Eduardo Machado: I went to see opening
night of the opera and I enjoyed it
a great deal. You are a wonderful actor,
as well. I wonder what made you decide
to do opera?
José Cura: I love what I do, but because
I also love other aspects of performing,
the music itself, the conducting, teaching,
I couldn’t say which is my priority.
I mean, in the list of what I love about
opera, singing is a complement but not
the only thing. But because the laws
of opera are what they are, the demands
of being a tenor are more important
than those other demands. So what I’ve
tried to do is to sing as an actor,
and to do music as a full musician instead
of just singing.
EM: Not only to be a voice.
JC: Yes. Somebody who is used to theatre,
like you, would say, "Oh, he is
an opera singer but he is acting, he
is believing what he is doing."
That is what makes the difference.
EM: That’s what made the difference
for me. It wasn’t static. I have a bit
of a hard time with opera, being from
the theatre. José, when people interview
me, they ask, "Why theatre?"
In opera you cater to a certain kind
of audience that isn’t as wide as a
salsa audience, which I am sure you
could sing. And so I am asking you:
JC: It’s like asking a tall athlete,
Why basketball and not marathon running?
It’s about analyzing your own aptitude
so that you can be one of the firsts
in your world, rather than being number
20 in another world. The point is, I
feel that opera could be done in a different
way, and that is exactly the way that
you appreciated it the other night.
EM: How much more different would you
like to see opera?
JC: I apply all these things to every
opera I do. Some reviewers are modern
and intelligent, but, unfortunately,
there are the ones who stick to what
they are used to and say, "Don’t
you dare touch." Some reviewers
say I’m not such a good singer after
all, and that I’m using my acting ability
to cover the fact.
EM: They can’t accept that you can be
good at both things.
JC: Well . . .
EM: I was taken by the fact that you
were so free – in theatre this never
happens – within a framework that has
already been set up for you by Mr. Zeffirelli.
What’s that like? How do you find freedom
within that strong framework?
JC: Well, having worked with Franco
in the past – even though he was not
here – knowing the man, I know he would
be happy that somebody is using his
own thoughts to create a different atmosphere
than what he originally interpreted.
He’s not the kind of man to say, "You
have to follow the lines."
EM: I worked for him once, I sang "Guantanamera"
for the movie The Champ,
but I was very young.
His usual way of working is, "Listen,
I would like you to enter from this
door and exit from the other door. At
a certain point I would like you to
go to this chair and touch this flower.
Show me what you are going to do and
how you are going to do it, and I’ll
tell you how it looks." A big director
would never tell and artist, "Now
raise a finger. Now close you eyes."
You build together; you know what I
am talking about because this is what
you do. So my interpreting was not dangerous.
This set looks like Sicily. Some may
say that it is old-fashioned, but if
you’ve ever been in Sicily, it’s just
like that. So you can behave within
the set the way you would behave as
an ordinary man in ordinary Sicily.
That makes things easy. If you were
to have an ultramodern set where things
were moving or happening, you’d have
to be in a certain place at a certain
moment or you’d get killed, or you’d
seem out of place. But in this set you
can enjoy an almost natural space because
it is complete . . .
JC: It is natural: the church, the stairs,
the door . . .
EM: You also conduct. How do you feel
when you are being conducted by someone
JC: It is the same feeling for actors
who also direct movies. When you are
in front of the camera it is one thing,
and when you are behind the camera it
is another. If you are open and flexible
enough, you can capitalize on both worlds
and make them one, and then you become
extremely rich as an artist. When you
are in front of the camera, the fact
of knowing what the people behind the
camera are seeing . . .
EM: It’s the same thing.
JC: It’s the same thing. I know exactly
what the conductor is trying to obtain
because I can understand every single
thing that is happening there – instead
of being carried up and down like a
EM: You strike me as someone who is
the opposite of a puppet.
JC: Maybe that is what upsets people,
because I am not . . .
EM: A traditionalist.
JC: No, then can’t put me in a box and
say, "Hey, tenor, stand up here
in front and sing," which is like
saying, "Just sing and shut up."
EM: Which, in this country, is something
they do – they don’t understand a person
having more that one discipline.
JC: Over the last two years, I’ve been
devoting myself to photography. I love
it. Dealing with photography helps you
understand the way the light works when
you are on stage – not only knowing
how the music is working, but knowing
how the light is working on you, and
the effect it is producing. It opens
a whole new world.
