Review: José Carreras gives a strong finish at Dubai Opera

José Carreras's concert at Dubai Opera comes just five weeks after his compatriot Plácido Domingo's inauguration of the new venue – offering a chance to check in on the twilight fortunes of two men both often giddily crowned the tenor of their generation.

Charity Gala Concert “ Jose Carreras and Friends “ and Gala Sope in the castle in

Ovesholm am 16.06.2007

Agency People Image (c.) Michael Tinnefeld
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It feels impossible to talk about José Carreras’s concert at Dubai Opera on Tuesday (October 4) — he performs again on Saturday (October 8) — without making comparisons to his comrade and compatriot Plácido Domingo’s inauguration of the new venue some five weeks earlier.

Both feted opera legends are largely known to the wider public for the same reason, after all, as junior partners of the late Luciano Pavarotti in The Three Tenors, that multimillion dollar touring spectacle credited with breathing — or rather bellowing — operatic arias into many households for the first time. So these two visits, to the same young stage and so little time apart, offer a chance to check in on the twilight fortunes of two men both often giddily crowned the tenor of their generation.

The headline stats: Where Domingo, 75, was backed by the might of a 60-piece orchestra, Carreras, 69, had just a pianist and string quartet. While the elder singer was joined by one soprano collaborator, the younger brought along two set-padding side stars. And where Domingo’s repertoire swept broadly from Italian opera to Broadway pizzazz, Carreras served up a slighter menu of Neapolitan and art songs, peppered with a few Three Tenors blockbusters.

And how did he sound? It is well known Carreras’ voice is not what it used to be. The perceived narrative goes that, after battling life-threatening leukaemia in the late 1980s, Carreras’s trademark timbre never quite recovered, while the passing decades have seen his golden chords wither almost unrecognisably. The reasons Carreras has all but given up on opera, taking just one stage role in the past decade (Domingo continues to embrace new roles well into his mid-seventies).

During the slender, 35-minute opening half of this Dubai performance — part of Carreras's grand, globetrotting A Life in Music farewell tour — it was easy to empathise with the harshest of recent critical notes, Carreras's tone sounding terse and hollow on his six short pieces, perhaps saved up for a climatic, closing T'estimo.

But after the break, it was as if a new man had emerged, emboldened with a fresh warmth, depth, power and passion. While at times a sense of struggle seemed evident, Carreras brought grace and elegance to Rendine's longing Vurria. For Valente's Passione, he wrenched his fists and dug deep like he still had something to prove, to wild applause. It would be foolhardy to compare this night to vintage performances, but there was a great pleasure in hearing the Catalan croon the crowd-pleasing closer Core 'Ngrato.

“It was like the first half was a warm up for the second,” I overheard a different listener remark on the way out.

Passing doses of actual opera came from sopranos Nataliya Kovalova and Salome Jicia, who offered a delightful duet on Offenbach's Barcarolle, from The Tales of Hoffmann, and were later wheeled out for all sorts of vocal pyrotechnics during the five solo and group encores — presumably so their boss didn't need to strain himself further.

After this meatier second innings — an hour in length, after encores — it was rather easier to go home, happy in the knowledge your ticket was worth more than just the chance to share this evening with a legend.

José Carreras performs again at Dubai Opera on Saturday October 8. Tickets are sold out.