José Carreras

José Carreras Biography

Singer (1946–)
Spanish tenor José Carreras gained international acclaim as an opera singer, and became even more popular with his performances as one of the Three Tenors.


José Carreras was born in Barcelona, Spain, in 1946. He began singing as a child; by the mid-1970s, he was a leading tenor who had performed in operas around the world. Diagnosed with leukemia in 1987, he was successfully treated, and soon created a foundation to fight the disease. Carerras helped popularize opera by performing with Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo as one of the Three Tenors.

Early Life

Josep Maria Carreras i Coll, generally known as José Carreras, was born on December 5, 1946, in Barcelona, Spain. As a child, he loved singing. When he was 6 years old, Carreras saw the movie The Great Caruso; inspired by Mario Lanza's performance in the title role, he began tackling arias himself. The following year, he sang Giuseppi Verdi's "Le donna e mobile" on national radio. Having been sent to the Barcelona Conservatory to develop his talents, Carreras appeared in Manuel de Falla's opera El retablo de Maese Pedro when he was 11.

Singing Success

After training vocally with Francisco Puig and Juan Ruax, Carreras was cast in the small part of Flavio in a production of Vincenzo Bellini's Norma at the Barcelona Liceo in 1970. During that time, he became close to the opera's star, soprano Montserrat Caballé. With support from Caballé, Carreras began taking on leading roles in his operatic career, starting with his appearance opposite Caballé in Gaetano Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia.

Carreras soon moved to the international stage, singing Rodolfo in Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème in Parma, Italy, then performing the role of Pinkerton in a New York City Opera production of Madame Butterfly. By the mid-1970s, Carreras was an internationally acclaimed tenor. Other notable roles that he sang include Alfredo in La Traviata and Cavaradossi in Tosca. Carreras also worked with Leonard Bernstein for a 1984 recording of West Side Story, singing the part of Tony.

Brush With Death

In the 1980s, Carreras was at the height of his career and performing around the world; the only criticism heard was that his voice sometimes seemed strained, which was attributed to his succession of demanding roles. Then, in 1987, Carreras suddenly collapsed while recording and was subsequently diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. In order to fight the cancer, he opted to undergo a bone marrow transplant in Seattle, Washington. Though he faced daunting odds, the treatment, combined with chemotherapy, was successful.

Wanting to help others who were struggling with illnesses like his, Carreras went on to form the José Carreras Leukemia Foundation. The foundation was intended to support patients with leukemia, as well as their families, and to search for cures for leukemia and related hematological diseases. The foundation also encourages people to become bone marrow donors, and set up a registry of donors in Carreras's home country.

The Three Tenors

While Carreras was being treated for leukemia, erstwhile rivals Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo turned into sources of support and friendship. After his recovery, the three men joined forces to become "the Three Tenors." Their first concert—intended to demonstrate that Carreras had recovered from his illness and to raise money for his foundation—was held in Italy in 1990, during the World Cup. It was a phenomenal success.

The Three Tenors' 1990 recording Carreras, Domingo, Pavarotti in Concert went multiplatinum, and won a Grammy Award for best classical vocal performance. More popular concerts followed; their 1994 concert recording was also a multiplatinum success. The trio's popularity was credited with creating an upswell of interest in opera.

Still on Top

In his career, Carreras made more than 50 opera recordings. He also sang on non-opera albums, such as Hollywood Golden Classics (1991) and Mediterranean Passion (2008). Outside of singing, Carreras has written an autobiography, Singing From the Soul; the documentary José Carreras: A Life Story (1993) received an international Emmy Award.

Though he remains a popular performer, Carreras's career has shifted away from complex operatic roles in his later years—as he explained in a 2013 interview, "You can do certain things when you're younger, when your voice is full, but then you get older." He has said that when he retires from performing, he will fully devote himself to his foundation and its fight against leukemia.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!