José Carreras in just few of his many roles

Carreras in just few of his many roles

LA TRAVIATA

Tokyo 1973


And don’t think that in the old days, when everything was done by the book, the performances were static and boring! In 1973, La Scala was on tour in Japan, and there, in Tokyo, a legendary performance of La Traviata was recorded (VAI 4434).

The leading roles were played by the then still ‘curvy’ Scotto and 27-year-old (!) José Carreras. DVD does not mention the name of the director, perhaps there was none, and the singers (and the conductor) did it all themselves? Anyway, the result is really beautiful, moving and to the point. I am not going to say any more about it, because this recording is an absolute must for every opera lover.

Finale of the opera:

L’ELISIR D’AMORE 1976

My beloved CD recording is live and, to be honest, far from perfect (Legato Classics LCD 218-2). Yasuko Hayashi is only so-so as Adina, she is no more than average and the use of her voice is too heavy.

But the men! José Carreras is a dream of a Nemorino – silly and hopelessly in love. On him the potion is actually well spent, it really makes him happy and elated.

Geraint Evans is a delightful Dulcamara, more than a bit exaggerated, but entirely in the spirit of the character. Thomas Allen is a very potent Belcore and the Covent Garden orchestra and choir are very spiritually and engagingly conducted by John Pritchard.

The recording (London, 1976) sounds fine. As a bonus, we get a recital that Carreras gave at Carnegie Hall 30 November 1980, on which he also sings some lesser-known arias and songs, including parts from Leoncavallo’s Lady Chatterton and Rossini’s Pietra del Paragone.

SIMON BOCCANEGRA 1977

In 1971, Claudio Abbado conducted a magisterial and now legendary performance of Boccanegra at La Scala. It was directed by Giorgio Strehler and the beautiful sets were designed by Ezio Frigerio. In 1976, the production was shown at the ROH in Covent Garden. Unfortunately, no official (there are ‘pirates’ in circulation) video of it was made, but the full cast did fortunately go into the studio, and thus the ultimate ‘Simone’ was recorded in 1977 (DG 4497522).

Abbado treats the score with such love and such reverence as if it were the greatest masterpiece of all time, and under his hands it really does transform into a masterpiece without parallel. Such tension, and with all those different nuances! It is so, so beautiful, it will make you cry.
The casting, too, is the best ever. Piero Cappuccilli (Simon) and Nicolai Ghiaurov (Fiesco) are evenly matched. Both in their enmity and reconciliation, they are deeply human and always convincing, and in their final duet at the end of the opera, their voices melt together in an almost supernatural symbiosis:

Before that, they had already gone through every range of feeling and mood, from grievous to hurtful, and from loving to hating. Just hear Cappuccilli’s long-held ‘Maria’ at the end of the duet with his supposedly dead and now found daughter (‘Figlia! A tal nome palpito’).

José van Dam is an exquisitely vile Paolo and Mirella Freni and Jose Carreras are an ideal love couple. The young Carreras had a voice that seems just about created for the role of Adorno: lyrical with a touch of anger, underlining Gabriele’s brashness. Freni is more than just a naive girl; even in her love for Adorno, she shows herself to be a flesh-and-blood woman

HERODIADE 1984


 This recording also may only be obtained via a pirate (or You Tube), but then it is complete and moreover with (admittedly bad) images!


Dunja Vejzovic portrays a deliciously mean Hérodiade and Juan Pons is a somewhat youthful but otherwise fine Hérode. A few years later, he will become one of the best “Hérodes” and you can already hear and see that in this recording.

Montserrat Caballé is a fantastic Salomé, the voice alone makes you believe you are in heaven and José Carreras is very moving as a charismatic Jean.

Below, Carreras sings ‘Ne pouvant réprimer les élans’:



None of the protagonists is really idiomatic, but what a pleasure it is to watch a real Diva (and Divo)! They really don’t make them like that any more

The whole opera on you tube:

LA JUIVE

Vienna 1981

I have never been able to understand why José Carreras added the role of Éléazar to his repertoire. It did fit in with his desire to sing heavier, more dramatic roles. Roles that were one size too large for his beautiful, lyrical tenor. Which absolutely does not mean that he could not sing the role! He succeeded quite nicely and the result is more than worth listening to, but he doesn’t sound truly idiomatic.

In the live recording from Vienna 1981 Carreras also sounds too young (he was only thirty-five then!), something that is particularly noticeable in the Seider-evening scene. It is sung beautifully, but due to a lack of weight he tends to shout a bit.

José Carreras sings ‘Rachel, quand du Seigneur’.

Ilona Tokody is a Rachel of a Scotto-like intensity (what a pity she never sang the role onstage!) and Sona Ghazarian sings an excellent Eudoxie.

Studio recording 1989

La Juive, recorded by Philips in 1989, marked the first studio recording Carreras made after his illness. His voice was now less sweet and smooth than before, but sounded much more alive, which improved his interpretation of the role.

Julia Varady is a beautiful Rachel, perhaps one of the best ever and Eudoxie is in excellent hands with June Anderson.

Dalmacio Gonzales is a more than decent Léopold, in any case much better than Chris Merrit and the French-American-Portuguese conductor Antonio de Almeida shows he has a real affinity with the opera. (Philips 475 7629)

LA BOHEME

Metropolitan Opera New York 1982


Musetta was not really a role with which we associate Scotto. Neither did she herself, but she accepted the challenge with both hands. In the Zefirelli Met production of 1982, she sang a Musetta to die for. Alongside the very moving José Carreras and Teresa Stratas, she was the undisputed star of this recording (DG 073 4539 9).

TURANDOT 1983

Harold Prince, with no less than 21 Tony Awards to his name, one of the biggest (if not the biggest) musical producers/directors, tackled ‘Turandot’ (Arthaus Musik 107319) in 1983, with very impressive results. He created a world of illusion ruled by fear, where the inhabitants, dressed in dazzling costumes, hide themselves (and their true feelings) behind masks. Beautiful and terrifying at the same time.

Eva Marton sings a phenomenal Turandot and Katia Ricciarelli is a fragile, pitiful Liù. Her “Signore ascolta” spun out with the most beautiful pianissimi is heartbreaking.

And José Carreras… He makes me cry too, because at the age of 37 he had one of the most beautiful (lyrical) voices in the world. But Calaf was not his role. He sings it beautifully, but one hears him crossing his own boundaries. And yet …. His hopeless macho behaviour, which goes against all odds, not only fits the concept of the director, it also illustrates Calaf’s character perfectly. At least for me.

The orchestra from Vienna is conducted by Lorin Maazel. Not my favourite conductor, but in this case, I have no reason to complain.

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