Pavarotti vs. Carreras

4 minute read
607 Carreras
A sibling rivalry recalled, or:
Why I preferred Carreras to Pavarotti


My brother Jack was as close to a genius as I have ever known. He was more intelligent than I, more schooled than I, more educated than I (there is a difference), more talented than I, more industrious than I. In fact he was my superior in everything. He knew (and collected) art, antiques, carpets and rugs. He was a very skilled self-taught pianist and mastered the concert-type organ the first time that he sat at the massive keyboard and the foot pedals. He was more than likely the only lawyer in Paris (or France, or, even, the world) to keep and play a harpsichord (Bach, usually) in his office. He was a brilliant conversationalist and writer.

In short, he was a joy to be with. Even when we disagreed.

So one of the secret joys of my life— a secret I can now reveal, since he has died— are those conversations in which I told my brother something that he never knew and he was surprised that I knew something that he never knew, or when I expressed an opinion that differed from his.

Thus it was that on one of my visits to Paris, I went to his office, around noon, at his request. When I entered he was playing a recent CD of Pavarotti. After listening a few moments, I said something to the effect of, "So, you like Pavarotti.”

"Yes,” he responded. “He's the best tenor around."

The face I made must have disturbed him, and he asked, "Why? Don't you think so?” I said that I didn't. He asked why.

“Pavarotti is a shouter,” I said. “He overwhelms the music, the composer is unheard. He is saying, 'Listen to Pavarotti, not the music’.” And words to that effect.

My brother seemed amazed. "Who is better?" he demanded.

I said I preferred José Carreras: “He has a softer voice, a sweeter voice, and he respects the composer's music.”

"You don't know what you’re talking about," Jack replied— his customary discussion-ending retort. I smiled and changed the subject.

Shortly afterward, Jack’s secretary showed in a client. I stood up to leave, as I always did when clients or other lawyers in his firm came in. This time Jack said, "Don't go. The three of us are going to lunch." He introduced me to the client and we adjourned to the table and comfortable chairs in one corner of the room, and Jack opened the small fridge and took our drink order. The client asked about me— was I a lawyer? Where did I live?

With the drinks now on the small table, he turned to my brother and said, "I see that you like Pavarotti." My brother replied that he did, and, after a pause, added, "but my brother doesn't." His client said that he agreed with me.

"Who is better?" my brother asked, surprised. The client said, "Oh, José Carreras, of course."

From my end of the triangle, I was facing the client, but I could see my brother's face out of the corner of my eye. The shock was astounding, but I didn't turn my head and I didn't smile. My brother asked, "Why?"

"He doesn't shout, his voice is sweeter, and he respects the music," the client said. It was as if the client had overheard my comments, and he continued in that vein for a while.

My brother stood up to turn off the music, but the client said, "Don't turn it off, but turn it down a bit."

Then, with a nod to me, he began speaking in French, and they conversed a while. The recording came to an end, our drinks finished, Jack got up and said, "Let's go to lunch."

I don't recall much about the lunch, except that it was splendid— my brother was always a grand host and knew his food and his wine. Their conversation was mostly in French and I turned it off. I don't know if he enjoyed the food and wine as much as I did that day, but I know that we never discussed tenors again.

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