Jose Carreras: Modest offering from a tenor who thrilled the world
It's a decade since Spanish tenor Jose Carreras last appeared on stage in an opera, or sang as part of The Three Tenors, the triple act with Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo which made him globally famous.
His appearance at the Waterfront Hall yesterday evening, in the opening concert of this year's Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's, was more modestly proportioned.
Accompanied by a string quartet and piano, Carreras eschewed the type of large-scale operatic repertoire he used to major in, focusing instead on a mixture of Neopolitan songs and popular classics.
Gone, unfortunately, are the days when Carreras could comfortably fill a large concert hall without a microphone. As amplified at the Waterfront, his voice had rasp about it, with tinny after-echo added. The choice of repertoire was strikingly unvaried, one three-minute selection sounding little different to the next.
The voice itself was a shadow of its former self, the tone dry and grainy, the high notes strained, and tuning compromised by what has become a wide, destabilising vibrato.
These weaknesses could have been mitigated had Carreras's onstage manner been more ingratiating. Instead he said nothing to the audience about the songs he was singing – they could have been about virtually anything, given the lack of texts or translations in the programme.
Vocally, the best moments of the evening came from the Irish soprano Celine Byrne, who gave Carreras regular breathers by singing a number of solo items. Her poised, dignified performance of Giordano's Caro Mio Ben was beautifully modulated, as was her creamily-phrased Vilja Song from Lehar's Merry Widow.
As the evening drew to a conclusion, Carreras visibly relaxed, and even smiled a little.
The voice warmed too. But there are issues here: this is the third year in succession that Belfast audiences have been served up veteran classical singers in showcase festival concerts. It's a policy which surely needs reviewing before next year's programme is assembled.