High Notes

Relive The 4 Iconic World Cup Concerts Of The Three Tenors

The World Cup kicks off tomorrow with a match between Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Before that, audiences around the world will get to clamor as some of the greatest opera stars appear on the world stage. And then on the opening ceremony, another young opera star will make a major appearance.

For some, the concept of opera and soccer (football around the rest of the planet) seem like an odd fit. And yet, it was the World Cup itself that brought us one of the most famous ensembles ever – The Three Tenors.

The trio of Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, and, of course, Luciano Pavarotti is more famous and renowned than most other music groups to come and go throughout the 20th century. They infiltrated pop culture like few other artists ever have and completely changed the way people view opera. It was Pavarotti’s rendition of “Nessun Dorma” that made it so iconic. It was the multi-singer interpretation of “O Sole Mio” that is widely imitated these days.

So here’s a look back at the World Cup concerts that remain so iconic to this day.

July 7, 1990 – World Cup in Italy

This is where it all started. The three appeared at the Baths of Caracalla and gave a taste of what would come for over 13 years. This is where we famously heard the group perform “Nessun Dorma” together for the first time. Or the first time they pitched in together to sing “O Sole Mio.” Both of these, by the way, were encores. The rest of the program is a mix of Spanish and Italian songs with two French selections and one in German. Zubin Mehta conducted.


July 16, 1994 – World Cup in USA

This was just the third concert in three years to feature the ensemble. Again, Zubin Mehta led the concert at Dodger Stadium. It was the first of the Three Tenors’ appearances at a sporting venue, which was actually a point of contention in a review. Nonetheless, they would go on to perform at a dozen sporting venues after. This concert also featured some of the expected hits (“Nessun Dorma,” “Granada,”) but also featured a wider range of repertoire. There are a lot of American hits such as “Singin’ in the Rain,” “All I Ask of You,” “America,” “My Way,” and “Be My Love,” among others.


July 10, 1998 – World Cup in France

Under the baton of James Levine, the trio reconvened for what was now its 18th concert. They were a world-wide phenomenon and the concert prior to the World Cup Final was now a tradition of sorts. This concert took place on the Champs de Mars in front of the Tour Eiffel and the concert was televised to tremendous acclaim. This concert also featured some expected hits (“Nessun Dorma” and “O Sole Mio”) but was far more varied in its selection of more popular tunes. Unlike the previous two installments at the World Cup, there aren’t many opera arias. Don’t miss Pavarotti sing “Granada,” which had been a staple of Domingo (1994) and Carreras (1990) in previous concerts.

June 27, 2002 – World Cup in Japan / Korea

This was the 31st concert of The Three Tenors and their final appearance together at a World Cup. They would have three more concerts thereafter, but this one is different and special. Unlike the other three World Cup concerts, this one was never released on video or CD. The tenors are far from their best (Pavarotti himself had already announced his upcoming retirement), but what is most fascinating is that it does not only include the Three Tenors, but also features local artists. This concert features more standard repertoire that harkens back to that first concert 12 years earlier, giving everything a sense of coming full circle.

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