José Carreras

Con-Jose-Carreras-C-150Since childhood, José Carreras has been captivating audiences with his voice and stage presence. José Carreras was born in Barcelona, capital of the distinctive Catalan region of Spain, in 1946. When Carreras was five, his family briefly immigrated to Argentina hoping for a more stable life than Spain offered during the turbulent post-Civil War period. Their search was unsuccessful; and they returned to Barcelona the following year. During the long return voyage to Spain, the lively six-year old sang to passengers aboard ship. Soon after their return to Barcelona, his mother opened a small hair salon. Her customers became his new audience.

When the impressionable young Carreras saw Mario Lanza perform in The Great Caruso, he was spellbound and began singing arias from the film. La Donna e Mobile was one of his favorites. When his family grumbled about his constant concerts, the impetuous Carreras locked himself in the bathroom and kept on singing! It’s a good thing he continued to practice no matter where he was. The eight-year old went on to perform la Donna e Mobile on Spanish National Radio two years later in his first public performance.

José Carreras made his professional stage debut in Manuel de Falla’s El retablo de Maese Pedro when he was eleven, but it wasn’t long before his voice began to change. By the time he turned eighteen, his voice had completed its striking metamorphosis. The young boy with the crystal-clear, soprano voice became a man with a mesmerizing tenor range and stage presence that quickly made him an international star.

Over the next ten years Carreras sang the leading tenor role in 24 different operas performing throughout Europe and North America. Lofti Mansouri, Director of the San Francisco Opera, described him as a “complete operatic star” because of his sensitivity, intelligence, musicianship, and dramatic ability—not to mention his gorgeous voice.

At the pinnacle of his career in 1987 at the age of 41, Carreras became gravely ill. He was diagnosed with acute leukemia, but he did not allow the disease to defeat him. Just as his passion for opera made him a star; his passion for life made him a survivor.

Carreras relocated to Seattle, Washington where he spent six months in isolation for treatment. He received experimental drug therapy, in addition to painful procedures which removed, cleaned, and returned healthy bone marrow to his body. After ten months Carreras made a complete recovery, and as soon as he was back on his feet, he returned to the stage at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona giving a thrilling performance where his career began almost fifty years earlier.

“When I came out of the hospital,” he said, “I felt so much in debt to science and society I thought I had to do something.” With the same passion and dedication he displayed throughout his career, he put his thought into action by founding the José Carreras International Leukemia Foundation in 1988. Today his foundation provides millions of dollars annually for research and manages Spain’s bone marrow registry. Carreras continues to be active with the endeavor and performs charitable concerts each year to raise funds for it.

Even though he had recovered from a debilitating illness and started an international charitable organization, José Carreras’ career in opera was far from over; in fact it was about to receive a substantial boost. Tenors Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti, along with Italian producer Mario Dradi came up with an idea for an extraordinary concert to welcome their colleague back to the stage and to raise money for his organization. The concert was held in 1990, forever linking Carreras, Domingo and Pavarotti as “The Three Tenors.” During the next few years their concerts and recordings became a huge commercial success.

Because he could not meet the grueling demands of the roles he had performed for more than 40 years, José Carreras retired from the opera stage in 2009 at 62. “I can do concert recitals,” he said, “adapting the repertoire to my needs.” His foundation and his mission in the fight against leukemia continue to provide him a focus for the future. “The day I stop singing, I will dedicate myself totally to that,” he said.

José Carreras’ life can be described as resembling the great operatic roles he has performed in his long career on stage. In the first act, he found his passion for singing and performance. The second act delivers the tragedy of a life-threatening illness, but his third act may be his finest. In act three José Carreras defiantly defeats his disease and stars in a new role as a philanthropist and humanitarian.

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