"Argumenty y fakty", Internet version, #9 (1040) 27/09/2000

Jose Carreras: "I howled like a coyote"

Act 1

By the age of 28 Jose Carreras had already sung at the world's famous opera houses such as Milan La Scala, the Vienna Staatsoper, London's Covent Garden: The discography of the great singer now numbers over 150 golden and platinum disks. He is holder of the order of Art and Literature and Legion of Honour* of the French Republic, Kammersaenger of the Vienna Staatsoper. Last week he gave two concerts: in Moscow and St.Petersburg.

AiF - Maria Callas several times lost her voice, and that drew her to despair. But she continued to perform - contracts were signed months ahead. But here is the paradox: her concerts were still well attended. Later Callas would say: "I realized that the soul is more important than voice". If you lost your voice...

JC - O, God forbid! I take care of my voice every minute. There is always intolerable heat in my house, so unfortunately my guests seldom stay very long. However, heat is good for my vocal cords.

AiF - Yes, about the loss of voice, I knock on wood. Here in Russia in order to ward off evil we spit three times over the left shoulder and knock on wood. But let me finish my question. Would your soul be enough to perform without the former voice? What size is your soul?

JC - Your question is a little provocative. If I say that my soul is size XXXXL, i.e. extra large and terribly thick, your readers will consider me self-enamored. As far as Maria Callas is concerned: The soul, or what we call soul, is a motor manufacturing emotions. This is why I named my book "Singing from the Soul". Voice is nothing but an instrument. The most important for the singer is the soul.

AiF - Do you mean that one can become a great singer without having a voice?

JC - The great Pietro Mascagni said: "In order to be a good singer you also need a voice." What we call artistic talent is a good sense of style, intuition and physical endurance. The combination of these forms a charisma, an ability to enchant with voice. One may have a voice of great flexibility and range, but if his soul is an empty shell, his singing will not touch you.

AiF - Theatre is life in pretense, illusion, and our soul is not a watch. How can one make it produce necessary feelings by the beginning of the aria? Can impulses of the soul be imitated?

JC - In a concert I usually sing 15 to 20 arias, and of course my heart cannot automatically turn on the right emotions. It's not so easy. You must have noticed that after each song I go behind the stage. There I quickly think about the aria. The soul is like a big trunk or safe where your emotions and experience are stored up.

AiF - What if you are unfamiliar with the situation described in the opera?

JC - An artist must know what suffering is, maybe experience a severe illness: Also, unrequited love must be there. But if you did not experience your character's emotions, you can at least imagine them, find something similar in your life.

At the end of the first act the great tenor sang the Lament from L'Arlesiana. He dedicated this aria to the lost on the atomic submarine Kursk. His singing was so dramatic that people held their breath seeing this terrible pain. After the last note died away there was a moment of silence followed by storms of applause. Then the interval was announced, the curtain fell, but we still sat on our seats. Many had eyes full of tears.

At the age of 40 Jose Carreras has got to hospital. His diagnose was like a sentence: acute lymphatic leukemia. He had maximum 5 years left. Only bone marrow transplantation could help him. He was given 1 of 10 chances to recover. The treatment of leukemia takes many years: But two years after that terrible sentence Jose Carreras gave a concert in Merida in Spain. The tickets were sold out in no time.

AiF - During the illness the music of the Russian composer Rachmaninoff helped you not to give up.

JC - When you fall in love you cannot explain why. It's sort of alchemy. This is true for Rachmaninoff too. I listened to his music before, but in this special situation of emotional shock (excuse me, but I don't like to talk about illnesses of the bodily shell) it was Rachmaninoff who helped me not to lose heart. You can get over illness, but if your spirits sink you will not survive.

Act 2

Critics have often attacked Carreras lately. Little-known composers show great zeal accusing him of abrupt changes from piano to forte, or say for example that "in Meyerbeer's Africana his voice was obviously vibrating." Together with Carreras our compatriot Elena Kononenko participated in the Kremlin concert. Some journalists already made it to criticize her too. "She sang much and bad." But in reality she sang very well. The great tenor was obviously in raptures over his partner.

