A few weeks ago, the Salzburg Easter Festival in Austria found itself in trouble. Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who was to play Iago in Otello, was ill.
They turned to Carlos Alvarez, the internationally famous Spanish baritone who had played the role many times around the world, to great acclaim. Would he step in?
Alvarez accepted, even though the March 27 performance would make him late arriving in Tampa to headline Opera Tampa's production of Don Giovanni in the title role.
"They asked him to give up Tampa and stay there, and he said no way, not even a question," said maestro Daniel Lipton, who described Alvarez as "one of the most sought after artists in the world."
"La Scala (in Milan), the Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera), Salzburg, all want him," Lipton said. "They are all fighting for him."
I reached Alvarez, 49, recently via Skype at his home in Malaga, Spain. His teenage daughter, Alejandra, sat beside him, typing into her phone. Behind them, old houses with russet-tiled roofs and churches crowded to the edges of narrow streets, leading to yellow beaches and the Mediterranean Sea. He savors these lazy afternoons to read and be with his wife, Vallet; daughter; and son, Carlos.
Born in 1966 in Malaga, Alvarez originally intended to become a physician. He changed his mind after four years of study, instead devoting himself to music. Alvarez made his stage debut in 1990 in Madrid; in Vienna in 1995 (as Figaro in The Barber of Seville); and with the Metropolitan Opera in 1996, as Germont in La Traviata, with Placido Domingo conducting.
Awards and accolades have followed ever since, including a Latin Grammy in 2001 and a Grammy for best opera recording in 2006. Performing in places like the Vienna State Opera house is "not only a pleasure, it makes you feel responsible," he said.
Alvarez's career nearly came to a halt in 2008, when doctors discovered epithelial tissue wrapped around his right vocal cord. Doctors prepared him for the worst.
"I was told, 'Carlos, perhaps you will never sing again,' " Alvarez said.
A relapse after the first surgery forced him to cancel an appearance at the Met in 2010, a day before a new production of Verdi's Attila. Another singer filled in for him. Alvarez, who needed three surgeries in all before returning to work in 2011, was happy to do the same recently for Hvorostovsky. Had he not been a singer, the growth might never have been discovered, he said, and could easily have become cancerous.
"For me it's kind of a present, every day," he said. "When you have not only a second chance, but a third one."
Opera Tampa's maestro said Alvarez's appearance gives local fans an opportunity as well.
"For anybody who wants to save money by going to Vienna or La Scala or the Metropolitan," Lipton said, "all they have to do is come to Tampa."
Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.