Carnegie Hall 2017-18 Review: José Carreras Retires with Gusto

By James Monroe Števko

A farewell is never easy.

If you’re José Carreras, though, you can take to the stage at the end of your star-studded 40-year career and say goodbye with such ease and vitality as you did at the very, humble beginning.

Making one last lap around the globe, the 70-year-old leukemia survivor handcrafted a selection of pleasingly romantic Spanish and Italian songs alongside Russian mezzo Margarita Gritskova.

Comments about his vocal longevity stir in some circles, and as septuagenarian, none would doubt the possibilities of a voice giving way. Carreras banished all rumors at Carnegie Hall this Thursday, to a nearly full house.

With the opening of the stage door, the anticipatory crowd cheered on the youngest member of the former Three Tenors. Beelinincenter stagestage, showing no signs of age, he took his place inside the crook of the piano, gripping the lid to assure it remained in place.

The audience, largely a swath of long-lived fans, were no doubt surrounded by many an opera-goer who were familiar with the tenor, but had not heard him since his heyday.

The Opening

With the opening lines of Tosti’s “La serenta,” Carrera’s still finely tuned instrument pacified the house.

In his youth, the voice shone brightly, like a vibrating gold brick; very powerful, easy; brilliant, yet weighted. Even watching his production of such a sound was paradoxical; it looked so easy!

Now, his voice projects just as brightly as before and functions without wavering or any signs of weakness. With a slight more grit in the voice, it’s now that of a finely cared for antique wood; still lacquered smooth with lyricism, but rich and rustic.

After “Lu Cardillo” by Mercadante, a moving uptempo in 6/8, Gritskova took her turn, as she would do throughout the evening after every two of the headliner’s pieces. “Non piú mesta” from La Cenerentola exhibited some tickling, Rossini ornamentation.

Projected behind the lone piano and singers was a red curtain background, with odd cameos, first, of an undisclosed woman followed by Klimt’s “The Kiss,” as it was labeled. The significance of THESE particular projections was lost, almost humorously, but the projections made more sense with the arrival of moment of Carrera’s throughout the years in his various, brooding roles and alongside his pop culture celebrity partners.

Another Tosti, “L’ultima canzone” was the first signal that, yes, he does in fact still have a top above the staff, received by the audience with great enthusiasm.

“Je te veux” by Satie was his first duet with Gritskova, with an unconfident entrance by the female singer. The duos finer moment was in the second half: “Dúo y Jota” from El Dúo de la Africana. The great melody made for a fine scene with the two at the front of the stage. Gritskova slowly came into her own as she her voice showed more life with the sympathetic release of her body, a departure from her previous vocal solo selections that didn’t breathe as much vitality.

Lorenzo Bavaj, Carrera’s accompanist for a near 30 years, accompanied an informational slideshow of Jose’s career with Piazzola’s “Milonga del Angel,” which was wonderfully subdued and subtle, in a less-is-more fashion.

In the recital’s final bravura moment, Carreras displayed his ability to give a hearty “push” to the instrument in a song by Valente “Passione,” he dug his heels into the ground and gave a rousing finale.

Or so the audience was led to believe!

Encore’s were always to be expected and the two together delivered a total of eight. Warsaw Concerto began and Gritskova sang the most comfortably and lively as she had all night in “Seguidilla”. “Core n’grato” contrasted peculiarly with Candide’s “I’m easily assimilated” by the mezzo and was then followed by the duet “Non ti scordar di me.” Still reaching rousing heights and packing punch to the very end, he delivered “Vierno” and “Dicitercello vuie” before appeasing the lingering fans for one final “Torna a surriento,” with exclamations of excitement from the balcony in the piece’s first note.

Hoots and hollers; whistles and flowers, showed no signs of abating as the famed tenor collected his rose bunches and made his final Carnegie Hall stage exit under a gracious projection of “Thank you New York City”…


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