The third tenor turns 75

The third tenor turns 75


norman lebrecht

December 04, 2021

The Barcelona-born Josep Maria Carreras Coll, known as José Carreras, will be cutting his 75th birthday cake on Sunday.

Carreras survived acute lymphoblastic leukemia in the 1980s, against odds of 10-1. His battle with cancer and his subsequent campaigns to raise funds and awareness attracted global admiration.

It was in tribute to Carreras’s courage that Pavarotti and Domingo joined him in the first Three Tenors concert in July 1990.


  • Zelda Macnamara says:

    “The third tenor”? Before his illness, he was better than the other two.

    • Beryl says:

      He was always better! My absolute favourite ❤️

    • Kathleen E King says:

      Not naturally. The rarest voice was Maestro Pavarotti’s and the world is so lucky that recordings have preserved all three.

      • BRUCEB says:

        (In other words, Pavarotti was the luckiest, to be born with such an instrument. The other two did pretty well with what they had, though.)

    • Tom Phillips says:

      From his initial emergence to the late 70s, I agree. After that he sadly took on any repertoire Herbert Von Karjan requested of him and this prematurely destroyed the beautiful lyric quality of his voice. Very stretched and strained in such roles as Manrico, Calaf, Radames, Canio etc. which he should never have taken on.

    • EU says:

      I guess it means the 3rd by age. He is younger than Pavarotti and Domingo

  • V.Lind says:

    Two of those videos blocked in Canada. Just curious as to what they were (we can open 1, 3 and 5 from the top).

  • Sam's Hot Car Lot says:

    The great Carreras in a credible performance of my favorite Verdi aria:

  • William Evans says:

    Happy birthday Jose, and let there be many more!

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    I remember well the time when Carreras was undergoing radical and horrific treatment for Leukaemia and I’m still amazed he survived!!

  • Kathleen E King says:

    Bless him. With Maestro Pavarotti gone and Domingo clearly failing, Carreras is the last. He may not have the greatest of the three voices, but he has and remains brave, good and devoted to bringing the best from music.

  • Drew says:

    In his vocal prime ( early to the late 70’s ) Jose Carreras’s lyric tenor voice was the most beautiful expressive timbre in the world . Don’t believe me ? Listen to his early recording of Lucia Di Lammermoor or his first Tosca recording with Caballe under the baton of Colin Davis – his voice in full bloom – stunningly beautiful and powerful . Unfortunately, he insisted on performing the big spinto roles on stage and by the mid 80’s his gorgeous voice was but a shadow of what it once was . By the time the he had attained 3 tenor fame the voice was almost unrecognizable from its former glory. Nevertheless – he will always be my favourite tenor .

    • Novagerio says:

      And Ballo in maschera, propably his most impressive verdian role.
      Listen here to his Parma debut, straight after having won the Voci Verdiane
      and here, his La Scala debut from 1975 with Caballé

      • Anonymous Bosch says:

        Thank you for sharing these clips.

        Also worth seeking out are his New York City Opera performances from the early 1970s including a „Lucia di Lammermoor“ with Sills, a gorgeous „Rigoletto“ with Patricia Wise and Louis Quilico, and his first onstage Cavaradossi in 1973 with Maralin Niska.

    • Tom Phillips says:

      Exactly. And Herbert Von Karajan was the major influence on his choice of the inappropriate spinto repertoire (and of course not the only artist Karajan ruined as anyone who suffered through Katia Ricciarelli’s Turandot can also attest).

    • BRUCEB says:

      Mirella Freni was smarter about that kind of thing – as I understand, she never did sing Butterfly (for example) onstage. He probably would have talked her into Turandot, too, if he could.

      Leontyne Price, too – I remember reading in an interview, “I looked into those mesmerizing blue eyes that nobody ever says no to, and I told him ‘no’ to Salome.” Smart decision. I mean, it would have been incredible; but what would she have sounded like after that?

  • Ruby Yacht says:

    He sang with great passion, even when not in great voice. I treasure his recording of Catalan songs, which I can listen to many times without tiring of it.

  • Beth Fiori says:

    Happy birthday wishes for this year and for many more!

  • Joly says:

    comment peut il rester aussi séduisant?

  • Bernstein’s recording of West Side Story is not flattering to Mr. Carraras’ professionalism. The composer chose him to be Tony in spite of his Spanish accent because he wanted to crown his masterpiece with the most beautiful tenor voice on the planet. Every other singer on those sessions arrived superbly prepared but Carreras did not do his homework, exasperating the composer. Besides getting lost in the middle of “Something’s Coming”, the voice coach was still correcting the tenor’s diction over the PA, which drove Lenny crazy!

    • Ari Bocian says:

      It’s worth noting that Carreras wasn’t Bernstein’s first choice for Tony. He had sought Jerry Hadley, Neil Shicoff, Francisco Araiza, and Placido Domingo, all of whom ended up being unavailable. With time running short, and desperate times calling for desperate measures, Carreras was flown in from France, where he was either in the middle of or having just completed a run of Carmen, and had only a couple days to learn a complicated score in a language he didn’t know fluently. I think he did a remarkable job under those circumstances.

      • Tom Phillips says:

        Hadley would have been perfect in that role (a far less affected voice in Broadway than almost all other opera singers) but was nowhere near as big a name.

        • BRUCEB says:

          Pity. Hadley is pretty wonderful in the “Candide” recording, and would have been in “West Side Story,” too.

  • Drew says:

    I find it very sad that most listeners only know of Carreras’s singing from his 3 tenor recordings . By the time of the 3 tenors concert his voice was but mere shadow of its former glory . The extreme decline of Carreras’s vocal powers was not due his illness . Instead it was his insistence on forcing his voice and singing the big spinto roles on stage more suited for voices like Domingo , Corelli etc .
    His early Aida and Don Carlos EMI recordings ( both w/ Freni ) and conducted by Karajan are excellent examples of just how incredibly beautiful his tenor voice was in his prime . That early voice combined with his natural expressivity and ardour could go toe to toe with any tenor before or after . Listen to the duet he sings with Freni at the end of his EMI recording of Don Carlos to hear just how remarkable that voice was ! Unfortunately, these are the kind of roles he chose to sing on stage that decimated his beautiful voice .

    • Tom Phillips says:

      He was even better in earlier recordings in roles more inherently suitable to him for instance the exquisite 1977 Abbado Simon Bocanegra, the 1976 Muti Macbeth with Milnes and Cossotto etc. Exquisite and beautiful.

  • Diane says:

    Stop referring to him as the 3rd tenor! He is number 1!!

    • BRUCEB says:

      LOL. I tend to agree, but the whole “thing” was based on popular fame and box office revenues, so he was called #3.