Andrea Chénier in Bologna
il Resto del Carlino
Bologna, 12 January 2006
Chenier, an opera by Umberto Giordano, debuts Saturday (at
20.30) at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna under the direction
of Giancarlo del Monaco.
singers are tenor José Cura, soprano Maria Guleghina, and
baritone Carl Guelfi, three friends, as they were introduced
in the press conference by Vincenzo de Vivo, artistic
director of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna.
‘In coming to
the theater,’ said Cura, ‘my thoughts went to the last two
legendary interpreters of Andrea, Franco Corelli and Mario
del Monaco, and I have felt the heavy responsibility of
having to make one’s debut in this role in the country of
such great interpreters, and to find oneself in the hands of
the son of one of them. I added it all up and said, “I will
find the first airplane and return to Argentina!” since the
responsibility is so large and the role so loved by the
Italians. But then I find myself with colleagues with whom
I have grown and safely in the hands of conductor Carlo
Rizzi, I thought this was an ideal situation, and if health
allows us to sing well, it will be very beautiful.’
Chenier is a work soaked in great lyricism, but with a very
difficult, dramatic text, one that rises to proclaim
revolution, and it is necessary to pay attention to this
aspect, to lend as much credibility to the text as to the
beautiful melodies. Andrea sings beautiful things but it
remains a very difficult role.’
the [Italian government’s] economic cuts to the arts in the
last months that may lead to the closing of some theaters
across the country, Cura, a man who speaks honestly (‘I have
a big mouth!’), said, ‘Nothing is more important than to
support an art that was born in Italy and carried to the
world by Italians.’
Cura: “A status
seeker, cold-blooded and cynical: Calaf is a brute.”
José Cura, Prince
Calaf, what kind of opera is Turandot?
We should stop
referring to fables and look at reality, the reality of
an epoch in which Freud probed the human psyche and
Alban Berg wrote Wozzeck and the extraordinary
Lulu. If we don’t look at the psychological make-up
of the protagonists, if we don’t translate their
behavior and actions into modern terms, we condemn the
opera to certain death in that we let it turn into
That is not an
easy probe. What do you read into the enigma of
There is no
Puccinian enigma; the confrontation, the showdown
between Turandot’s world (i.e. a female world) and
Calaf’s world (i.e. a male world), that is the great
mystery. That’s the true “knot” in Turandot, the
real crux of the matter; and we are at the peak of
Freudian theories. The world of the female, Turandot’s,
a world where she is revelling in emotions which she now
disavows, and the world of the male, Calaf’s, who
through his own selfish interest, his egoism, sets out
to conquer a kingdom, giving not one thought to
feelings: these are issues that go beyond that of love.
This is not a fairytale about love.
But then, what
kind of person is Calaf?
He is a ruthless man,
cold-blooded, a status seeker, a cynic who shows
absolutely no consideration for Liu’s devotion and
sacrifice, let alone for the pain which he is going to
cause his father. A brute, who perhaps feels sexually
attracted to the lady that has caught his eye, but who
develops no feelings of affection whatsoever for her.
My convictions and
beliefs have undergone a ripening, maturing process, and
I don’t like banalities and trivialities. That’s why I
avoided the role of Calaf for many years. If one
analyzes (the character of) Calaf, one finds in him the
Pinkerton of Butterfly, a pedophile, who seduces
a fifteen-year-old in order to satisfy his own sexual
needs, all the while ignoring the pain he causes her.
Let’s consider another example of mercilessness, of
cruelty: Otello isn’t a noble character at all. He is a
sick mercenary leader who betrays the Muslim faith and
who falls victim to a rage which consumes him and
induces him to kill Desdemona. And that’s that. Period.
Caruso//Translation: Monica B.
The Cura for Airs
Sunday October 23rd 2005
'IS THAT him?" asks the London cabbie as we pull into a
side street in Covent Garden. Standing on the corner is the
Argentinian tenor José Cura. A soft black leather jacket
hangs from his muscular shoulders, his thick black hair is a
groomed mess and he is wearing denims.
The shoppers who pass on the pavement are like pasty
Lilliputians beside this glowing giant. He displaces air
simply by standing there. It's like watching Marlon Brando
in his prime - all that intensity and intelligence.
But I am too scared to enjoy the sight. I am 10 minutes
late and everybody knows how some tenors have a reputation
for being temperamental. "I couldn't wait any longer," says
Cura, "I'm starving. I need food." He walks away from the
door of the apartment, where we were to do the interview,
and heads off down the street.
I gasp. Have I blown my big interview? I scurry after
Moments later, the star tenor is pushing a trolley around
Tesco, throwing packets of pasta and mozzarella and a pizza
into his basket, while I, like a helpless diva, totter along
the aisles beside him.
José Cura is not your average tenor; for although he is
extraordinarily talented, he is a very ordinary man. That
morning he woke up in his Madrid home, had breakfast with
his wife Silvia and their three children - José Ben, 17,
Yazmin, 12, and Nicolas, 9. Then he got into his car, a Ford
Focus, and dropped the kids to school, before heading for
the airport. Nicolas was the last to get out.
"Where are you going now?" the boy asked his father.
"And what are you going to sing?"
"La Fanciulla del West."
"OK. Ciao. Good luck."
Cura, the doting father, smiles as he relates the
beautifully blasé way of his child. He lugs his plastic
Tesco bags back to the apartment and tells me he is tired.
"All day yesterday I was doing my garden. Mowing the lawn
and cutting hedges. At the moment we have no gardener and if
I don't do it it will be a jungle. I was doing that from 10
in the morning till five, and in the middle I was on the
phone, mowing with the headphone on, discussing contracts."
In less than six hours, he will be performing as Dick
Johnson in the Royal Opera House's production of Puccini's
La Fanciulla del West. And he has agreed to let me
interview him before this.
