Debut for tenor with zest for life

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 January, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 January, 1993, 12:00am

LEUKAEMIA has not stopped world famous tenor Jose Carreras pursuing his life of song.

He promised himself he would become ''a much wiser, more intelligent man'' if he recovered from the usually fatal illness.

But on recovery, he found that he quickly returned to his old ways: endless cups of espresso, late night post-performance dinners and a hectic touring schedule.

Making his debut in Hongkong as part of this year's Hongkong Arts Festival, Carreras brings audiences a voice that has been acclaimed since he was six years old.

As a child of six, he played the boy narrator, El Trujiman in Falla's Master Peter's Puppet Show.

That was in his hometown's international opera house, the Liceo in Barcelona.

As a boy, Carreras used to listen all day to Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, regarded as one of the greatest tenors of all time.

Encouraged by his mother to study music seriously, he began with the piano, moved on to singing and eventually exchanged a career in chemistry for a life on the stage.

Two English impresarios saw Carreras perform and were impressed by his intense stage presence and promising voice.

London beckoned and Carreras followed its seductive call.

The next year he made his international debut opposite Montserrat Caballe at the London Festival Hall in the opera Maria Stuarda.

By 1974, when he performed at Covent Garden for the first time in La Traviata, his name was already known to audiences and critics.

Unfortunately, his debut was cancelled halfway through due to a bomb scare.

The tenor is now counted among the top three in the world and is constantly in demand both in person and in the studio.

As a youth, his best remembered roles used the heights of his voice to tackle Verdi, Donizetti and Puccini roles with which he felt most comfortable.

As his voice matured, darker tones have developed and he has conquered a more diverse repertoire including Werther, Calaf, Don Jose and Manrico.

With more than 50 complete opera recordings made, Carreras has sung everything from Maschera, Aida, Turandot, Tosca, Samson et Dalila and Otello to Donizetti's L'Elisir D'Amore.

Carreras performed a concert with fellow tenors Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti to mark the soccer World Cup Final in 1990.

The televised performance attracted 100 million viewers worldwide. The recording reached number two on the British pop charts.

There is a lighter side to Carreras' musical career.

He has ventured outside his favourite genre, opera, to perform popular Spanish and Italian songs, as well as Broadway and West End musicals such as West Side Story and South Pacific.

When the 1992 Olympic Games were held in his home town, Barcelona, he became musical director of the opening and closing ceremonies.

His current plans include work on a television film version of the life of his hero, Caruso.

Outside music, Carreras concerns himself with two things: being a devoted father and the foundation he started after his recovery in 1988 - the Jose Carreras International Leukaemia Foundation.

While neither of his two children are musically inclined, Carreras eagerly encourages them to develop talents in areas that please them most.

For the foundation, he has enlisted the help of Nobel Prize for Medicine winner, Professor E D Thomas to participate.

It is primarily concerned with research and Carreras has become a role model to those stricken with the disease.