José grateful for every day

The grand surroundings of Holkham Hall will, this Friday, play host to one of the most famous voices in the world. But global adulation has not cost José Carreras his humility, as KATIE COOPER finds out.

José Carreras is not only a renowned figure among opera fans. As a member of the Three Tenors, alongside Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo, he became a household name with non-aficionados too.

Now almost in his 60s, the young boy who took to singing in his parents' bathroom in Barcelona because the family grew tired of his constant practising is now a global superstar and a true survivor, still touring for up to 11 months of the year.

And as his close friend and fellow tenor Luciano Pavarotti battled pancreatic cancer this year, Carreras was on hand, he hopes as an inspiration.

Carreras was diagnosed with leukaemia in 1987 and given a one in 10 chance of survival, but he battled through and returned to some of the most successful years of his career and the setting up of his leukaemia foundation through which he now supports other sufferers.

“I hope that he can look at me and think, José came through it. He won the battle and I can too,” he says.

As Pavarotti convalesces in Italy, where Carreras spoke to him last week, the old friends are already planning his return to the world stage: “Luciano sounded happy when I spoke to him. I also spoke to Placido (Domingo) and he said that we have to do a concert together to prove that Luciano is back. I would hope that that would be an extra boost to his recovery as well.”

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Carreras' personal attachment to cancer sufferers, particularly those with leukaemia is very evident, especially as he talks of his own battle with the disease and his feeling of being “humbled by people” when he had cancer.

“I was so in debt to the scientific community and I wanted to establish something that could help people with the same disease after that experience.”

The foundation now raises hundreds of thousands of pounds every year to fund research to help others make the sort of recovery that Carreras did.

“And I am grateful every day. I am grateful for being able to perform and communicate with people, and for them to enjoy my concerts. I really consider it a privilege to go on stage and to be in front of an audience.”

He is particularly looking forward to performing in Holkham, his only outdoor show in England this year, although he's set to perform at the Albert Hall in November.

“I think outdoor concerts attract people who would not normally come to the opera. It is less intimidating. I do like the way the British always bring their picnics. It makes for more of an evening. It is testament to their resilience that they will still be there watching and eating their sandwiches in the rain! It is a great British tradition.”

Carreras will be bringing his raincoat, although unfortunately he will only be staying in Norfolk for 48 hours before jetting off to Moscow for a concert the following night.

Having never visited Norfolk before he is apologetic that he will not be able to stay and look at his beautiful surroundings. But duty calls and he shows no signs of slowing down.

“I will have to eventually, maybe in the next few years. But while I've still got my voice and I still love to, I will continue to perform. I do get to visit so many places in the world when I am performing, unfortunately I do not get to see much of them, and moving from one place to the next is terrible. It's like a military operation. Every time I go away I try to remind myself not to bring so many things with me, but I can't.

“I do get to return home for a few days in between performances sometimes, obviously not if I'm going to the United States or the Far East, but if I am in Europe, I try to go back.

“I do believe, and this is with no disrespect to the British, but having travelled the world I do think that the Mediterranean area is my favourite. I love the culture and the food and the lifestyle, I suppose you cannot really do better than being born in Barcelona!”

Nevertheless the 59-year-old is due to spend a rare Christmas away from home this year: “I will be in Japan doing a series of concerts. It will be very different but, I think, very interesting too.”

His desire to sing to as many people as possible, to communicate all that he feels about opera drives Carreras to travel, and he enjoys every part of the process of performance.

“To build the programme and to establish the repertoire, to talk about arrangements is a really exciting process. At Holkham we have a fantastic soprano (Kate Royal) and of course a full orchestra (the City of London Sinfonia). We will be mixing opera with some traditional Neapolitan songs and lots of well-known songs that we know the audience will enjoy. I am very much looking forward to it.”

And as long as Carreras maintains that passion for performance, nothing will keep him from his audience.

Tickets costing £37.50 are available from the Holkham ticket hotline: 08700 667733. Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra play on Saturday, September 2, with tickets costing £32.50. Both shows begin at 7.30pm, although guests will be admitted from 6pm.