Most opera singers don't stir before a performance. But
Cura explains that that is not his way.
"The important thing is living and not spending your day
finding alibis not to live: 'I have a performance tonight so
I cannot move' - that is a very common thing. OK, some
people need that. I find I do a much better performance when
I enjoy my day. I forget about the performance until two
hours before, when I need to get ready for it.
"The other day, there was a march for peace here. [It was
a day he was due to perform.] So I went with my camera and
stuck myself in the middle of the march, and started taking
pictures. It was three hours before the performance. Then I
went to the theatre and put my make-up on and sang."
Some might say that this is insane, not proper behaviour
for a tenor, but José Cura has always done things his own
way. Besides, he is not just a singer.
The 42-year-old has been conducting for the past 25
years. He doesn't think of himself as a singer but as a
musician who happens to sing and conduct and compose.
Once, at a concert in London, he sang and conducted at
the same time. Many years ago in La Scala, he was booed for
singing an aria while lying down. And only last spring, he
conducted Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, then as
soon as it was over he put on make-up and costume and played
the lead role in Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. Such
adventurous ways are not always praised. But Cura's path
reminds me of the writer Antonio Porchia's line: "They will
say that you are on the wrong road, if it is your own."
"I am a daring artist," he tells me. "I am always
investigating new ways of getting to the public. Not all of
them work 100 per cent, but you study what does work, drop
the useless and you develop. That's the way to grow in every
human situation; if not, we would still be carving with
stones. That's why for each generation since the beginning
of time, you have two or three people who dare to challenge,
and the other ones are just sitting there, either
criticising or enjoying the results of your risks."
The newspapers have chronicled his work. "José Cura is a
phenomenally gifted artist. Seldom can anyone have made the
hideously difficult title role [Verdi's Otello] sound
so easy to sing," wrote the London Times's Rodney Milnes.
The Daily Telegraph's Paul Gent raved about his "charm and
charisma to burn, a thrilling voice with a dark centre and
an athletic build honed by martial arts". And when the tenor
returned to the Metropolitan in February of this year with
Saint-Saens's Samson and Dalila, the New York Times
wrote of his "animal magnetism" and hailed his performance
as the reason to take in the opera. I have seen José Cura in
many operas over the years and concur with the critic who
described him as "thrillingly dramatic". Quite simply, Cura
is a creature of the theatre, a male version of Maria
Callas. Images of his performances remain in my head. When
he was Manrico in Il Trovatore, I watched his side
profile as he smoked a cheroot on stage, while the choir
sang the Anvil Chorus; the way he put out the candle with
his palm in Otello, then sang with fury, his
lion-face on fire, as his Desdemona lay sleeping on the bed;
pulling the pillars down in Samson. His voice, with
its rich baritonal quality, is exquisite. And yet José
Cura's singing career started by accident. In his home town
of Rosario, he had been conductor of a young group which did
chamber operas. One night, he settled into his seat in the
audience to watch a concert which he had helped prepare,
only to be told that the tenor had taken ill. Instead of
cancelling the show, Cura stood in.
"I was struggling, of course, because I was not a trained
singer. But somebody heard me and said, 'You have to study,
because there is some very interesting material to develop.'
Fate is fate."
In 1988, Jose had no money, but the singing teacher
Horacio Amauri insisted on lessons - money was not an issue.
"A voice like yours comes to the earth two or three times a
century," he told Cura. Then in 1991, José and Silvia with
their first child, left Argentina for Italy to pursue the
singing. Later on, they lived in France and eventually
settled in Madrid.
"When we came to Europe we had some very tough years -
working as waiters and cutting wood. It was tough but not
scary. Today, I look back on it as an enriching period. I
have always enjoyed my life, even when it was hard, because
it's part of being alive. If you only enjoy your life when
you are successful and well paid, then you are pathetic,
because it's not the life that you are enjoying but the
economical success of it."
Today, as a tenor at the pinnacle of his career, he is
grateful that he had to struggle.
"To have an easy beginning is not advisable, because then
you are a very tender thing. You have to make your muscles.
You have to have what I call healthy rage. I have never
accepted the mediocrity of giving up just because somebody
says I will be at fault. If I have to do something, I do it
and if I have to fight for it, I fight. Only the talent is
given, but what you do with it is your own responsibility,"
Cura attributes his success to hard graft. "The average
audience will never understand the work behind a
performance. Take a dancer, for example. To do a jump, he
has to use muscles, he may have a pain in his knee. But in
those 10 seconds that he is in the air, the audience sees
this amazing creature, flying and smiling as if he is making
no effort. They say, 'Wow! He is so lucky to be able to do
this.' Lucky, sh*t. He's been working 10 hours a day for 10
years to be able to do that. It has nothing to do with
And so it is with opera.
"I work very very hard. I study a lot and am very well
prepared. That is why I am self-confident. I have been
criticised because I look like I don't make any effort when
I sing. I make a lot of effort but I have worked very hard,
trained myself in front of mirrors and cameras, to make it
look effortless. It's like if you see an actor acting, then
he is not a good actor."
José Cura is the full package - the former weight-lifter
and black belt has the looks, the talent, the brains and a
healthy sense of humour about life. But for years, his good
looks proved a hindrance.
"I never said I was a heart-throb, but people are
impressed according to their own sensibilities. It is like
if you take a tennis ball and you throw it against a wall,
or water or the sun. You are throwing the same ball but it
bounces differently according to the type of surface. "
Now that Cura is going grey, and putting on a little
weight, he is amused at changed perceptions. He tells me
about a concert he conducted recently, where he heard the
audience laugh when he put on his glasses.
"I turned around and said, 'Well, it happens to everybody
sooner or later. Now that I wear spectacles, you will say
that after all that, I was not a bad musician'."
