Childhood & Early Life
Josep Maria Carreras i Coll was born on December 5, 1946, in Barcelona, Spain, as the son of Antònia Coll i Saigi and Josep Carreras i Soler. His father worked as a traffic policeman while his mother ran a small hair-dressing salon. He has two elder siblings.
He displayed an early talent for music which intensified after watching Mario Lanza perform in ‘The Great Caruso’. Aged just six at the time, young Jose started singing arias to his family. His grandfather, an amateur baritone, recognized the potential the child possessed and encouraged his parents to send him for music lessons.
Initially he studied piano and voice with a friend’s mother and began taking music lessons at Barcelona's Municipal Conservatory when he was eight. He also gave his first public performance at eight.
In 1958, he made his debut in Barcelona's great opera house, the Gran Teatre del Liceu, singing the boy soprano role of Trujamán in Manuel de Falla's ‘El retablo de Maese Pedro’. He was 11 years old at that time.
There was no doubt in his mind that he was destined for a career in music and studied music at the Conservatori Superior de Música del Liceu as a teenager. He also took private lessons during this time. In addition, he enrolled at the University of Barcelona to study chemistry but left after two years to focus on music.
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One of this music teachers and mentors, Juan Ruax encouraged him to audition for the role of Flavio in the opera ‘Norma’ in January 1970. It was a minor role, but the few phrases he sang were impressive enough to catch the attention of the production's leading lady, the famous soprano Montserrat Caballé.
Montserrat Caballé recognized the young man’s potential and selected him to sing Gennaro with her in Donizetti's ‘Lucrezia Borgia’, which opened in December 1970. This became his first principal adult role and soon he received several offers.
He went on to make his international debut in a concert performance of Maria Stuarda in London's Royal Festival Hall, again with Caballé, in 1971. Caballé played a major role in promoting and encouraging his career for many years; the two performed together in over 15 operas. In addition, her brother and manager, Carlos Caballé, also served as Carreras's manager until the mid-1990s.
His career progressed rapidly in the 1970s and he made his American debut as Pinkerton in ‘Madama Butterfly’ with the New York City Opera in 1972. By the mid-1970s, he was an internationally acclaimed tenor who had sung the lead in 24 different operas in both Europe and North America.
His streak of success continued well into the 1980s. By this time, he had sung with some of the most eminent sopranos and mezzo-sopranos of the day including his mentor Montserrat Caballé, Birgit Nilsson, Viorica Cortez, Renata Scotto, Ileana Cotrubaş, Sylvia Sass, and Teresa Stratas. He also had a long lasting artistic partnership with Katia Ricciarelli.
He was at the peak of his career when he suddenly collapsed during a recording in 1987. Subsequently diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, he underwent a grueling treatment regime involving chemotherapy, radiation therapy and an autologous bone marrow transplant. Initially given a 10% chance of survival, he beat the odds to eventually recover his health.
While undergoing treatment, his relationship with erstwhile rivals Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo changed dramatically. Pavarotti and Domingo became friends with the ailing tenor and supported him in his attempts to re-establish his career.
Once Carreras recovered fully, the three men collaborated to become “The Three Tenors” and started performing together. Their first concert, held in Italy in 1990, during the World Cup, was a phenomenal success. The recording of their debut concert became the best-selling classical album of all time and led to several more recordings and appearances.
Over the ensuing years, The Three Tenors toured internationally and performed at various locations including Kasumigaoka Stadium in Tokyo, Wembley Stadium in London, Ernst Happel Stadion in Vienna, Giants Stadium outside of New York, and Olympic Stadium in Munich. All their concerts were resounding successes.
In the recent past he forayed into popular music as well and performed and recorded with artists such as Diana Ross, Edyta Górniak, Lluis Llach, and Giorgia Fumanti.