As a growing number of people--in and out of opera circles--knows, the Spanish tenor Jose Carreras is one-third of the box-office, opera-lite smash known as the Three Tenors, which has just released another sure-to-sell recording. Not surprisingly, people showed up in well-dressed droves to the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza on Friday when Carreras performed a recital, more or less reprising the program he brought to Pasadena a year ago.
It didn't matter that this was just one tenor or that the tickets were extra pricey. They came, they applauded profusely and coaxed four encores, including a well-done (as in overcooked) dip into the American songbook, "With a Song in My Heart."
And, oh yes, they brought flowers, and had delivered enough of them to the stage, by recital's end, for four weddings and a funeral. At one point in the middle of a set of pieces by Leoncavallo, as a woman waved flowers from the edge of the stage, Carreras nodded politely but seemed distracted by this ill-timed intrusion.
Ditto the distracting effect from the audience, where the music itself sometimes seemed secondary to the Event, the sense of just being in the presence of fame and glitz rather than in a musical sanctuary. In the program notes, Carreras is quoted as saying he enjoys the "intimacy" of recitals, but despite the involvement of only the tenor and his fine, accommodating pianist, Lorenzo Bavaj, intimacy was not the impression one came away with.
Carreras embraced the bold gestures of his mostly Italian repertoire and sailed notes easily up into the hall's rafters, only partly thanks to its flattering acoustics. It may be true that Carreras' voice isn't what it once was--there were signs of strain, and he didn't move with seamless ease and control through his range--but he still possesses an impressive gift.
Expressive highlights arrived throughout the recital, from the poignant appeal of Bellini's "Fenesta Che Lucive" to Puccini's "Mentia l'Avviso," a dramatic showpiece of dynamic and emotive extremes otherwise lacking in this piecemeal program. Off to the side of expected repertoire, he also gave flesh and blood to Ginastera's "Cancion al Arbol del Olvido." There were glorious musical moments, in other words, amid the floral thicket.