If ageing means that he will be taken for the serious
artist that he always was, then "getting old is good", he
says. Now that he is in his prime as a tenor, he is happy to
sing more than conduct, but when he gets older, he plans to
tilt the scales in the other direction.
There was a time, a few years ago, when he was so
disheartened with the opera world that Silvia, his staunchly
loyal wife, told him they would sell the house, and get
somewhere smaller, so he could be free and happy again.
Luckily, he rediscovered his enthusiasm. Setting up his own
production company and record label - Cuibar - helped. Now
he is his own impresario, and Cuibar manages other artists
"It is extra headaches but it's nice. Life is about
colours and moving and preparing for your future."
Cura is still talking but I am conscious of the clock.
There is the matter of tonight's opera. He needs to rest.
After all these years he still strikes me as incredibly
down-to-earth. In a world where singers can become precious,
how has he remained so grounded?
"You only stay grounded if you want to be. If it wasn't
for the support of my family - my wife, my kids, my parents
- I wouldn't have got so far. It depends on the kind of
family you have. If you have an iron ball on your leg, you
will move eventually but each step will be a nightmare. On
the contrary, if your family is like a balloon, you just get
everybody on board and you fly together. "
That evening in La Fanciulla del West, I watched
José Cura on stage as a cowboy, with spurs, hat and gun. As
always, his singing looked effortless, but sounded sublime.
"When I am on stage I give my blood," he told me that
afternoon. On that Covent Garden stage, I watched him bleed.
His dynamism was mesmerising. It was like watching history
being made. I sat in the audience, glowing like a proud
mother. For I am privileged to have met this man who has
been touched by the gods, to have heard his story and to
have shopped with him in Tesco.
Idol of the Public
José Cura: “Otello is a very hard role but it has
The Argentine tenor
performs the Verdi opera in the Liceu
is a toad from a different swamp..."
Verdi opera many consider his best, Otello, based,
like Falstaff and Macbeth, on a Shakespearean play, will
return to the Liceu on Thursday with Argentine tenor José
Cura in the title role. It is a co-production of the Monnaie
of Brussels and the Grand Théâtre of Geneva, with a modern
staging by Willy Decker and with Antoni Ros-Marbà conducting
the Orquestra Simfònica of the Great Teatre of the Liceu.
Cura, whom the public of Liceu
has adored since his debut as a substitute for an indisposed
José Carreras in Samson and Dalila, this time
portrays the jealous Moor who kills his wife, one of his
most critically acclaimed roles. He made his debut in
Otello in 1997 and today, with more than a dozen
different productions behind him, he continues to discover
new nuances in each staging.
“Otello is a very hard role, but it has compensations. I
says Cura, who thrives on challenges and who, besides
singing, also conducts orchestras.
Otello demands much sacrifice. The vocal effort is great but
the psychological effort is even more exhausting to me.”
Even though he has not passed through the Actor's Studio,
Cura has trust in the character and gives himself over to it
“I put all my energy into the role and that leaves me
drained because the psychological complications of Otello
And he thanked the Liceu for the "delicacy" of giving him
two days of rest between performances.
“The voice you recover with a good night of sleep; the
other, the soul, the mind, no.”
That is especially true when, as in this case, the weight of
the success of the performance falls to the singers, who
must act on a completely empty stage and on an incline that
complicates the actor’s movements.
“The ramp is uncomfortable and hard. One assumes that if one
manages to tame it, the public will forget that it is
Cura said in resignation. He defended director Willie
Becker. “The masterworks
like Otello, where there is not a single note or word more
than necessary, allow an empty stage.”
But in other occasions,
“minimalism camouflages the lack of ideas.”
Cura defines his character as an insecure man, explained to
a great extent by Otello being the only black in a society
of whites and also married to a princess.
“He is a toad from a different swamp, as we say in
he points out,
“He is a great general and skilled swordsman but does not
have the courage to face both guilty parties and ask them
directly what there is between them.”
He sees Otello as a man without honor or nobility.
“He is a mercenary, a paid assassin. A traitor who becomes a
Christian for convenience.”
And, he adds:
“He does not have anything of a nobleman about him, but that
legend has grown due to the nobility of the great
interpreters who have sung him, like Domingo and Del
Distrusting by nature, Otello falls easily into the trap set
by Iago (Ataneli Side), who constantly feeds the lie that
Desdémona (Krassimira Stoyanova) has been unfaithful with
Cassio (Vittorio Grigolo).
“Otello is as bad as Iago or even more so,”
said Cura. “I
see Iago as the dark side of Otello, for that reason Otello
allows Iago to destroy him.”
The tenor did not want to comment on his relations with
Teatro Real, where in 2000 he clashed with the public. Yes,
he explained that his plan to direct the Coliseo of the
Three Cultures in Madrid is still in the air.
With respect to the Liceu, he retains his commitment to open
the 2007-08 season with Andrea Chénier.
“The public here has adopted me.”
removes all nobility from Verdi’s Otello
The tenor will sing the
opera inspired by Shakespeare in Barcelona’s Liceu
LOURDES MORGADES - Barcelona
PAÍS - Espectáculos
"Iago is nothing more than Otello's darker side."
As a good dramatic
tenor, José Cura (Rosario, Argentina, 1962) has derived many
artistic satisfactions from the role of Verdi’s Otello.
