José Carreras in Ashdod alongside the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.
(photo credit: GUY PRIVES)
When listening to a concert by a 71-year-old whose life story and name walk miles before him, audience members often expect to be disappointed. As singers age, the membranes in their vocal chords lose their agility, and many ride on their fame and past success when selling out halls in their later years. Jose Carreras is not such a case.
As the crowning concert in Ashdod’s annual International Méditerranée Festival, the Catalonian opera legend filled the city’s entire Amphi Park Wednesday night with fervent passion, talent and musical catharsis. His stage presence, poignancy, and artistic depth made clear to those present that he rightly earned his renown.
The evening’s repertoire centered around Neapolitan and Catalonian art songs, interspersed with several musical theater numbers. This is the tenor’s farewell tour, and as such, he has no obligation to sing your average operatic classics. As he explained in a recent New York Times
interview, he has “realized that what the audience wants to listen to is the repertoire I enjoy myself: the Italian songs, the Spanish songs, Neapolitan songs.”
Even the flaws in Carreras’s performance exuded humanity and grace. When he began the show singing “L’ultima Canzone
” by Neopolitan composer Tosti, a mosquito flew into his mouth during a long note. He paused, coughed, began again, and sputtered, at which point the audience began to applaud. He then regained his composure and finished the song.
For the remainder of the concert his warm, honey timbre was an unwavering reminder of his years as one of the epic Three Tenors, along with Placido Domingo and the late Luciano Pavarotti. His intense adoration for this art form was present in his gaze at all times; a gaze which had the audience on the verge of tears for an hour and a half.
Carreras did not crack a smile throughout the entire concert. Rather than have this be conducive to a somber atmosphere, it was testament to the gravity, profundity and wisdom with which he has come to regard his life’s work.
The last song Carreras sang before the encores was “The Impossible Dream
” from the musical “Man of La Mancha
.” It is a symbolic tribute to the life of a man who has dreamed many impossible dreams, rising from a working-class childhood to operatic stardom, battling life-threatening leukemia, and then rising ever stronger to found the Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute, which has invested millions of dollars into life-saving cancer research in Spain and abroad.
For Israeli soprano Daniella Lugassy who shared the stage with him, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sing with one of opera’s greats. She held her own and more, flawlessly flitting between classical-crossover and proper operatic renditions of old favorites. Her part of the evening opened with a delicately executed rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah
, embellishing a standard that can easily seem rote. Her youthful energy and crystal voice carried her through to the end of the concert, and left one in no doubt that she was the right choice to stand beside Carreras.
The glue tying the entire performance together was Catalonian conductor David Gimenez, who also happens to be Carreras’s nephew. The two bear (perhaps familial) similarities in their precise, European gestures, and the modesty with which they comport themselves onstage.
Under Gimenez’s baton, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra outdid itself, both in the medley of solo pieces it performed and as accompaniment to Carreras and Lugassy. The opening piece of the evening, Bizet’s L’Arlesienne Suite
, showcased the woodwind section in bright, tightly-packed musical energy. Later on they played a piece from a zarzuela
(spanish comic opera) that gave the string section a chance to star.
The concert concluded with the duet Non ti scordar di me
, a piece most commonly associated with the Three Tenors. It was a privilege to hear Carreras sing it live: A momentary immersion into a bygone golden age of opera.