Jose Carreras

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 November, 2010, 12:00am

MEDITATIONS ON THE TRANSCENDENTAL I have four grandchildren - two girls and two boys. It's a very special feeling, being a grandfather. It's different from being a parent. Grandparents, particularly the grandfather, have a duty to spoil their grandchildren, and this is what I'm trying to do.

I read, listen to music, enjoy art ... But on the less serious side, I'm a football fan. By the way, Barcelona is the best team, in case you didn't already know. Not everything in life has to be transcendental, you know what I mean? It is good to have other sources of pleasure.

As you become more mature, you are also less impulsive. With the years, you realise how important it is to think twice about things, to understand others, to establish dialogue, to be more accommodating.

TONGUE TIES Certain values haven't changed. I have the same political attitude I had when I was 20. I've always hated totalitarianism and its lack of freedom and respect for the individual. I'm a Catalan, born in Barcelona in 1946. For us Catalans, to live under the dictatorship of General Franco wasn't easy. Catalonia was an [independent] kingdom. It had the first democratic parliament in the world. The Catalan people have always been fighting to keep our identity, roots, tradition and language. Even during Franco's reign, within the family we'd speak Catalan, but it was only 30 years ago that Catalan became an accepted language for the rest of Spain. Now it is one of the country's four official languages, together with Basque, Galatian and Castilian Spanish. Language is the best way to express oneself. Our literature and art is very rich; we have Gaudi, Miro and Dali, just to mention a few.

Now we are not oppressed; we live in a democracy with 16 other autonomies. We are a part of Spain - not better or worse, just a bit different. Some people in Catalonia would like to go even a bit further and become independent. There are more steps forward for the Catalans - we will see.

FIGHTING BACK I'm a very lucky man. After my 'official' recovery from leukaemia, in 1988, I needed time [to heal] my mental and physical condition. I think my determination to go back to professional life was good for my recovery. I had no time to think too much. It's good not to become too self-indulgent.

The Jose Carreras International Leukaemia Foundation was established 22 years ago in Barcelona and now we have satellite centres in the United States, Germany, Switzerland. It's a priority in my life and I dedicate all my enthusiasm and as much time as I can to supporting suffer- ers of leukaemia and eradicating the disease. The steps forward that science and medicine have made in the field are amazing. Thirty to 35 years ago, leukaemia was fatal in almost every case. [Carreras was given a one-in-10 chance of survival when he was diagnosed in 1987.] It hits children and teenagers the most. Nowadays, with treatment, at least 75 to 80 per cent of [young] sufferers win the battle; 50 per cent of adults as well. That's wonderful.

We don't know if it will happen in 10 years or 20 but, for sure, leukaemia will be eradicated. That is why governments should support research - in every field. It is fundamental for progress in society.

PASSING THE BATON For some years now, I've been the president of the Verdi competition in Busetto [in northern Italy, composer Giuseppe], Verdi's birthplace, and this is a way to help young people in my profession - to listen to them, teach them, to give them hope for a career. The annual competition has about 150 participants, many from Asia. We see more and more Asian music students going to Europe to finish their studies in cities such as London, Milan or Vienna, in prestigious conservatories with prestigious professors. First and foremost, you need talent. It is not too difficult to judge if a voice has potential. The rest you can learn. If you have a sensitivity, you can learn a language to perfection, and many Asian musicians I know are incredibly good at Italian and Spanish; they really work at it.

I love to talk to young students. I learn a lot from them, more than the other way around. From the questions they ask, you realise how much they care, how much they think about things. It's really wonderful to meet young people who want to become international musicians.

A TENOR'S LOT When I started formally training my voice, I was 16. I had to forget about other things. But this is normal; every profession requires discipline and sacrifice but the compensation is so absolutely wonderful that it makes sense.

I hardly know anyone in the opera world who is a wild person. Living that way, you can be at the top for a couple of years and then you have to pay. I insist on this - and perhaps I'm becoming a little bit boring - but discipline for an opera singer is fundamental. I was living the life of a tenor, not of a monk, but, with 120 performances a year and travelling and rehearsing, etc, you have to be disciplined in a certain way - not going out, eating the right things, not drinking. If you ask me if I am slowing down, well, obviously - compared with 30 years ago. But then I was doing too much. Now I do about 50 to 60 concerts a year, and I think that is the right measure.

Jose Carreras was in Hong Kong as part of JP Morgan's Masters Series, which promotes the development of the arts in Hong Kong