Starting next Thursday he sings it in Barcelona’s Liceu
with to the Bulgarian soprano Krassimira Stoyanova and under
the stage direction of Willy Decker and musical direction of
Antoni Ros Marbà. Satisfaction comes to the singer and
actor as he looks into the psychology of a person with whom
he has little sympathy. “He is not a hero, he is a
mercenary. There is no type of nobility in him. He is as bad
as or worse than Iago. In fact, I believe that Iago is
nothing more than Otello's darker side.”
role of Otello is one I have sung many times and yet it
always surprises me when I return to it. He is very complex
psychologically. My relation with him began in 1997 and
since then this character stays with me with the luck of a
well-made marriage. It is a relationship in which I find
new delights in interpretation with each production," says
and intuitive, José Cura is a permanent volcano in boiling
that wastes energy on the scene and outside. "Of the
physical exhaustion after playing an operatic role such as
Otello I recover with only a day of rest," he says,
"but with the psychological implication of this character,
and I imply much, I must take more time." In the nine years
since he first sang this Verdi opera, the tenor has been
developing his idea of the role, which he sees through the
eyes of actors and directors like Laurence Oliver, Orson
Welles or Kenneth Branagh, to draw a psychological profile
which leaves little room for affection.
“The danger of Otello
is that the audience confuses the nobility of some of the
great tenors who have interpreted him, singers such as Ramon
Vinay, Mario Del Monaco or Plácido Domingo, with the
character. Because Otello is not a hero, he is not a noble
person. He is a mercenary, a man who earns his living by
being a military machine; a Muslim who abandons his religion
out of self-interest and who then takes the lead in the
fight against his own. I find no nobility in any of this,”
proclaims the tenor, who even sees the evildoer Iago as one
more aspect of Otello. “He is as bad as or worse than he.
The truth is that I see Iago like the dark side of Otello,
the man through whom the Venetian general discovers his own
destructive nature,” he comments.
José Cura says that
his present vision of the character does not always agree
with that of the director of the production for which he has
been contracted to sing but until now no director has been
able to change his mind. In the Liceu, the 1997
co-production of the Monnaie of Brussels and Grand
Théâtre of Geneva
directed by Willy
Decker appears to leave the stage empty with a giant cross
as the only scenic element. “It is a closed space that
creates a sort of psychological prison for the characters
while at the same time focusing all the attention on them,
which forces the singers to be always alert. Putting the
action into a modern concept requires the singer to give the
best of himself as an actor. But let nobody be deceived, no
singer is a Robert de Niro or Anthony Hopkins,” he warns.
The tenor says he is
in love with the Liceu and will return to the theater after
this Otello to inaugurate season 2007-2008 with
Andrea Chenier, but the reestablishment of his broken
relationship with the Teatro Real after his clash with the
public in 2000 at the Madrid theater still seems distant.
Yesterday, in his press conference in Barcelona, he refused
to respond to questions on his return to the Real or his
relationship with the new direction of the theater. Yes, he
explained, he has received an offer, without specifying
which theater, to sing Wagner’s Parsifal in 2008, but
he does not know if he will accept because he says that what
frightens him most about this opera is the language: German.
The tenor José Cura portrays
Otello at the Liceu
Terra Actualidad - Europa Press
Argentine tenor José Cura will portray Otello in the
Teatre del Liceu
beginning February 9 in a production that gambles that a
barren stage will further the psychological investigation
into the characters.
Cura explained today that,
although he has participated in “between 12 and 15 different
productions” of Otello, one of Giuseppe Verdi’s
masterpieces, “it never stops surprising me” and “I always
learn something new.”
Nevertheless, on this occasion
the tenor will bring to the Liceu “my only Otello” of
the season, since the role is “very difficult” from both a
vocal and psychological point of view, a fact that has led
the Liceu to schedule performances every two days.
The opera, with a libretto by
Arrigo Boito based on the play of William Shakespeare, takes
place at the end of fifteenth century in the harbor city of
Cyprus, dominated then by the Republic of Venice. Otello, a
military man of Arab descent to the service of Venice, has
conquered the heart of Desdemona (Krassimira Stoyanova), the
young daughter of Venetian senator Brabantio, in spite of
his dark skin and they have secretly married. The character
feels insecure -- "a traitor always thinks that he will be
betrayed" - - and he feels almost unworthy of the beautiful
wife and so is open to the evil suggested by the official
Iago (lado Ataneli).
The tragedy is transformed into
a disquieting psychological drama and culminates with the
murder of Desdemona at hands of a jealous Otello and his
suicide when he finally understands the truth, which in
Cura’s opinion demonstrates the “pathos” of the character
and his “lack of heroism.”
At the moment that he murders
Desdemona, the tenor says he wants the public to understand
the sensation that “I suffer,” and that “I love her and for
that reason I kill her,” reasons that Desdemona seems to
understand at the moment of her death.
José Cura, who made debut with
Otello in 1997, says that this character “is not
noble or heroic” since “he comes to kill all in a Muslim
town while he himself is a converted Muslim.” “He betrays
his own religion and his own race,” stressed the tenor.
With respect to the staging of
this production, Cura commented that the only element on
stage is "a great cross", that each character "uses in his
own way" and that it ends up as the deathbed of Desdemona.
The tenor is in favor of
“minimalism” when it focuses greater attention on the
character and as long as “it is synonymous with quality and
not of lack of ideas.”
After his stay at the Liceu,
José Cura, who at the moment does not plan to conduct any
operas in Spain, will move to Zurich for Turandot and
later to the Vienna Opera to conduct Madam Butterfly.
premiered at the Liceu in 1890
and it was last seen in the Barcelonan theater in 1988, is
scheduled through 27 February.