AiF - You are so famous that you do not need to sing at concerts. People will still come.

JC - It looks like you paid me a compliment: But somehow I don't quite like it. I want my audience to hear opera, and not the old general telling stories of his glorious past.

AiF - Do critics hurt your feelings? I believe that lately they became especially embittered with you:

JC - You are too young to remember what press wrote 20 years ago. I was criticized too, just like Mr. Pavarotti, and Mr. Domingo. Of course if my name may be put next to their names. For some reason they believe that if you throw mud at the artist he will at once produce something great. It is not true. If you offend somebody to the bottom of his heart he will sink into depression. But you have to force yourself and step on to the stage. Shining eyes of the people are your salvation.

AiF - Can an artist ever be free?

JC - You can be free from the very beginning if you have no goal in life. Sometimes I do things that I know are wrong and I do not want to. But I still do them - one must be flexible. However, a singer may learn to say "no" on a certain level, after saying "yes" many times before.

AiF - Montserrat Caballe said that she adored Richard Strauss' music, and her voice needed Bellini.

JC - Montserrat has always been a wag. I've never had this kind of discrepancy. In opera I always prefer Giovanni (Giordano?)** and, of course Verdi. I sang in 21 of his 27 operas. My favorite parts are Rodolfo in La Boheme, Riccardo in Ballo en Maschera and Don Jose in Carmen. The nature of these characters is my nature.

AiF - Nikolai Baskov, the young opera star, is very proud that you have been his teacher.

JC - I have never been Mr. Baskov's teacher. Nikolai attended master-classes of famous artists. I sometimes participated in them. Usually there are up to 50 people in the room, and you have 30 minutes to teach them something, share your experience. To me it is not a master-class, it is a supermarket: You can teach something only individually.

AiF - Have you admired Mr. Baskov's singing?

JC - I do not think I have ever admired his singing, but I heard him once in our University. He has a good voice and he seems to be a good person. Maybe I would like to help him with some advice, but I've never had a chance to talk with him personally.

AiF - Nikolai Baskov combines opera with pop music. Do they blend?

JC - Let us face the truth: Mr. Domingo, Mr. Pavarotti and I record modern songs. But for many years we sang opera in opera houses. One may sing classic music, one may sing pop, but I do not like hybrids of opera and pop-music.


AiF - You are very enthusiastic about football. I know that you throw about chairs, when the goalkeeper of your team lets the ball into the goal...

JC - Yes, I take to heart Barcelona's defeats and get annoyed with its adversaries. Everyone knows where to look for me if I am not in the theatre and not at home. I am at the stadium. I love to sing at matches with other fans. I have several red and blue caps, which I wear at the stadium.

AiF - I do not suppose your friend Pavarotti shares your love for Barcelona.

JC - O, it is a sore subject. Luchiano is a fan of his native Italian team Juventus, and Placido supports Real Madrid. In music our opinions seldom differ, but as far as football is concerned: Each of us immediately starts to argue in favor of his team. It almost comes to blows. Just kidding! But it is true that we argue ourselves hoarse, despite the fact that we all need to take care of the voice.

AiF - Are you going to repeat your triumphal concert of the Three Tenors in Paris after the World Football Championship in 1998?

JC - We are good friends, and if our plans some day concur, I will be glad to sing trio again. Maybe at the next world football championship in Asia.

AiF - Senor Carreras, how can you tell if the child has a talent?

JC - The child's talents usually shower at its parents' heads themselves. I saw The Great Caruso when I was 5. Several days I would sing all arias from this movie in turns. When my parents begged for some silence, I locked myself in the bathroom and sang for hours sitting on the edge of the bathtub. I turned on the water that one may not hear me. I must have been howling like a coyote (laughs). Finally the family was completely crazed with my operas. I had to start music lessons with the mother of one of my friends. She taught voice.

AiF - What if a wizard lets you wish something?

JC - I would like to come to Russia again, and may nothing prevent me from this (Spits over the shoulder and knocks on wood).

Olga Shablinskaya

Translation Maria Kozlova

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