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Artists talk of june 2nd 1984 in the Volkstheater; Host: Dr. Volkmar Parschalk
José Carreras
 English translation © Sabine Bischof
José Carreras is known world-wide as an opera tenor. But on his new record he also sings "Memories", a song from the musical Cats. Is there prepared a change from an opera star to a musical star?
I have several reasons to sing this music. First of all I like it, many people like it, and many people sing it. This is the main reason. And it is relaxing for me to sing that. And there is a third reason. Maybe it is possible, in this way, if someone begins to be interested in the artist Carreras, to win this one for an opera, for serious music.
But also a film project with José Carreras in the role of a pop singer could have been a reason for this trip into the light music.
Yes, that's right, the plan exists. It is a film with Ivo Pogorelich and Bo Derek. She doesn't sing of course, she can do very well without that. And he is a classical pianist. I play a pop singer, and there is arising a love story between Bo Derek and me, and I will be persuaded that I should become an opera singer. Bo is presumably able to persuade every man to do everything. That is planned and certain for ninety per cent.
A film is said to have been playing an important part for the choice of career of José Carreras. One says, the boy José Maria has become an opera fan by means of a Mario Lanza film.
Yes, that is true. Many people know that I began to be interested in music because I have seen the Caruso film with Mario Lanza. I was six back then and have started to sing this songs myself after that. In my childish way "La Danza" by Rossini, "La donna è mobile" and so on. My parents discovered my gift and sent me to the music academy. There I should study music. But right from the beginning I had the intention to become a singer. From this time on, when I came to the music academy in Barcelona, I always have sung. One day I got a call from the opera in Barcelona, if I would be in the position to take on a boys part in an opera by de Falla. I have said yes. It is true that it was a very, very difficult part, above all musical very difficult, but it was my first real contact with the world of music.
It really doesn't happen very often that boy soprano stars later, after the breaking of the voice, have a voice.
As a child I never was a soprano but an alto, und this is very strange. Normally a child soprano or a boy soprano develops into a baritone or bass voice and contrary an alto or mezzo into a tenor. I never have had problems during the breaking of my voice, because I have sung on all the time. If you stop singing it is dangerous. Then suddenly something isn't right with the voice, you have difficulties. But I have sung all the time, and so it developed naturally. Long time I had no problems with the high tones at all. Then suddenly it wasn't that easy any more to sing high tones, and that's final till today.
About the beginning of the career of José Carreras are existinig different versions; in any case Montserrat Caballé is involved in it. One time it is said José Carreras has together with her first sung the Flavio in "Norma" and she became aware of the young tenor, who was outdoing the main tenor. An other version says his first appearance in Barcelona has been in "Lucrezia Borgia" as well with Montserrat Caballé.
Actually both of them are true. My very first appearance was Flavio in "Norma" with Montserrat Caballé. That was her first Norma then in january 1970. But my first real appearance, in my opinion my official debut, was again in Barcelona, at the same year but the next season, in december 1970.
Was the great primadonna really able to help, did she really influence the career?
Montserrat's influence was not only that she said: "Yes, there is a tenor with whom I would like to sing", she wasn't just helping me commercial – this was important too, this aspect – but much more important to me was the moral support. Montserrat Caballé has already been the number one on opera stage at this time. And if there is someone who has that caliber, who stands there so great and believes in the gift and the career of a young man, then this is a tremendous support for him, gives him a lot of strength.
For many times in the past ten, fifteen years Montserrat Caballé and José Carreras had been partners on stage. Nevertheless there is a big age difference between the both of them – he the radiant young tenor, she the yet more motherly figure ...
Yes, in normal life that sure would be correct, but on stage Montserrat is a complete different personality, with incredible engagement in every role she is playing and singing. 
But aside from Montserrat Caballé there also was a singing teacher in Barcelona decisive for the career.
Yes, I think every singer needs someone he can have confidence in. And I trust in this man, always did and still do today. I can call him at any time, when ever it is necessary, when ever I have the feeling to need him. Then I even don't have to sing to him at all. It's not just a question of the high tones then, but I discuss my problems with him, and he helps me. And I am very lucky to have him. Our relation is actually like this, that he never has told me, this you have to do and that you have to do, but he tells me what I have to avoid, what I should not do, and counts otherwise on my instinct and my talent. And I think this is really important, to have a singing teacher who is not stubborn and forces a specific method on someone.