The Argentine tenor José Cura says the role of Otello is
demanding physically and psychologically
Barcelona, 4 Feb (EFE) - the Argentine tenor José Cura
will make his debut at the Liceu in Verdi’s Otello, a
role, he says, that is “very demanding physically and
who first sang in the Barcelonan theater in Samson et
Dalila in season 2000-2001 when he replaced José
Carreras at the last minute when Carreras fell ill,
commented during his press conference that “in exchange for
that favor to the Liceu, the public here adopted me and a
history of affection began which I hope lasts many years.”
singer dismissed those flattering praises that place him as
the greatest interpreter of Otello in the world: “There
are good interpreters in the world who compete for a role,
as happens in cinema. And each of them gives the
role different color and tone.”
that “the character in Verdi’s opera is very hard and
exhausting, as much physical as psychological” and,
therefore, he is thankful to the Liceu that they have spaced
the performances with two days of rest.
who sang his first Otello in 1997, remembers “almost ten
years and twelve or fifteen different productions,” during
which he was always discovering something new--these
findings are the secret of why he never gets tired of the
character or the opera.
tenor recalls that the culminating point in his relationship
with Otello took place in 2001, in the Year of Verdi, when
he did many performances of the opera that were responsible
for his “ripening of the role,” but “after that savagery I
have not done more than eight performances of Otello a
For Cura, the
character that came from Shakespeare’s pen “is neither a
hero nor a nobleman, but a mercenary who earns a living as a
military machine in the service of the enemy.”
clarifies that “Otello does not take any actions that are
the least heroic, especially if we remember that he was a
Turk who converted to Christianity for political interests
and a Muslim who kills Turkish Muslims. Thus he can never be
a hero, but rather a traitor to his people and his
the positive musical reading of this blood-thirsty character
over the years to “the nobility of the singers who have
given him life, Placido Domingo or Mario Del Monaco.”
because of the popularity of psychiatry in his country of
origin, Cura applied psychoanalysis to Otello and remarks
that “at the beginning of the fourth act, the character
removes the mask of Christianity, returns to his origins and
becomes more barren, colder and more reflective. Then when
he discovers the deceit (of Iago) and his mistakes, he
understands that he has no other escape but suicide, an act
of cowardice but also an act of love.”
Cura, the staging of the opera at the Liceu, directed by
Willy Decker, is minimalist: “There is nothing in the scene,
located on a ramp, which gives the sensation of being a
psychological prison that prevents the characters from
escaping their destiny".
symbolic element that the audience will see is a cross that,
based on the character, becomes a weapon, a religious
object, or Desdémona’s deathbed.
minimalist staging has, in the opinion of the tenor, one
great advantage: “The attention of the public will not be
distracted and instead is centered exclusively in the
performance of the characters.”
Cura, who is
considering contracts for 2011, thinks about the next years
to focus his attention on conducting and to incorporate some
new roles in his singing repertoire like Neró, Peter Grimes
Dream of a Tenor
Guia del ocio
With a powerful, homogenous and very beautiful voice, José
Cura is a singer with strong temperament and an excellent
actor who also offers great stage presence. As it turns
out, he is also the perfect interpreter of the role which
many dramatic tenors only dreams about: Otello, the main
character in an extraordinary opera by Giuseppe Verdi.
Cura will be accompanied by two accomplished singers,
soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, who made her debut in
Barcelona and baritone Lado Atanelli, who had a great
success at the Liceu in the role of Renato in
Un ballo in maschera.
From the 9th till 27th of February, the Liceu
will welcome Otello, conducted by Antoni
Ros-Marbà, who conducted this work here 16 years
ago. Of the eleven performances, four will an have
alternative cast: the principal roles in which will be
Valencian soprano Anna Ibarra, tenor Gabriel Sadé and
baritones Valeri Alexeev and Carlo Guelfi.
solo de celos vive Otelo'
William Shakespeare, Arrigo Boito and Giuseppe Verdi. Three
great names of western culture who for centuries have been
the voices of treason, death and violence thanks to the
fatality that accompanies the Moor by Venice: Otello. If
the character represents the pinnacle of Shakespearean
creation, it has perhaps become something even more in the
world of opera, since he is the basis for two great
masterpieces: one by Rossini and, more importantly, one by
Verdi; indeed, it is the latter that returns to the Liceu
next Thursday in a production by Willy Decker, with set
design and costumes by John Macfarlane.
stage will be Argentinean José Cura, a tenor who may cause
many sighs in the stalls when he assumes this role. It has
taken him several years to build a strong relationship with
Liceu since his first, brief appearance when he replaced
José Carreras in a production of Samson et Dalila until
[last year] when he presented a passionate reading of
Corsaro in a concert version of the Verdi opera.
"But this is the occasion I consider to be my debut,"
declared Cura to ABCD Arts and Letters. "Now I will be able
to offer my take on this complex character, as well as
accompany the debut of Kasimira Stoyanova in the role of
Desdemona. I believe this will be the tenth soprano I
accompanied in this baptism," continued the tenor who lives
believes certain superficiality exist in the analysis of the
character of Otello. "One does not think about what is
behind his attitude. People go directly to the problem of
jealousy, attributing this feeling as the only reason for
the murder of Desdemona. If this were true, the story would
be limited and lose a great deal of its importance. To make
this mess over a handkerchief? No. I prefer to emphasize the
character’s insecurity and attitudes which typify the
behavior of a traitor."
eliminates the nobility, the heroism and loyalty, admirable
characteristics that stand out in the interpretation of some
of greatest singers, from his analysis. "It is important to
remember that Otello is a traitor in all ways: he betrays
his faith, his race, his beliefs; he becomes a Christian for
convenience, he transforms himself into a mercenary and he
is contracted to attack his brothers, the Muslims. If we
were to modernize the situation, it would be very difficult
to understand, because nowadays it is very improbable that
an Islamist would attack his own faith. For that reason I
believe that Desdémona has to know very little or nothing.
A traitor sees only treason on every side; an assassin sees
only assassins and a mercenary sees only mercenaries. There
is basically a reflection that makes one feel that everyone
is just like he is. Otello is blinded by the possibility of
treason and reacts with the logic of his original culture.
If he were a Christian he would have killed Desdemona
captured in an act of madness, not as he does, slowly, and
without shaking hands, because he is a customary general to
the war, to death and killing. They pay him to do that. He
is a professional."