EM: I have a lot of friends who are
Broadway singers; they spend a tremendous
amount of time worrying about their
voices. Do you worry about that? How
do you take care of it?
JC: Well, actually, I don’t take care
of it at all.
JC: When I say that, I don’t want to
sound negligent, what I am saying is
that I try to lead a normal life. Of
course, if I have a performance I won’t
go out barefoot in the snow and challenge
destiny, but I’m not a slave to my voice.
I eat when I am hungry, and sleep when
I am tired, and wash when I am dirty
like anybody else. The day of the performance
I will try to sleep as much as I can
because, as you know, you are in the
theatre two hours before the performance
and then you stay two hours after the
performance getting rid of the makeup
and normally, when everybody else is
in bed, you are in the middle of your
day. So I try to sleep during the day
to be rested in the evening; but apart
form that, no, nothing special. I’m
not a scarf tenor.
EM: America, being a very egocentric
country, has made a great deal of the
fact that you are going to be at the
Met. Is the Met the center of opera,
I wonder? What does it really mean for
you to debut at the Met?
JC: This is a very interesting question,
and I’m going to give you a dangerous
answer. There are two ways of seeing
the Met. It is the most important theatre
in the United States, and saying that,
you are almost acknowledging that it
is the most important theatre on the
American continent. Teatro Colon used
to be a great theatre but now, apart
from the building, because of the economical
situation it is not the great thing
that is used to be. Chile, Brazil and
Mexico have wonderful houses but they
can’t make them work in as efficient
a way as they do at the Met, just because
they don’t have the money. So, leaving
that aside, it is an obvious conclusion
that the Met is the greatest opera house
on the American continent. After that
you have San Francisco, and Chicago,
and you have theatres that are pushing
very hard like Washington. But the Met
is the Met. That doesn’t mean that the
Met is more important than Covent Garden
or Vienna of La Scala. There are several,
five or six, but theatres that are the
pinnacles you have to reach – you have
to perform there. But the Met is not
the only big theatre in the world. I
personally suffer the extreme measures
of security inside the Met.
EM: This city has become very extreme.
JC: Yes, very extreme in everything.
For an artist it is very aggressive.
The stage, in our souls and in our innocence,
is a place of fantasy. I am an artist,
the stage is my place, but to reach
the stage I have to ask permission .
EM: It’s like that in every American
JC: I’m not blaming them; they are doing
their job of securing the theatre. It’s
not their fault that this is a hard
country and they have to take care.
The fact is that the way of working,
the way of being, the way of everyday
living in this country is a bit too
aggressive. It is this energy that pushes
and makes a lot of good things happen.
But sometimes, this strength turns into
aggression and you have to create defenses
against your own idiosyncrasies. Apart
from that, artistically the Met is great:
the orchestra, the chorus, and the atmosphere.
When you are on stage, you can feel
the positive energy. It’s not like some
other theatres where everyone wants
you to break a leg – literally.
EM: In this country, opera is not perceived
as an art form – neither is the theatre
– for everyday people. But opera is
perceived as completely not for everyday
people, because of what it costs. At
this point in my life, I have begun
to think about it. That’s why I just
made a movie, because I wanted more
people to see what I do. Do you think
JC: I am not an expert in this. The
Met, for example, is an enterprise unto
itself. They produce their own money
through sponsors and tickets sales.
They make their own decisions and administrate
their own incomes. Not every house is
in such a privileged situation. Maybe
because of that, the tickets must be
more expensive. But I feel that all
over the world, slowly, while still
having the old, nice, black tie gala
evening, we are starting to have lots
of other performances that are open
to everybody, where tickets are not
much more expensive than a cinema ticket.
Opera is the most expensive of the live
arts to produce. You have at least 100
singers in the chorus, at least 90 musicians
in the pit, another 50 to 60 moving
everything; I mean you don’t do Aida
without moving less than 300 people
around. That’s the main stone in the
bag. And it doesn’t look like there’s
a solution to that. Where there’s a
chorus there’s a chorus, you have to
have the chorus. And if you are part
of the chorus you want to be paid, etcetera
. . . the money has to come from somewhere.
Some people say that the great burdens
of the theatre are the fees of the great
artists. Only one or two great artists
get a big fee in a production, everybody
else is part of the house establishment.
