Modest Idol
Frank Granville Barker, (publication unknown), 1975
Not many singers can have made their operatic debuts in an international house at the age of eleven, but this was the case with José Carreras. It was no small undertaking. moreover. for he sang the role of El Trujiman the boy narrator in FaIla's El retablo de Maese Pedro. whose music is so difficult that it's more frequently entrusted to a high mezzo. This debut took place at the Liceu in young Jose's native Barcelona, incidentally the largest opera house in Europe. with Jose lturbi conducting. 'lt was an exciting experience." he told me. "and I was even more thrilled because I was paid for it. Already I was a professional.'

Boy sopranos, of course, are likely to end up as bank clerks, or even music critics, so there was no guarantee that there would be an adult Carreras career. In this instance, however, there was unusual power in the juvenile will. At the tender age of six he was taken to see The Great Caruso, and as soon as he returned home from the cinema he started marching round the house singing arias. Whenever my parents went out,' he said with a grin. 'I would dress up as though for the stage and sing operatic music I had heard on records or on the radio. I remember having a great time singing OtelIo.' I suppose most kids indulge in fantasies of this nature - my own was conducting Toscanini's recordings -but only in the rarest cases do such fantasies become reality. Carreras was the fortunate exception which proves the rule: his debut as a boy soprano at eleven was followed by his tenor debut in the same opera house in 1969 at the age of twenty-two. In between he had been encouraged by his mother to take up music seriously, first studying the piano and then, when at 18 he appeared to be developing a good tenor voice. operatic singing.

I was fortunate enough to be present at his Liceu debut season of 1969.70. when he sang the tiny part of Flavio in Caballe's first Norma. Usually one scarcely notices a Flavio. but this one was different: a few bars of heightened recitative, which is all the poor devil has, were sufficient to reveal a seductive voice of liquid tone reminiscent of the young di Stefano. The following season in Barcelona I heard him to better advantage as Siebel in Faust. a role which is far more effective when sung by a tenor than by the traditional soprano. Already there was no doubt that a new star was waiting on the launching-pad for the right opportunity. This came during the 1971-72 season at the Liceu, when Caballé chose him for her leading tenor in Lucrezia Borgia.. Carreras always stresses the debt he owes to this diva. who was also born in Barcelona, for it was her confidence in him which gave him confidence, and status too, 'She did everything possible to encourage me.and she remains the artist I most enjoy working with.' Once she had launched him in Spain. she took him with her for his first appearances abroad. Today they are established as one of the finest recording partners, as their recent Lucia di Lammermoor (reviewed on page 36) and Tosca make abundantly clear. He found another champion in the impresario Denny Dayviss, who brought him to London in 1971 to sing in her all-star Maria Stuarda at the Royal Festival Hall with Caballé and Vcrrctt as the rival queens. She subsequently invited him to sing in concert performances of Mefistofeles. Caterina Cornaro and Adriana Lecouvreur, so he was already an established favorite with London audiences before Covent Garden gave him Alfredo in the 1974 Traviata. then Pinkerton. Nemorino and Rodolfo. During the forthcoming season at the Royal Opera House we shall see him as Cavaradossi and Don Carlos.

It was not only London, of course, which was quick to snap up Carreras as the outstanding tenor of his age group: La Scala, the Metropolitan and other leading opera houses throughout the world literally fight one another to engage him - and he is still only thirty. He is the stuff of which operatic idols are made. a singer blessed with as beautiful a lyrical voice as you will hear anywhere in the world today, a highly polished stylist and a most attractive stage personality. Indeed, he is more handsome than any operatic tenor has a right to be, During the first five years of his career he was wise enough to take things slowly and logically. restricting his repertoire to Donizetti and the purely lyrical Puccini and Verdi roles. A favourite with him remains Nemorino in L'Elisir d'Amore. not just because the music is so rewarding in itself, but also because he finds it acts as a vocal tonic.

"After I've been singing heavier roles, I always go back to Nemorino. For me it is like going back to school. learning to put my voice in the right place.' The comment is typical of a young singer who realises that the gift of a meltinglv attractive voice is something to be carefully looked after. He takes regular advice from a friend who is not a singing teacher as such, but a specialist in matters concerning the...
[text missing] sing so many roles too soon. The glory and also the material rewards, are so great that it takes; tremendous willpower to turn down offers which might lead along the wrong path. When I spoke to him a little over a year .ago, he told me he planned to stay in the mainly lyric repertoire, planning to explore only Werther and Des Grieux over the next couple of years. (He was prepared to record one or two heavier roles;, because, this imposes far less strain on the voice than singing a series of performances in the opera house.) Since then, however. he has decided to risk more dramatic Verdi roles. Perhaps he has changed his mind because he has discovered his voice is strengthening arid darkening more quickly than he had expected. I hope this is the reason, because it would be a terrible shame to sacrifice the glorious quality of his tone and the fluent ease of his vocal production simply to take on the more heroic roles. The temptation to move on to dashing characters like Manrico must be very strong. but Cameras has plenty of time. There is no better example to follow in this respect than Pavarotti. who has kept his voice in prime condition by tackling new roles only when he knew he was fully prepared for them. Waiting until he was forty. for example, to sing his first Manrico. Carreras has always shown himself to be a singer with intelligence; as well as voice and style, so one hopes he will be similarly content to extend his repertoire only when the time as ripe. No Italian-style tenor today is so well equipped to take over from the older generation, and provided he takes care of his voice and continues to cultivate his style and musicianship as he has done so remarkably over the past two or three years, he should move forward into a largely clear field.

Looking into the future, one can imagine a sensational new partnership between Carreras and Sylvia Sass, only four years his junior. .Already they have appeared memorably together in the production of I Lombardi brought to Covent Garden last season.


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