971 Carreras made his Italian debut singing the role of Rodolfo in composer Puccini's opera La Boheme; he also won the Giuseppe Verdi Competition held in Parma, Italy. The following year he made his American debut at the New York City Opera as Pinkerton in Puccini's Madama Butterfly. "Rodolfo, Cavaradossi, Alfredo, Edgardo, and the Duke in [Giuseppe Verdi's] Rigoletto followed. He then bowed at Covent Garden, Buenos Aires, and Vienna--all between 1973 and 1974. Over the next two years came the Met [New York Metropolitan Opera] and La Scala [Milan], and his fortune was made,'' Nancy Malitz recounted in Ovation. "His singing was natural, unaffected, disarmingly lyrical," wrote New York Times critic Theodore W. Libbey, Jr., explaining Carreras' sudden rise. "His voice had a lustrous sheen in the upper register, with flashes of fire that set it somehow, indefinably, apart.'' From recital recordings to operatic performances, Carreras continued his ascent.

More Dramatic Roles

Despite winning these accolades, however, Carreras explained to Matheopoulos in Divo that he "couldn't bear a boring career consisting of going around the world year after year with a repertoire of half a dozen roles even if I were to sing them near-perfectly.'' This desire for variety, coupled with a deepening change in voice that most tenors experience in their thirties, moved Carreras in the early 1980s into more dramatic roles. But a more important force that pushed him away from romantic hero parts to those in revolutionary, political settings, like Umberto Giordano's Andrea Chenier, was his father's political legacy. "Anything against justice--social justice, it is against myself. Anything against freedom or democracy, it is against myself, it's against society. So this is inside myself, this character,'' Carreras explained in José Carreras: A Life Story, a television biography produced for London Weekend Television.

Beginning in the mid-1980s, Carreras explored the repertoire of popular music, and it marked the first time he received widespread negative criticism. Although a commercial success, the 1985 recording of Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story, with its casting of operatic stars Kiri Te Kanawa and Carreras in the lead roles, was faulted by critics. The New Republic's Edward Rothstein dismissed Carreras' venture, saying Carreras "lets nothing come through his singing other than the fact of his studied singing.'' While subsequent recordings by Carreras in the popular genre received mixed reactions as well, his operatic performances continued to earn almost unanimous support.

Diagnosed with Leukemia

On July 15, 1987, when "he was at the height of his career, possessed of an instantly recognizable, warm and lustrous voice that he commanded with ravishing delicacy and musical intelligence,'' as Malitz noted in Ovation, Carreras stopped singing. He was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. For almost a year, Carreras underwent chemotherapy and bone marrow manipulation in an attempt to stop the disease. The treatment was ultimately successful, but many in the opera community worried that the effects of the disease might prevent him from fulfilling his destiny as one of the world's great tenors. Carreras, quoted in his television biography, dismissed concerns about such issues: "You see the other dimension in life. And then you have time to think much more about your spirit, about the spiritual side of your life, about God, about religion, about faith. And you can arrive to certain conclusions.''

After his return to the stage in July of 1988, Carreras' voice displayed few scars. Instead, it carried a greater, deeper weight. Hilary Finch, writing for Opera, described a recital soon after his return: "The first sound of the raw, resurrected human voice leaping joyfully, two stairs at a time, up the rising lines of [Alessandro] Scarlatti's 'Gia il sole dal Gange' immediately cut through the cant. This was the same voice: highly strung in its inflection, lithe of movement, dusky in undertone, brilliant, if still driven, to the top. What had changed was the intensity of delivery and the urgency of communication.''

In January of 1992 it was announced that Carreras would not only be embarking on his first major concert tour in the United States since his recovery, but that he would also serve as the music director of the 1992 Summer Olympics to take place in his hometown of Barcelona. His responsibilities included arranging the music played at the opening and closing ceremonies.

Success with the Three Tenors

Carreras joined with Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo to form the Three Tenors in 1990. With a mix of opera classics and show tunes, concerts by the Three Tenors helped to make opera accessible to a wider audience and create musical events of unprecedented popularity. The trio's first performance took place at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, Italy, in July of 1990 to mark the end of the World Cup soccer tournament. More than one billion people saw the television broadcast of the performance, and the CD, entitled Carreras, Domingo, Pavarotti: The Three Tenors In Concert, became the top-selling classical release of all time. Subsequent concerts took place at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California, in 1994 before a crowd of more than 50,000 people and a television audience of again more than one billion, and in Paris, France, in 1998. The three opera superstars, with conductors Zubin Mehta and James Levine, continued infrequent performances together in such locations as Atlanta, Georgia; Las Vegas, Nevada; Vancouver and Toronto, Canada; and Seoul, Korea, during the 1990s and early 2000s.

by Rob Nagel

José Carreras's Career

Professional operatic debut at the Liceo Opera House, Barcelona, Spain, as Gennaro in Lucrezia Borgia, 1970-71; made Italian debut at Parma as Rodolfo in La Boheme, 1971; American debut with the New York City Opera as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, 1972; London debut at Covent Garden as Alfredo in La Traviata, 1974; New York Metropolitan Opera debut as Cavaradossi in Tosca, 1974; La Scala, Milan, debut as Riccardo in Un Ballo in Maschera, 1975; other performances include Rodolfo in Luisa Miller, the Duke in Rigoletto, Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, Romeo in Romeo et Juliette, Radames in Aida, Don José in Carmen, and roles in Don Carlos and Andrea Chenier; founded the International José Carreras Leukemia Foundation, 1988; first performance with Three Tenors, 1990; embarked on concert tour, served as musical director for Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, 1992.

José Carreras's Awards

First place, Giuseppe Verdi Competition, Parma, Italy, 1971; Grammy Award, Best Classical Vocal Performance for Carreras, Domingo, Pavarotti, 1990; Prince of Asturias Award, 1991; Albert Schweitzer Music Award, 1996; other awards include Grand Prix du Disque, Academy of Paris; Luigi Illica Prize; Sir Lawrence Olivier Award; gold medal, New York Spanish Institute; gold medal, City Vienna; gold medal, His Majesty the King of Spain, City of Barcelona; International Emmy Award for video of A Life Story.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 15 years ago

A few months ago I had the privilege to see Mr. Carreras in Marin county CA. It was the thrill of my life. his singing was over the top and his gracious personality just as wonderful.I have inherited my fathers collection of classical/opera records that are as old as 100 years. Gigli, De Stefano,Farrar,Tibaldi, DelMonaco,Scotti, Homer, just to name a few. However thE one that stands out the most is THE METS FIRST BUTTERFLY. WHEN I listen to CARUSO I think of Mr. Carreras. As my father said to me years ago." Carreras is the closest to Caruso I have ever heard", and I agree with my father. Thank You, CiCi Zerbe