Cura’s reasoning there is little patience for this the sort
violence. "In Otello’s eyes, he is not guilty in judging the
hypothetical treason of his woman. He accepts it as fact,
and therefore he feels he should not be punished for the
murder, considers that he has the right to do it, that is
the logical thing to do in his situation, that he has no
other choice. His big mistake was in not having the courage
to face Desdemona and Casio together, watching with his
eyes, as they deny their infidelity to him. Otello does not
look for the truth because he is essentially a traitor...”
situation, according to the singer, is translated very well
in the score, "Mainly in the third act, psychologically the
best one to understand the point of view of the character.
In the first part of that act, Otello gets to behave as if
he were the proper Iago.” By all these arguments Cura says,
“My Otello lacks nobility and heroism, something that is
sometimes commented on. And yes, I believe that this is the
right approach. I do not attempt to be noble or heroic in
my interpretation, but a mercenary and a traitor to his
faith and his people." In spite of this, the tenor knows
that the character creates empathy with the public, "because
it is also true that he has a certain destiny written in his
hand: he is not the only one guilty of his destiny.
Apparently, Otello was the son of a very important tribal
leader, kidnapped by slave dealers. Thus there is a little
justification the fact of to have been bred to transform
himself into a bounty hunter [murderer for money], as
happens in as many Christian societies as Muslim. For that
reason, the opera of Verdi and the work of Shakespeare
remains a reflection of our own society."
A Trapped Animal.
José Cura defends the production of Willy Decker.
"The cruelty of watching an animal trapped in its destiny is
emphasized, which has been assigned to my character, I agree
with. From the eye of the spectator this is a difficult
production to endure because it is rigid, presenting four
oppressive walls and a cross as the only prop, but I believe
that the staging transmits the mood of the character well in
suggesting a cruel confinement, that can be the
representation of his false Christian faith, his betrayed
Muslim faith or his racial fight. It forces me to make
Otello very feline in the way he moves around the stage
because it is very sloped and prevents him from walking with
nobility, something I am already good at. The cross is used
as a crutch, a shoulder to cry on, a strongpoint. The
production is disturbing in the beginning, but in the end
the staging is useful in projecting the vision I have of
premiered in Teatro de la Scala de Milán on 5 February 1887,
arrived at the Liceu on 18 November 1890 for the first time,
and did not reappear until season 1987-88, when, as now,
Antoni Ros Marbà was on the podium.
“My Otello is a traitor, not noble”
The singer is
considered the best interpreter of the famous "Moor of
Venice,” a character who has become the archetype of the
jealous man and victim of manipulation
7 Feb 2006
Promoting the best Otello of the moment was a marketing ploy
the Liceu could not let pass, and in introducing José Cura,
Joan Matabosch, the Liceu’s artistic director, said: "We are
very proud to have with us the best interpreter of this role
at this time.”
character in the opera Otello (1887), a product of
Verdi’s [artistic] maturity, is one of the signature roles
of the Argentine singer, currently living in Madrid, whose
relation with the Liceu began almost by accident when he
arrived in March 2001 to replace José Carreras shortly
before the opening of "Samson et Dalila."
unforgettable night –- one so memorable that with only that
one performance the "Grup de Liceístes de 4. i 5è. Pis"
awarded him the prize as the best singer of the season --
Cura made his official debut in January 2005, singing Il
Corsaro, also by Verdi, but in concert version. This
will be the first time he sings a staged opera with
appropriate rehearsals, an occasion that allows visitors to
the Liceu to enjoy the interpreter’s personality, when
beginning next Thursday he steps into the skin of the
archetype Verdian-Shakesperian character, alternating the
role with Gabriel Sadé, under the musical direction of
Antoni Ros Marbà, and appearing with Lado Ataneli as Iago
and Krasimira Stoyanova as Desdemona, this last alternating
with Ana Ibarra.
is a very difficult role, but it rewards the interpreter,"
Cura said. "I have been in 15 different productions and
whenever I play the role I discover something new. That is
why I am not surprised.” Theaters compete to sign him for
the role but he tries to take a rational approach to
accepting offers for a character "who exhausts not only
physically but also psychologically. In 2001, when the Verdi
Year was celebrated, I sang in six or seven different
productions and that was insane, but it helped me matured in
the role. Now I try to sing no more than ten performances a
that Otello is a traitor to his faith, his people and his
motherland, "for those reasons I do not consider him a noble
man. But it is true that many of the great tenors, all of
them noble interpreters, like Domingo, Vickers or Vinay,
contributed a portion of themselves to the nobility to the
character. But in my interpretation, for all those reasons,
he is not a hero. He is a mercenary, a military machine."
opera being stage at the Liceu is the production Willy
Decker designed for the Monnaie of Brussels that "puts it in
the modern mode, crude, with almost nothing on the stage.
There are four walls that become a psychological prison for
my character and, of course, for all the other actors.”
“The only scenic element that appears on stage is a great
cross that is broken, that becomes an arm that serves to
support us. When there is only us in the scene, we can
never lower our guard. That is a disadvantage that in the
end is transformed into an advantage, because it demands an
absolute commitment from us.” This sort of success is not
always obtained, says Cura, "because minimalism can hide a
complete lack of ideas, but that is not true in this case.