The Rodolfo in "La Bohème" has been one of the roles Carreras has been identified with for a long time. Then maybe also Nemorino in "Elisir d'amore", Alfredo in "La Traviata"; the lyrical, the melancholy lovers. Meanwhile José Carreras has for a long time replied differently, he has sung Radames, Manrico, and now Don José in "Carmen". So he is advanced to the dramatic roles. Has it been the outward appearance that seemed to predestine him for these melancholy lovers?
Well, I think, from my voice I am und remain a lyric tevor; I am absolutly not a dramatic tenor. And as far as my outward appearance is concerned, I also tend towards the romantic characters like Rodolfo or Nemorino. This parts I really sing often. In addition I also sing Chenier, Don José, Manrico, Kalaf. But I think with a voice – and it is true that this voice is a lyric voice, but it is more deeper tinged – if I accentuate in the right way and emphasize the pronunciation and the words, I can do this. I am able to sing lirico-spinto parts, although I am no lirico-spinto, that is to say no tenor for the roles between different tenor types. I am and I remain a lyric tenor. But with a certain instinct for this parts I also can sing them, in my own way.
After his first appearance 1970 in Barcelona José Carreras has conquered all the opera houses in the world very quickly, almost the same year or the next two years all the great opera houses up to the Met. London of course, the Scala. Not quite so lucky course took his first appearance at the Vienna State Opera as Duke in "Rigoletto".
Yes, at the beginning it went well, but then in the final act suddenly the voice failed – that happens only two or three times in the course of a career. And at my Vienna debut of all debuts it was that way. That was very sad, but the audience reacted really fantastic. And for a long time after I was afraid of coming to Vienna, of sining the Rodolfo or Cavaradossi here. Time and again I had the memory of this unfortunate Rigoletto at the beginning. But then I came back and Vienna to me became – I don't want to say my favorite opera house, that would be to easy, but in any case it is a house where I really feel at home, more than in most of the others.
The situation at the Vienna State Opera at present – premature retire of Lorin Maazel, Egon Seefehlner will come back for two years, from 1986 Claus Helmut Drese as new director – must be a little irritating for the artists.
I always had very good relations to Maazel, as director of the State Opera and as conductor, and I think our "Turandot" is the best proof for that. To me he always acted as a gentleman. And I admire him as a conductor. I always have had good relations to Prof. Seefehlner. And – I am a real lucky man – I also get along very well with Drese from Zürich, after all I sang there very often. So what else I could ask for? But one thing is completely obvious to me: I am not singing for the director but for the audience.
The audience in Vienna is known as exceptionally cruel. There sure is a more objective audience, such as in London or in New York. Here in Vienna, if a tone one time goes wrong or something is not hundred per cent, at once there is a booing. A specific characteristic of the Viennese?
I think you can't generalize this. The Vienneses are a very generous audience, a very sincere, genuine feeling audience. If there are four or five fools, you can't equate them with Vienna. In my opinion they are plainly sick people. Unfortunately we live in a world – don't be afraid, I am not going to be philosophical – in a world of force and terrorism. And there are also terrorist in opera. Indeed it is right, that people at the Met – I don't want to say are more loyal, but things are taken easier. But what an artist really likes, that is the enthusiasm, like it is given here in Vienna.
The Duke in "Rigoletto" has in any case not become one of your favorite roles.
Well, I remember some years ago, if it happened I had a contract somewhere and I felt tempted by another intresting job, my manager has told me: "No problem at all: Go there, sing the Duke in "Rigoletto" and you are rid of the engagement!"
Time and again to have to sing the well-known tenor parts of the opera literature – isn't it also a fact one likes to study rarities . And is it possible to sing this rarities somewhere?
I think I have proved that I like to sing such things, like to sing it very much, specially Verdi rarities. And I have made many recordings, also by Rossini. That is very interesting and I think this is also an important role of an artist, the documentation he has to create for the audience. Rarities are certainly not part of the repertoire at each opera house, but it is always interesting to make a new production. And I like to do such new productions on certain conditions – if there is an excellent cunductor or an excellent director, if I have the feeling that I can learn something. With a Karajan, a Strehler or Zeffirelli, a Abbado I am willing to rehearse even for three months, if it is necessary. What I dislike are mediocre people who spend two months with teaching you in which scene you have to put the right or left foot forward or who ignore the music or the concerns of theater. But to say it once again: I am always willing to work hard and rehearse a lot, if I have the feeling, it is convenient. If not, I prefer to sing somewhere a performance, arrive the evening before and leave the next day, or I sing some concerts.
