Three Tenors Christmas A Sound to Behold
By Kristin Battestella
Not all Italians like opera, despite the stereotypical belief. Any fan of opera, however, must like The Three Tenors. Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo, and the late Luciano Pavarotti were an event to behold at their height in the nineties. The trio even earned a jest on Seinfeld (‘Pavarotti, Domingo, and….the other guy.’) Among all their enchanting special performances, The Three Tenors Christmas is the perfect blend of star power, incredible voices, and holiday spirit.
Released as a CD and a DVD from a performance at the Konzerthaus in
in 1999, The Three Tenors are a staple on PBS telethons year round. Recently I convinced my husband (not Italian, by the way) to just let the Three Tenors Christmas play on the TV while we worked on the computer. After two viewings, he had to admit not only weren’t they bad, but they were pretty good. Vienna
Known of course for their opera, it is a bit strange to here Pavarotti, Domingo, and Carreras sing in English while backed by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Occasionally they flub a few lines or words on carols like O Come All Ye Faithful-which wasn’t as powerful as I expected it to be. Let It Snow and White Christmas are also unusual tunes for booming voices such as these, but support from the ?choir brings a childlike family feeling to the event. The verses sung in Latin and Italian, are however, not for the short winded folks.
The Three Tenors earn their keep here with the Christmas staple O Holy Night. Not many can top the song’s bellowing high notes-Kate Smith and Sandi Patti are the few women I can think of, but they are also trained opera singers. Pavarotti channels his idol Mario Lanza as he, Domingo, and Carreras bring the meaning of Christmas into your home. The harmony, each solo verse, English, Italian. Even when you don’t know the language they are singing, the voices, the melody, and knowing the words in English are enough to bring the audience to tears.
Moving as O Holy Night is, The Three Tenors Christmas keeps a light hearted note with a rendition of Feliz Navidad. (I just have to say, Word doesn’t recognize Feliz Navidad without a spelling error, but the program knows Pavarotti, Domingo, and Carreras. Interesting.) We’re used to the pop, quick, swinging version, but here the multi-lingual tenors slow the tune just a tad and add a serious punch. Truly, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard the Three Tenors so upbeat. Even O Sole Mio has a slower, easy going melody. Here, Feliz Navidad has such presence, fun, and joy-isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
The biggest surprise in The Three Tenors Christmas is without a doubt Amazing Grace. The trio’s stirring rendition blends solos from each tenor, harmony, orchestra booms, and silence. The opening and closing notes by Domingo are delivered a capella. You could here the proverbial pin drop while the quieted choir, orchestra, and audience listen. Not only is it unusual to here Amazing Grace at Christmas-even though it is a standard hymn throughout the year-Pavarotti, Domingo, and Carreras divide the song perfectly. Well, every song they sing has just the right arrangement for each to showcase his voice, yet there’s room for harmony and language change outs. The Three Tenors can make any song that’s meant for one sound incomplete after they’ve sung it their way. Amazing Grace is an exceptional spiritual song in its own right. To hear it as part of The Three Tenors Christmas is simply to die for.
These knock ‘em dead songs I’ve mentioned are only a handful of the songs performed in The Three Tenors Christmas. Any one of these stirring, traditional carols could have concluded the evening with satisfaction. The Three Tenors, however, again surprise with the unusual close out of Happy Christmas/The War is Over. Again, this Lennon composition is re-crafted for Pavarotti, Domingo, and Carreras’ range. While it might not be the men’s choice song to show their vocal range, the idea of ending on a charitable note is something each of The Three Tenors is about. The choir backs the Tenors, reminding all of us that Christmas is not a happy spirited time for millions around the world. After a glorious evening in cocert, The Three Tenors Christmas sends its audience home with appreciation and the true meaning of Christmas.
The Three Tenors Christmas is available on a CD for listening pleasure or a DVD concert special for the entire atmosphere. This is one of the trio’s last performances, and copies of their material can be a bit pricey. Look for television airings on your PBS station. During their telethons, exclusive discs, and materials are often offered as member gifts. Search online for other Pavarotti, Domingo, and Carreras recordings-either together or individually- online. Everyone ought to hear The Three Tenors at least once, why not at Christmas?