It works for this opera but not for all, since not all are
as brilliant as Otello, in which nothing is too
excessive or lacking. For that reason limited staging like
this one can be understood without great difficulty. The
tension is placed on the actors."
of his talent as an artist is that of conductor, for which
he has still not been offered a contract in Spain.
two concerts with the Filarmónica Arturo Toscanini de Milán,
with whom I also conducted I vespri siciliani. This
year I make my debut on the podium of the Staatsoper in
Vienna with Madam Butterfly. But I have not received
offers of this sort in Spain." If his repertoire as
conductor is growing, the same is also true of his operatic
roles. "I recently added Fanciulla, Hérodiade
and Turandot, reasons there is very little left in my
Italian-French repertoire. Nerone has been offered to
me as have the leads in Britton’s Peter Grimes and
Wagner’s Parsifal and both are tempting. I will do
the Nerone but I am afraid of the Grimes
because musically it is very difficult, and Parsifal
because of the language. I do not speak German and to make
my debut in Wagner, which I find appealing, I must do under
Chénier in the dressing room
Barcelona will be able to see Cura in another of his great
roles, Andrea Chénier, in the opera by Giordano of the same
name. That opera will inaugurate season 2007-08.
singer declined to talk about the problems he had in Teatro
Real in 2000 or to say anything about any conversations with
the new director of the Madrid theater. However, following
the departure of Montserrat Caballé, Cura confirmed that he
has broken contact "completely" with the Coliseo of the
Three Cultures that was going to be built in Madrid by Jose
Luis Moreno, whose offer of musical direction Cura had
accepted. "Now all that is stopped. I will see what happens
if Moreno contacts me but at the moment I don’t know
José Cura, tenor: "I am a shark excited by blood"
The singer matches
Placido Domingo in the challenge of singing two
different roles in the same evening at the Arena di
Translated by Dana
Arena di Verona opened its season last week. To the
always attractive poster advertising the summer
festival was added an additional enticement at the
last moment: it was announced a few days before the
opening that the Argentine tenor José Cura, one of
the leads on the poster for “Pagliacci” (in
which he sings Canio), would also assume the role of
Turiddu from “Cavalleria rusticana,” a role
which he had not sung for six years. Illness had
forced Vincenzo La Scola to withdraw from the
production “in extremis” which in turn offered the
Argentinean the opportunity for the unusual
doubleheader. In the more than 80 years of the
history of this amphitheatre (with a 14,000 seat
capacity), very few voices have dared this
challenge. Cura’s name is now united with those of
Placido Domingo (who sang both roles in 1975), Mario
del Monaco and Beniamino Gigli.
José Cura, as Canio, during a
performance of “Pagliacci“ by Leoncavallo at
Arena di Verona
- Will you sing the
double roles in all performances?
- I will sing the five in July. In August I will disappear
from the world.
- I imagine that
you were petrified when asked to do Turiddu.
- It was a last minute decision. I was landing in Verona
having come from Tokyo on the 20th. I arrived
with echoes of “Andrea Chenier” in my ears. June 21
was the pre-general rehearsal and on June 22, the general.
The season started on 24 June and I hadn’t sung “Cavalleria
rusticana” in six years. It was a race against time.
Temperature: 44 degrees.
- You really had
only had two options: sing or run.
- That’s right. But we are speaking of the opening night of
the most important open air theatre in the world. The day of
opening is always a swarm, and this time was no different. I
simply threw myself into the Arena with a knife between my
teeth and yelled “banzai,” as the Japanese do. I could not
abandon the theater. Here I sang my first production in 1992
and here I lived for five years. My emotional attachment to
this arena is great. I felt that this was one way I could
pay my debts. The Arena opened its arms to me once and now I
couldn’t say no when they needed me. How could I have left
- Did you consider
the possibility that the challenge could become a setback?
- No matter how much love and courage you put into a
performance it still could turn out badly. The head that
rolls is yours. Luckily the ovations have been enormous. The
theater was full: 13,500 people were at the opening and the
applause made me shiver. I knew I had performed with my
- Once again José
Cura put the public of Verona in his pocket.
- You never put anybody in your pocket. You have to
remember one thing: the physical distance [in the arena] is
enormous. The spectator is far away, so far that at the very
closest 90 meters separate us, and it is very difficult to
perceive the heat, to feel the energy, to be conscious if
you are pleasing or not when you are on stage. In addition,
the temperature was 44 degrees and the humidity was 80
percent when the performance started. The seats are of
marble, and stone begins to cool off at midnight. The heat
- Turiddu and Canio
are totally different.
- Yes, there are differences, in age (one is 20, the other,
40), in psychology, in experiences, all of which demand
accommodations with the voice, but I am a shark and I am
excited by blood.
- Where do you feel
more comfortable, on stage or in the pit conducting the
- I am focusing more on my role as tenor. So many years I
have fought for it, fifteen already, that I want to enjoy
this period of artistic and personal maturity. When you are
no longer in vocal fullness, then that is the right moment
to grasp the baton. Let me put it this way, the moment the
singer stops being effective is the same moment the
conductor returns to the orchestra.
- You return to the
Liceu Barcelona in 2007, nevertheless for Teatro Real you
don’t have a date in your calendar.
- I open the season in Barcelona with “Andrea Chenier”
in 2007, and in 2011 I will perform two roles. There is no
chance in Madrid, where I can only sing in my house, sleep
in my bed, and not perform for my many friends. I passed the
new artistic director (Antonio Moral), but we hardly greeted
each other and didn’t talk about anything. So it seems that
Madrid has to wait. Hated and loved.
- You are a tenor
who is as much loved as criticized. Do you regret anything?
-No, I don’t regret
anything [professionally], even the fact that newspapers
criticize me with extreme prejudice. When I sang “Otello”
they wrote this was the end of Cura and that I should
retire. I hope I still have some professional years ahead of
me! My only regret is that I am so often far away from my
- 2008 it is going to
be an important year.
- I will make my debut in “Le Cid”, by Massenet in
Zurich and I am researching “Peter Grimes,” which I
have enormous desire to do. It is an opera in which I would
like to make my debut in within four years.
After taking a
vacation in August, I will sing “Le Villi” in Vienna
and “Fanciulla del West” in Berlin in September, “Turandot”
in October in Turin, “Tosca” in New York and then I
will close the year with “Don Carlo” in Vienna. In
2007 I will visit Barcelona, London, Lisbon, Berlin,
- The operatic
situation in Italy remains worrisome. Is the budget cut of
the previous government still affecting it?
