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In Conversation With Jose Carreras

November 1, 2010
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Event: “In Conversation With Jose Carreras” (as part of the Singapore Sun Festival 2010)
Venue: LASALLE College of the Arts, SIA Theatre
Date: 31st October 2010

Of the 3 great Tenors Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and Jose Carreras, the one whom I would have most wanted to see in person at least once in my life is Jose Carreras.

If Pavarotti had the effortless range and Domingo had the dramatic voice, then Carreras was the one who had the most beautiful, velvety tone.

Not that I know anything about opera, but I am particularly fond of Mr Carreras because he appears on one of my favourite Broadway recordings of all time, when he participated in the once-controversial and now-legendary 1984 recording of “West Side Story” conducted by Mr Leonard Bernstein himself, and also starring Kiri Te Kanawa.

The DVD documentary of the entire recording was nothing short of fascinating, as it chronicled the many difficult and tense moments faced during the recording process, especially since Mr Carreras wasn’t exactly accustomed to the music of Broadway, and the fact that a number of Bernstein’s songs were rather complex didn’t help matters much.

The most talked-about scene from that documentary has got to be this one (here), when the tensions got so high during a bungled take of “Maria” that things almost threatened to boil over.

The documentary nonetheless revealed a softer and more vulnerable side of the great tenor Mr Carreras which we would seldom get to see when he is in the operatic world.

The first thing that struck me as Mr Carreras walked in on stage with moderator Andrew Lim at 3:05pm yesterday afternoon was that he had aged tremendously.

I couldn’t believe that this was the same gentleman that looked the way he looked in the 1984 recordings, since it was only 26 years ago.

Through the entire conversation, Mr Carreras touched on his early years growing up in Barcelona, his operatic beginnings (a great deal of his passion for singing stemmed from watching the movie “The Great Caruso”), his huge adoration of his idol Giuseppe Di Stefano, his successful one-year fight against leukemia, his thoughts on the state of opera today (positive, in case you were wondering), his 3 most revered opera houses (La Scala, Vienna, London…in no particular order), his thoughts on singing in the various languages (Italian and Russian being languages very good for singing), his routine on performance days, his ambitions in life from this point on, etc.

What came across most strongly to me was his immense sense of class, grace, and humility.

Every word that he spoke was measured with a keen sense of warmth, gentleness, and most of all, humility.

He was extremely gracious towards any person whom he spoke about.

This coming from a man who has headlined the world’s greatest opera houses for decades.

It’s hard to imagine that this could have been the same Jose Carreras recording with Bernstein in New York only 26 years earlier…one that was youthful, vibrant, and slightly impulsive.

Nonetheless, the most memorable quote that I personally liked yesterday afternoon was when Mr Carreras said that “technique is at the service of interpretation”, as a response to a question about how an opera singer should reconcile between singing from a technical standpoint and from an emotional standpoint.

And I thought it was very true.

Emotions certainly can get you a certain distance, but if you really want to execute some of the most difficult pieces, then the technique definitely has to be there in order to allow you to execute the way you wish to execute.

At least I’m glad I got to see Jose Carreras up close once in my life.

During the Q&A session, I wanted to ask him to share a bit more about his experience working with Bernstein on the 1984 recording, but due to time constraints and the sheer number of people wanting to ask questions, I could not get my question in.

No matter.

I came away with a newfound respect for one of the greatest tenor voices in our lifetime.

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