That provokes the question about opera direction. Hilda Zadek, one of the great prima donnas of the Vienna State Opera, has said, well this modern directions, that so often would be rejected by the audience, such as Hans Neufelds production of "Aida" in Frankfurt or his production of "Forza del destino" in Berlin, they are at least something to think about, one would think about the opera. At first one would be angry, but one thinks for weeks of this performance. It gives to the opera, which is an antiquated art, a new impulse, if there are such directions, such productions.
In case we are talking about modern theater and you mention "Aida" in Frankfurt as an example, I must say that I do not just think this to be ridiculous, but an insult of Verdi. This is not real theater, there is someone who wants to become famous quickly, come hell or high water, even with bad things. What do I understand by modern theater? What is pointing to the future? I want to give an example with the Ponnelle-"Carmen" in Zürich. This is modern theater! This way we have to go on. Anything else is a scandal. The next time someone will present Othello as a blond hero and the Desdemona as black.
The consequence of this would be the refusal to join in such a production?
Yes! I can mention a colleague, for instance, whom I adore very much and who is not only a great singer, but also a good friend of mine, Piero Cappuccilli. He recently left a production of "Rigoletto" in Firenze, because they wanted him there to appear as a clown, and he has refused to do that. A scandal was sorrounding it, but I think he was absolutely right! For what is against the music and against the opinion of the audience, is simply bad. That's only something for snobs.
Herbert von Karajan means a big challenge. He has employed José Carreras for the first time at the Verdi-Requiem in Salzburg, then in "Don Carlos", and he then has wished him as Radames for "Aida". And all the people have said: "For Heavens sake, Carreras will sing the Radames and ruin his voice with it completely. But Radames was challenge for a really new way in the career, the conquest of a new type of roles: Manrico, Kalaf, Don José ...
Yes, you are presumably right. I have done things with Karajan, I wouldn't do with any other conductor, for instance the Radames in Salzburg. And I want to say the following about this. Of course it is important to work with Karajan. But the importance is not only that it is good for the career, that you are established, as soon as you have worked with him. This is only a commercial aspect. Over and above that it is a privilege on the artistic side, a big honor to work with him. Because he forces you to give your best, he forces you, to make an all-out effort. And when I sing conducted by him, I also learn, how I sing this roles elsewhere, if I not sing under his conduction. I'm learning something for my whole career, because I know, that what I do with him is hundred per cent right. And even the new things with Karajan, "Carmen" in Salzburg or 1986 "Don Carlos", these are sure highlights of my career in the next few years. And there is something in addition. If I have sung a role with Karajan and then there comes another conductor and asks me: "Why do you do it this way, why do you sing it like this and not another way" und I answer to him: "I did it this way with Karajan" anyway he has nothing else to reply, and I can do exactly what I think to be right.
In our tenor-heaven at present there are three tenors: Pavarotti, Domingo, Carreras. Each of the three sings nearly the same parts. A burdening for the relation to each other?
My relation to Pavarotti is really excellent, he was always exceedingly amiable to me. We are very good friends, often play cards with each other, he often has cooked for me – incidentally really excellent. I have seen him here in Vienna in "Aida", there he was really outstanding! He is an artist who pursues his way and doesn't care what the others do or say. As far as Placido is concerned, we had very good relations too. But it happened here in Vienna, in connection with the gala concert, as you will remember, that it came to a break, but it passed again. We came together again, he explained the situation to me from his point of view. I listened to him, have talked to him about it and explained my point of view to him. And since then we have a very good and warm relation and are good friends. And I think like this it is quite right. Apart from this after all we are both spaniards, and we have to stick together. I bear a big admiration for him and think him to be one of the greatest artists in our time.
Doesn't compel the behaviour of one of these three tenors the other two to a similar behaviour to keep their popularity and commercial value. So, if Luciano Pavarotti shoots a movie, then José Carreras and Placido Domingo have to shoot a movie too; if Placido Domingo sings pop, Pavarotti and Carreras have to put a pop record on the market; and if one of them is more frequently on TV the other one tries to appear on TV too.
No, I think this is an impression maybe some opera-goers may have but it absolutely doesn't agree with reality. I think it's all the same to Luciano what Domingo and me are doing, and to me and Domingo it's just the same. I think each of us knows exactly what he wants. We have hundreds of offers. We could sing 360 days in a year and over and above that make 20 recordings. And in case Domingo publishes some pop record and I enjoy it to publish one too, or if Pavarotti appears in a film and Domingo then also appears in a film, the one is playing tennis and the other one really has to play tennis too, it has not to do with the fact that we want to compete with each other. Of course there is the market, and of course there are the record companies which insist on it that we do everything, and sometimes the one of us is the first, then follows the other one, and then finally comes the third. Another time it is reversed. But I think we don't do this because of a serious competitive mentality but more relaxed and don't feel as competitors.
