Profile: Jose Carreras
Margot Hornblower, Time Magazine,  25 September 1989
Medea, 1989
Evening settled softly on the ruins of Merida's 2,000-year-old
Roman  amphitheater. Shadows played eerily over the stone columns.  As
the orchestra tuned up, bare-chested choristers cursed the leaden heat
of Spain's southern plateau. Backstage, in a mobile-home dressing room,
the tenor fussed with his wig. The soprano  joked about her lottery tickets.
Outside, a factotum sprinkled water to  dampen the dust on the ground.
Later, during the intermission of the cape-swirling classical melodrama, a
television crew cornered the leading man. ''This is a special moment in my
life,'' said tenor Jose Carreras. ''It is a triumph over myself.''

As Jason, the hero in Cherubini's Medea, Carreras was acting in
a tale of love, murder and desperation. But for the thousands of
spectators who flocked to Merida to see his first opera performance in
two years, the real drama was in the life of the 42-year-old Spanish
singer -- a story of dazzling talent, ambition, sudden illness and a
defiant will to survive. Two summers before, Carreras had been shooting
a film version of La Boheme in Paris when he felt nauseated. A friend
drove him to the hospital. Within 48 hours Carreras had the diagnosis:
a type of acute lymphocytic leukemia that kills nine out of ten
victims. ''The doctor started talking about percentages of success,''
he recalled. ''Right away I thought to myself, 'If there's one chance
in a million, it is going to be mine, and I have to fight for it.' ''

As the young comer challenging the reigning Luciano Pavarotti and
Placido   Domingo, Carreras had reached the peak of his career.'' My
favorite tenor,'' the late Herbert von Karajan had called him. With
more than 60 recordings to his name, Carreras circled the globe,
performing 70 to 80 times a year. Fans loved the lyrical brilliance f
his voice -- and his style: a combination of passion and reserve devoid
of the divo's swagger. When he entered Barcelona's El Clinico hospital
after being told of the diagnosis, Spanish television broadcast
bulletins on his condition three times a day. Having transferred to
Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, he was overwhelmed by
100,000 telegrams and letters from round the world.

That wave of affection helped sustain the singer through
chemotherapy, radiation and painful surgery in which bone
marrow was sucked from his hip, purged of cancer cells and reinjected
into his body. ''I felt I couldn't disappoint these people,'' he said,
''so  I played the tough one.'' Fearing that his throat
might be damaged by breathing tubes, he demanded only partial
anesthesia for the surgery.  During radiation treatments, he measured
time by his favorite arias.  ''I'd say to myself, 'Only
three more minutes of torture. That's the length of Celeste Aida.' So
I'd sing it in my head better than I'd ever sung it onstage.''

Carreras' hair fell out. His nails dropped off. He grew emaciated
during weeks of isolation in a sterile chamber. Doctors marveled that
he still told jokes. ''For nine months in the hospital, I knew I was
facing death,'' Carreras said. ''But I always saw a light at the end of
the tunnel. Sometimes it was bright; sometimes it was almost
extinguished. But I tell you something: I was not afraid to die. I was
worried for my children. But afraid of dying? Never.'' Domingo flew to
Seattle to spend two hours talking to his colleague through  a plastic
wall. Pavarotti sent a telegram: ''Get well soon. Without  you I have
no competition!''

Now in Merida, Carreras proved that he was back, ready to compete again
on the operatic stage. Dashing in black armor, he unfurled a burnished,
mellifluous voice that cut easily through the orchestra. His hair had
grown back, though lightly streaked with gray; he had lost the cherubic
pudginess of preillness days. While claiming to  be perfectly fit, he
was pale, and there were circles under his eyes.  ''I'm exhausted,'' he
confessed during a three- hour photo session for two album covers. But
he persevered through five costume changes and more than 100 poses
in a stuffy back-alley studio. While  doctors say it is unlikely he will fall
sick again after a disease-free year, they cannot pronounce him cured for
another four  years. ''I feel too good to think about it,'' Carreras
said during a pause in the photo session. ''I don't want to think about
it.'' On Sept. 24 Carreras performs an even more taxing role in the
Barcelona premiere of a new opera, Christopher Columbus.

The tenor first returned to the stage with a July 1988 open-air
concert in Barcelona that drew 150,000 people. (''Michael Jackson, in
the same city, got only 90,000,'' he told one interviewer with
uncharacteristic boastfulness.) Since then, Carreras has sung
recitals to rapturous audiences in more than a dozen cities. In
September 1988 the Vienna State Opera set up a video screen for
hundreds of fans standing in the street. Inside the sold-out house, the
audience, many in tears, gave him a 70-minute standing ovation.  At
London's Covent Garden last April, carnations and lilies rained from
the balconies during five encores. At New York City's Carnegie Hall in
May, he was greeted with banners: WELCOME BACK J.C. and JOSE
CARRERAS  SOCIETY OF AMERICA. Critics recalled that before his illness,
he had performed unsuitably heavy roles in such operas as Il Trovatore and
Don Carlos, rubbing the sheen off his voice. Now it  is back, as a Los
Angeles critic put it, ''fresher, brighter, more sensuous and more

Carreras' resilience is rooted in close family ties. The son of  a
Barcelona traffic policeman and a hairdresser, Carreras was six when
his father took him to the movie The Great Caruso, starring Mario
Lanza. ''The next day he woke up and started singing arias,'' recalls
his sister Maria Antonia. ''In school they called him 'El Rigoletto.'

''At eight, Jose Maria, as he was then called, began studying at
Barcelona's Municipal Music Conservatory. At eleven, he debuted at
the Gran Teatre del Liceu, the opera house, in a Manuel de Falla
work. ''I was born to sing,'' he says. ''I was lucky to discover that
very young.''