EM: I’ll ask you another political question.
Opera seems to be the most open place
for people who are Latin, it seems that
there is no prejudice having to do with
nationality, color, or anything like
JC: In opera, the voice is the first
thing. That doesn’t mean that the voice
should be the most beautiful or the
biggest voice in the world, but you
need to produce a certain kind of sound
to be there on the stage. Then, some
directors desire a white, blond performer
for a character who is supposed to be
blond and white. Maybe if you had a
soprano of color playing that part it
would seem bizarre – speaking from the "libretto"
point of view. But I think that things
are now more open in that sense. You
don’t have the limitation that you would
have in cinema, where, if the character
is supposed to be blond, you wouldn’t
cast a black woman. Of course, if the
character is supposes to be a black
person, you won’t be able to cast a
blond woman. And, if you are supposed
to be Superman, you cannot be fat. Cinema
is what it is. Opera is a little more
flexible. But the influence of cinema
is starting to come into opera, and
more and more directors’ want people
who can look the character. The first
thing you need is a voice, but you must
try to have all the other things too.
However, creating a character is about
believing: If you are performing in
the role of a Latin lover, and you aren’t
that good looking, you can be a seducer
all the same. It’s about trying to deliver
the proper energy. It doesn’t have to
only be the way you look, that energy
can occupy your being if you "believe"
EM: Right, right.
JC: You know, in opera, you go on stage
and if your performance is wrong, it
is wrong, there’s no way to come back.
If you crack a note, you crack a note.
It’s like theatre, if you forget the
text; there is nothing you can do. This
kind of pressure, together with the
pressure of health (colds and coughing)
tends to be catalyzed, in lots of cases,
through eating. A lot of the folklore
of the overweight opera singer . . .
I have colleagues and friends who are
not really thin, they know they need
to change for health reasons too, and
are making big efforts to lose weight.
I had a wonderful surprise yesterday
evening. In ’97 I sang with a soprano
who was really very overweight. I saw
her yesterday and she was another woman;
she had lost 20 kilos. And she was feeling
good, more secure and more confident
on stage. I don’t want to be misunderstood
here, I don’t know if in the future
I’m going to be fat, or lose my hair,
or have a belly – but, it isn’t about
that. It is about trying to make the
instrument you use for working as good
as your nature and you genetics allow
EM: What inspires you?
JC: In what sense?
JC: Commitment. There is nothing more
frustrating for me than being on stage
interacting with a colleague who is
not committed. If you are an actor that
is the main thing. An actor is delivering
energy and information continuously.
And you need someone in front of you,
apart from the audience, who will be
able to take that energy, filter it
and give it back to your colleague.
It’s ping-pong. When you send energy
to somebody and receive nothing in exchange,
after half an hour on stage, you are
exhausted, because you are doing all
the work. You are projecting and somebody
is sucking all of your energy, and what
is worse, the audience is receiving
nothing because there’s a wall.
EM: What would you like to sing next?
What are you going to sing next?
JC: Well, my next opera is Otello.
That’s really an opera I love because
it has allowed me to create a very deep
character. I’ve received heavy criticism
from the opera guys for my Otello.
EM. Already. <Laughter>
JC: And great compliments from theater
people. I’m happy for that because I
want to create the Otello I feel. Otello
is not a monk. This is a man who used
to be a hero, who used to be a general,
who used to be this and that, and now
is just a piece of nothing breaking
into pieces of nothingness. That’s the
Otello I feel. Of course when I played
it like this for the first time all
the opera buffs said: Oh there’s not
enough sound, there’s not enough ‘noise’
there. And all the theater buffs said:
Oh, what great acting. The next challenge
is to try to fill the gap in between
and make everybody happy.
EM: Where are you singing Otello
JC: In Madrid, in Palermo, and in Washington
EM: Any anecdotes?
JC: Yeah. When I sang it for the first
time—there is this moment on stage when
the alarm goes off; he has just been
making love to his wife. So my interpretation
was, he hears the alarm, grabs his trousers
and goes on—half naked. That’s what
you’d do in real life. I went out in
my trousers, holding them up, and I
was nailed. Everybody said that I was
trying to show my pectorals.
EM: (laughter) Maybe this time you should
come out nude.
JC: No more, I think. I’m getting fat,
too, you know?