Away from opera towards lieder recitals. Is this nicer, more strenuous, more satisfactory than to sing an opera part?
It is a complete different way to present oneself to the audience. At the opera you stand on stage, you have an orchestra, you have the colleagues. You interprete a role on stage with make-up and so on. In a recital it is completely different. You stand on the podium all alone with the piano. You wear your tails and nevertheless you feel naked, but then you are at the mercy of the audience in a positive way. And there is something else. Each song has it's own character, it has to be interpreted in a peculiar way, in a certain intonation, in a certain nuance. That requires no end of concentration. And you must be able to share and understand the most different stylistic eras, from the 17. century up to the modern times. I think all of this is another proof for the professionality of an artist.
José Carreras once has said in an interview, and that was said to each ones astonishment, the word is the most important to him. Meant the interpretation of the word. At lieder recitals it depends very particularly on finding the appropriate interpretation for the word. Means that, for a singer who doesn't speak the german language the german repertoire is completely impossible for recitals?
If I learn german one day, and I defenitely intend to do this, without doubt I want to make this too. With all respect to my colleagues, I don't understand those of them who are willing to sing in a language they don't understand. It is not necessary to be perfect, but you have to know the meaning of what you sing. This is the reason why I do not touch the german repertoire. But one day – and I will be able to speak german one day, here I commit myself you might say, I tie myself down here -, when the time comes for me of course I want to exhaust this wonderful potential, the german songs, and over and above that maybe some time also a german opera. Wagner, maybe "Lohengrin", really why not?
The Don José – at present the best, most convincing role of José Carreras. Is this the result of intensive rehearsal work with Jean Pierre Ponnelle for his Zürich production – even if another one has sung the Don José at the premiere?
I have rehearsed with Ponnelle himself and then I have sung in his production in Zürich. The Don José is a very special role for me. I think him to be a quite naive man, who believes till the end everything will turn out alright. He is naive, as I have said, and is not at all the gladiator, as which some play him. And he is in love with someone the first time in his life. This Carmen is a such overwhelming personality, that she takes possession of him completely and he is really going to be powerless. I think in a way he is a weak man. Violent but weak.
The private man José Carreras has got a family in Barcelona – a daughter and a son. He is together with his son a soccers fan, supporter of the FC Barcelona, the son adores Diego Maradona. But how much time is left for the private man José Carreras, if the artist Carreras permanent travels around all over the world ...
If you ask me for my private life, I have to say I am a completely normal man. I love, like most other people too, my kids, and when ever I am free for 24 hours I fly to Barcelona to see them. Otherwise I am permanent in contact with them, telephonic and in other ways. And as far as Barcelona is concerned, the soccers club, funnily enough I am a member, and they really give me a lot of headaches and a lot of pains sometimes. That is like it is with Rapid – it is true that we are the best, but we never win the championship. To come back to private life and job: I seriously try to bring job and private life into accord. But this often is impossible. I love my job. I love to sing, and I have the opportunity to do this, at the greatest houses in the world, in presence of the best audience, with the most outstanding colleagues, with the best conductors. That's a big, worthwhile job, and it is in conflict with my private life. I always say to myself, yes, the next 15 years maybe I still will sing, then I will have the time to enjoy my private live. And so I concentrate on what I have to do now.
With which we are back again at the artist José Carreras and what he plans for the next time.
Well, what concerns Austria first of all we have the Don José In Salzburg, then in Vienna the "Bohème", which is my favorite role after all. Then I will sing in "Traviata" with Gruberova and Cappucilli, and besides there are one or two "Turandot"-performances. In addition there is of course Salzburg again with "Carmen" and "Carlos". As far as the later plans are concerned, namely for the time after 1986, there is a number of new productions, I maybe may say this here, as it were in the family circle. I am planning two new roles in french operas, one is Massenet, the other one Gounod. And what concerns new roles, there isn't much left. At the 40. birthday 1987 I want to make the Canio in Barcelona for the first time. Then, in two or three years, "Manon Lescaut". But as said before, there are really just a few more repertoire roles, except the rarities we have already spoken about. And you must not forget that I have sung quite a number of new roles in the last year for the first time – "Romeo et Juliette" in Barcelona, Kalaf here in Vienna and "Trobadore" in London. I think I can give myself a year of rest now very well ...