Carreras was fortunate to be part of a Catalan clan. ''We are
called 'the Swiss of Spain,' '' he said. ''We are very serious and
hardworking.'' Of his brother Albert, the owner of a chemical
company, and his sister, who spent every day at the hospital by his
side, and their spouses, Carreras says, ''We have such a union. We are
like a single person.'' His best friends include two schoolmates with
whom he played basketball as a child. Outside the opera, his passion is
for ''La Barca,'' as Barcelonans call their soccer team, FC Barcelona.
And when he was 22, it was another Catalan, impresario Carlos Caballe,
who took charge of his career. Carreras debuted with the world-class
soprano Montserrat Caballe, Carlos' sister. ''I was sort of his
godmother,'' she says. In Merida it was with Montserrat in the role of
Medea that Carreras made his operatic comeback.

Absent from Merida was Carreras' wife Mercedes, mother of his
children Albert, 16, and Julia, 11. If a traveling singer's career  is
hard on marriage, Carreras will merely say, ''My wife is a wonderful
person, a wonderful mother. And we have a lot of problems, like many
couples. But there is a lot of respect between us, and a lot
of love.  Maybe not being in love. But I admire her very much.'' During
his illness, he said, his wife remained in Barcelona ''for the
children's emotional stability.'' Meanwhile, to the annoyance of
Carreras' friends, a former girlfriend, Italian soprano Katia
Ricciarelli, chose the moment to publish an article discussing the
years she ''lived with Carreras, sharing joy, pain and careers.''

The singer zealously guards his private life, remaining a courtly
but somewhat distant figure except to close friends. But he has a
humorous side. ''I'm known as 'the King of the high A's,' '' he says,
mocking his uneasy relationship with the high C. During a rehearsal
before a Paris recital, his pianist giggles as the tenor invents silly
lyrics for songs. But Carreras shakes his head in wonder at the
gregariousness of Domingo and especially Pavarotti. ''Luciano receives
people in his dressing room after a performance. You have the
impression that you have been the only spectator -- that he has been
singing the whole night for you. I would like to be like this
sometimes. I know how to be cordial, polite. But I feel like saying,
'Thank you very much. I love all of you. But please let me alone.' I'm
more egotistical.''

His admirers see the reticence differently. ''Jose is refined,
spiritual, modest,'' says Lucienne Tell, a French friend of 17 years.
''He takes a long time to make friends.'' Elena Obraztsova, the
Soviet mezzo, recalls, ''I've never heard him criticize anyone, even
in private -- and tenors love to tell dirty things about one
another.'' Carreras' idea of pleasure after a performance is to relax
with two or three people who are close to him -- one reason he sings in
Europe more than in the U.S. ''Opera is supported by  private donations
in the U.S.,'' he explains. ''So the star has to attend  the party of
Mr. and Mrs. So and So, who paid for the production. It is part of the
game. But this is not my character. Why should I go to a reception to
amuse people? I love my privacy! I need to be myself.  I don't want to
be a romantic hero after I put my costume and my sword in the dressing

Onstage this reserve translates into a certain dignity. ''Being  a
tenor has a kind of mysticism, a kind of romanticism, some say
eroticism,'' he says. ''The tenor is king of the opera.'' Carreras
is praised for his musicality -- the phrasing of his singing, the
rhythm, the emphasis and the emotional  interpretation. He speaks and
sings in five languages -- Catalan, Spanish, Italian, English and
French. He is known to learn an opera role in a week. But the principal
quality of a top tenor, he volunteers, is "charisma.''
And what is his charisma? He pauses. ''Style,'' he says. ''Class. The
way you move, the way you sing, the way you walk and put your hand on
the piano. The way you send kisses or not to your audiences.'' Does he
blow kisses? ''Hardly,'' he laughs.

He is certainly receiving them. People stop Carreras in the
street, inquire about his health and call him Jose. Before, it was
Mr. Carreras. ''Previously they admired him, now they love him,''
says Raul Rance, a Carreras aide. But if he strives to project
confidence, some of his friends still fear the worst. On the opening
night of Medea, Caballe was struck ''by a profound look in his eyes, a
look of desperation. It frightened me. It was as if he were
wondering, 'How long?' I could be wrong, but singers share a silent
language of the eyes. The stage is like a mirror of the soul.'' As
she recalled the evening, tears rolled down her cheeks: ''I love him
like a son.''

Offstage Carreras brims with optimism. He has recorded an album  of
Andrew Lloyd Webber songs, hoping to match the success of
his earlier crossover recordings of West Side Story and South Pacific.
He is booked through 1991, with projects that include a Carmen in Tokyo
and the filming of a TV movie on Caruso. Part of every $100,000 concert
fee goes to his new foundation for leukemia research and treatment.
''I have a moral obligation not to forget,'' he says. ''If I can give
strength to other people who are suffering, I will be more at peace
with myself.''

Outside the stage entrance in Merida, two fans sought to catch  a
glimpse of  Carreras after the performance. Emilienne Peytavy, 63, a
retired Parisian schoolteacher, and Xavier Glottin, 22, a student
from Nancy, have racked up 26,000 miles in Glottin's Renault 5,
attending concerts in Hamburg, Zurich, Milan, Lausanne, Vienna,
Madrid and Brussels. ''I promised myself that if he got well,
wherever he sang, I would go,'' Glottin said. But after the final
bows, the singer was nowhere to be found. His dressing room was
empty. He had disappeared into the night, leaving five Cabinet
ministers, the governor of Extremadura region and a host of
disappointed fans in the lurch. ''He's always naughty that way,''
said Peytavy, with an indulgent smile. ''But he's so-o-o


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