This was one of the most awaited events of the year, one of the highlights which was announced over a year ago: Josep Carreras would come back to Salzburg on 20 December 2017 to offer a Christmas concert at the Großes Festspielhaus, the main hall of the prestigious Salzburg Festival.

Photo: Pressephoto Scharinger



This venue is a relevant enough detail to remind us of quite a long series of events which marked our beloved tenor's career. We are used to hear that Salzburg marks the career of every opera singers who is lucky and talented enough to perform there, but this is especially true for Carreras who made his debut there on 13 April 1976, with Verdi's Requiem Mass and since then collected several triumphal opera nights under the baton of Herbert von Karajan, legendary conductor from Salzburg with whom he shared a deep, mutual admiration: Don Carlo, Aida, Carmen, but also extraordinary recitals released on CD and DVD, such as the ones he sang in 1981 and in 1989, just to mention a couple of them. 
Those are the memories which came back to your mind still a few seconds before he stepped again, most probably for the last time, on such stage to celebrate A Life in Music, just a few days to Christmas in 2017. Although we are aware that this was to be his last concert there, as press itself reported, let's not regard it as a farewell concert because with such a long, golden relationship knows no farewell and real legends are forever.

On this special occasion, Josep Carreras was accompanied by soprano Venera Gimadieva, the  Musisches Gymnasium Salzburg Choir Mozarteumorchester conducted by David Giménez. The program included a selection of songs from the sacred repertoire, some of the most traditional Christmas carols and a few Neapolitan songs.

As he arrived on the stage he was received with a warm, thunderous ovation which increased in power as long as the concert proceeded. He opened the first part with Stradella's Pietà Signore, popular Catalan El cant dels ocells, continued with Mascagni's Ave Maria and Franck's Panis Angelicus. The atmosphere immediately turned spiritual as the tenor displayed the usual beautiful tymbre and most of all a refined phrasing exquisitely adorned with a masterful use of mezza voce.
Alvarez's Pregària was meant to be a second, emotional tribute to his homeland, Catalonia: his powerful rendition of such a beautiful song was really thrilling and the audience exploded into a long applause.

After a 20 minute break, the second part of the concert was dedicated to the most popular Christmas carols: Carreras sang some of his favourite ones, such as Adeste Fideles, La Virgen lava pañales and Mille Cherubini in coro. In addition, he was joined by soprano Venera Gimadieva for a couple of duets: Cantique de Noël, for sure one of the most traditional and magical, during which he sang an amazing Ab which filled the whole hall; The little drummer boy, which he always sings with so much enthusiasm. Finally, White Christmas guaranteed the most touching finale which caused the first and absolutely deserved standing-ovation.

Once again, Venera Gimadieva proved to be a very good partner: after the German Tour in 2016, she delighted the audience with her lyric coloratura tymbre, ideal for the repertoire she sang, from Brahms' Wiegenlied to Grieg's Solveigs song in the first part, and from Mozart's Laudate Dominum to the traditional Im Wald wurde ein Tannenbaäumchen geboren in the second part, besides the previously mentioned duets.

Photo: Soprano Venera Gimadieva (facebook page)

The Mozarteumorchester conducted by David Giménez offered a valid performance in the solos as well: they played L'Arlésienne Suite. Intermezzo by Bizet at the very beginning, and Mozart's Schlittenfahrt in the opening of the second part. However, a special mention has to be done for the Oberstufenchor des Musikgymnasiums, a very large choir of young kids which increased the magical atmosphere of most songs, as well as in their Christmas Medley solo.

At the end of the official program and throughout the six encores, Josep Carreras was honored with lots of flowers (video), letters and other gifts by the audience. I'll be home for Christmas was his first encore, followed by Venera Gimadieva's version of Let it snow!. At that point, the audience couldn't stop the bravos and the passionate ovation, but the hall was on fire after the two huge, overwhelming, heart-breaking renditions Carreras gave of Dicitencello vuje and Core 'ngrato, which this immense artist put all his heart into. In particular: during the latter one he managed the caugh caused by air-conditioning blowing towards him by turning it into expressive markers.
After that, Venera Gimadieva beautifully sang O mio babbino caro from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, the only opera aria of the concert, to join Josep Carreras in the final duet, Stille Nacht: this was an emotional experience, not only because it was composed in Oberndorf bei Salzburg almost 200 years ago, but also because it was sang in three languages (Catalan, English and German) and Carreras always know hoy to make it unique.

Photo: julia_jochims (Instagram)

The audience didn't want to let him go, so that he had to come back on stage several time to say goodbye. But as I said before, no farewell is possible as a legend is forever.

Last but not least: Venera Gimadieva shared on her facebook page a funny video she made backstage with Josep Carreras with their Christmas wishes. Enjoy!