The list of performances by the Three Tenors — Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, and José Carreras — is not long, and they have recorded only a few albums. Yet they rank among the most successful performers the world of classical music has ever experienced. Their debut concert, held in Rome on July 7, 1990, drew an international television viewership of over one billion people.
Individually, the three tenors were arguably the world's top opera stars of the 1970s and 1980s; often considered rivals, they weren't particularly close. What brought them together was the devastating illness of Carreras, who was diagnosed with leukemia in the summer of 1987 and given a 10 percent chance of survival. A friendship sprang up as Pavarotti and Domingo visited him in the hospital, and after Carreras recovered he suggested that the three join to perform a benefit concert for a leukemia foundation he had created. Held at the end of the World Cup soccer competition, an event with maximum television visibility, the concert succeeded beyond anything Carreras might have imagined. An important behind-the-scenes presence was composer Lalo Schifrin, who arranged favorite operatic selections for the trio; a group consisting of three male singers was a novelty at the time.
The dimensions of the Three Tenors' success became clear when the album Carreras, Domingo, Pavarotti: The Three Tenors in Concert sold over ten million copies and became the best-selling classical album of all time. The tenors reunited for another concert and album at the next World Cup, held in Los Angeles in 1994. Although they had performed together only once in the interim, they repeated their 1990 success at Dodger Stadium on July 16, 1994. Among the audience of 60,000 were California royalty such as future governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the concert extended the Tenors' reach into segments of the American music-buying public that otherwise had little contact with classical music. The Three Tenors were now international superstars.
The tenors reunited for a third mega-spectacle at the Paris World Cup in 1998, performing at the Champ de Mars near the Eiffel Tower. Between 1994 and 2003 they performed about 30 concerts at large stadiums around the world, but Pavarotti's stated intention to retire from performing in 2004 seemed likely to put an end to the trio's reign atop classical sales charts. Growth in opera audiences, even as other forms of classical music declined, seemed at least partly attributable to their efforts.