The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Twenty years ago, The Three Tenors created “popera” and changed the history of opera singing. Did it help or hurt opera? And who was the greatest tenor of the three? Plus, Madison Opera’s FREE Opera in the Park is Saturday night. | July 20, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

This past Wednesday marked the 20th anniversary of The Three Tenors phenomenon -– a blockbuster “crossover” concert (below) that was held outdoors on July 16, 1994 in Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles to mark the FIFA World Cup final.

three tenors 1994 dodgers stadium

The concert, which featured a mix of light, popular and serious music, took something of a drubbing from the serious classical music critics.

But it didn’t matter.

The public loved it –- and then some.

And the public kept on loving it and still does. Which is while you still see it on TV and hear it on radio, even two decades later, and why it has spawned so many imitators.

The event turned opera singing into a rock concert-like stadium event for the masses and the popular media, and brought to singing a huge global audience. Talk about genius in marketing and branding!

The event no doubt also helped pave the way for such mass outdoor concerts as the Madison Opera’s 13th annual FREE “Opera in the Park” (below),” with this year John DeMain conducting soloists plus members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera Chorus. It will take place this coming Saturday night, July 26, at 8 p.m. in Garner Park on Madison’s far west side.

Here is a link to the upcoming Madison Opera event, which previews the coming season and which usually attracts more than 10,000 listeners each summer. You can find information about directions, seating, artists and repertoire:

Opera in the Park

The 1994 event also dramatically changed the careers of the original Three Tenors -– Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras.

It brought all of them – and also conductor Zubin Mehta – unbelievable amounts of money for a one-night stint. And that, in turn, translated into astronomical fees for future individual tours by each of them.

You can relive the 1994 event through a sound sample in the story as well as through a YouTube video, which has almost 3 million hits, at the bottom of The Ear’s favorite aria, by Giacomo Puccini, from the event. It is in a terrifically comprehensive story, filled with lots of facts big and small, that Anastasia Tsioulcas researched and wrote for the outstanding “Deceptive Cadence” blog on NPR or National Public Radio.

Here is a link:

What do you think of The Three Tenors and its impact on the classical music scene and the opera scene? On the culture in general?

Did it help or hurt the cause of great singing and staging serious opera?

And who do you think was the greatest tenor of the three?

The Ear wants to hear.



  1. I think a better question would be “Which tenor’s singing did you enjoy the most?”

    Comment by Marius — July 20, 2014 @ 5:30 pm

  2. I actually liked Carreras the best because he had less of a giant ego than the others, and although his voice was less memorable, it was very pleasant.But Domingo probably had the most staying power.

    Comment by Ann Boyer — July 20, 2014 @ 8:50 am

  3. The first concert was in Italy in 1990. I was relatively a newbie in classical music. I think it help me get more into it. But it didn’t make me buy CDs by il divo or the 3 Irish tenors.

    Comment by Lucia — July 20, 2014 @ 12:06 am

  4. Pavarotti was the greatest tenor of the three. Domingo remains the greatest musician of them, having transitioned into singing baritone roles, conducting, and more generally mentoring young singers.

    Regarding the event itself: I would like to believe that once we get someone into the opera house, what they hear there will bring them back again. I think if someone who heard that concert (“popera” or “opera lite”) tries the Real Deal as a result, it’s worth it.

    Comment by Mikko Utevsky — July 20, 2014 @ 12:05 am

    • I agree Mikko, on the tenors and on the long-term effect. Domingo is wonderful, maybe the best, but there was something in Pavarotti’s voice that was magical. Watching those concerts helped my nascent interest in opera to flower into something much deeper. I now regularly go to the live streaming of the Met at the Point Theater, something which I doubt would ever have happened absent those 3 Tenors concerts. Seeing the opera live at the Met is on my bucket list.

      Comment by Kathleen Quinlan — July 20, 2014 @ 10:55 am

      • Better get there soon, Kathleen, lest labor strife and budget woes cause the Met to suffer the same fate as New York City Opera, inconceivable though that may seem.

        Comment by Marius — July 20, 2014 @ 5:26 pm

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