Tuesday 8 February 2022

José Carreras turns seventy-five


A great tenor turns seventy-five
The tenor José Carreras turned seventy-five on December 5th. and I have fond memories of my contacts with him. In 1995 I was commissioned to make a painting of him for the Birmingham Symphony Hall Collection, for a Royal Gala Concert on May 4th, to raise funds for the José Carreras International Leukaemia Foundation.

Against all odds, Carreras was cured of acute leukaemia in 1988. As he put it: "I was one of the lucky few". His recovery and his subsequent concerts to raise funds for research and awareness attracted global admiration. It was in tribute to his courage that Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo joined him in 1990 for the first of the famous The Three Tenors concerts.

José Carreras, watercolour, 84 x 56cm, 1995

Because José Carreras is a singer, everything revolves around his breathing.  Despite the swirling colour, José's characteristically extended hands give great stability to the painting, like the base of a pyramid.  Our eye is drawn up to where the apex of the pyramid should be, in the white space just in front of his open mouth, from which we expect to hear the sound of that powerful voice.

Uncannily, the timing of this commission coincided with the period when my wife, the cellist Vivian King, was in hospital with yes - acute leukaemia. The emotional pressure was enormous. Half the day at the studio, trying to finish the painting whilst expecting yet another phone call from the hospital, announcing a new crisis. José was a fellow musician whose survival was legendary.  He sent us his good wishes, and I played his recordings to Vivian as she endured radiation and chemotherapy, giving us courage, inspiration and harmony.  Think of Franck's 'Panis angelicus', Puccini's tragic aria 'E lucevan le stelle' (Tosca) and, in particular, 'Che gelida manina' (La Bohème). 

This watercolour was literally painted with many tears, completed and signed on the day Vivian received rich-red new bone-marrow, a day of hope which alas, was not to be fulfilled.

I felt the need to make a contribution to the Carreras fund for leukaemia-research, so in October 1996 I joined José Carreras, Amanda Roocroft and the Hallé Orchestra for a huge fund-raising concert in Manchester. I painted fluid kinetic paintings live to the music: Lara's "Granada", Dvorák's "Song to the Moon", Verdi's "Brindisi" and a whole range of popular classics, all for the good cause. The amazing Martin† and Gillian Lawson co-produced this unforgettable event and immediately became dear friends and fans.


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