- I would say it is as much a scandal as it is serious
problem. The cuts have been tremendous; in some cases they
have reached 45 percent. I believe that this will bring
consequences in the long term. Right now the damage is not
readily apparent because we are still eating off the
reserves that are in the moneybox, but what will happen when
the box empties? We will see if this new government is able
to fulfill its promise and can give back funds.
In first person
He defines the idea of a Renaissance man: singer,
conductor, photographer, painter, José Cura (Rosario,
Argentina, 1962), is one of the most distinguished Latin
American tenors of his generation and an “Otello” without
equal, something that he plays down. He knows he raises
passions and an almost equal amount of criticism everywhere
in the world. In Madrid, where he lives, he still
experiences rudeness from some because of an incident at the
Teatro Real when he sang “Il trovatore” in 2000; he has not
returned to the theater since. Visceral, energetic,
vehement, his name has been associated with a pharaoh-like
project, the Coliseo of Three Cultures, designed as an
operatic complex that was going to be built in Madrid and
where he was invited to participate as musical director:
“Everything relating to me stopped in 2004. I know nothing
new. If negotiations were to begin now, it would be
necessary to start at zero. Moreover I do not know if I
could maintain a continuous relationship with the theater,”
said the artist.
and opera - a tenor's worth
One of the world's most celebrated
tenors, José Cura, opens the Belfast Festival at Queen's
tomorrow night. Here, our classical music correspondent
Rathcol catches up with the mellow maestro at his home in
Madrid, and finds him insisting that good music is just like
good wine and good sex - you just need to take your time.
19 October 2006
Maestro Cura, can I ask you a few questions about your
forthcoming concert in Belfast? "Well, ok, yes, but I must
tell you that I am drunk."
The interviewer's feeling of opportunity in such a
situation is only equaled by that of apprehension. But there
was nothing to fear here, of course.
"I've just come from a family celebration," he goes on.
"But no, I'm joking of course, I'm fine."
In fact, talking to José Cura, on the phone from Madrid,
after his lengthy and relaxed, typically Spanish lunch,
proves to be the perfect time to enjoy the loquacious famous
Cura, one of the world's most celebrated singers,
performs in Belfast at the Waterfront Hall tomorrow night,
opening the 44th Belfast Festival at Queen's. I ask him
about the music he'll be singing (including favourites from
Puccini and Verdi) and how he chooses his concert hall
"Ah you've touched on a delicate point," he says. "The
programme is a difficult thing to handle. As a curious
artist you want to do strange and new things, but you also
compromise with the great hits. This is the first time ever
I sing in Belfast. I will give the people what they want to
hear, and when I return I'll do something more rare."
It's easy to feel an instant friendship with this man; he
hasn't yet set foot in the country, but he's talking about
return visits, and throughout the interview he talks about
Verdi and Puccini are the two main musical figures in any
tenor's life. I seek out differences of approach for these
two Italian masters, but Cura's musicality is a simpler,
more direct form of expression.
"I approach everything the same way," he says. "From a
strict musical and dramaturgical point of view. There is a
problem with these concerts. What you have is little
excerpts of theatrical pieces, of operas, and these pieces
are out of context. You only have 50% of the product.
"What you have to do, in two, three, four minutes, is
transmit the psychology of the character. This is the
challenge. I like to interact with the audience and joke
with the audience. The sensation of these concerts is
completely different to the opera house - you don't have a
single psychology in the one evening."
We move on to his Argentinian heritage. "Argentina plays
a normal part in a well-balanced life," he says. "It's my
country. It's like a mother, your mother is always your
mother and always has a special place in your heart. After
eight years I return to sing in Buenos Aires this year. It
will be very special, but I am thoroughly European now."
I mention that Argentinian music, especially in the hands
of tango master Ástor Piazzola, is very popular in Ireland
at the moment ... "Ah yes, it has a very strong folk
connotation," he says. "It's classical music written with
our folkloric blend or smell. Like Kodaly or Bartok.
"It's like in Ireland and Scotland, there is a body
relation with the rhythm and the drama is very strong."
Talking to Cura you realise that so many of his answers
are easy, self-evident. This is what great artists do. They
see a clear picture, a viable route, and they use it.
Take this answer: I ask Cura why, demanded as he is
across the world as a singer, he chooses to conduct.
"To move a little bit the air," he says, charmingly, in
English which is perfectly clear, yet thoroughly Spanish.
"To include some change in the concerts. The point is, not a
lot of people know I started my career as a conductor - I
was 15 years old - and as a composer. I was 30 years old
when I became a singer, when I became a famous larynx."
Cura is proud of his all round musicianship.
"I will conduct Giordano's Siberia, I think this is the
first time it is performed in Belfast. We have a local
And the composition? "Composition is a complement to
being a good singer," he says, "at the moment I'm revisiting
an opera I wrote for children based on a Hans Christian
Anderson story." He promises to let me know how it goes.
The subject which energises Cura the most is the role of
opera in society and, in particular, the charge that the art
form is elitist.
"It's one thing what people think opera is -people think
opera is only for the elite. That's b******t," he insists.
"Going to a football match is just as much about money. If
you need that to excuse yourself, then you need to move to
"Obviously, if you want to see Ireland play France then
you will pay more, like going to La Scala, and with a local
team you pay less.
"Classical is a dangerous word. It's an artform with very
strong connotations of technique and intellect. It's true,
you can't digest it like a hamburger.
"It's like looking at a famous painting ... you have to
think about this. It's the same as classical music. It's not
an obvious music... it's not pre-cooked and frozen.
"You open a good bottle of wine, you can't just drink it
at once. You have to wait for three hours. People want
everything in two minutes with minimum effort. You need the
chance to prepare yourself.
"Opera, wine, sex - the common factor is patience. You
need to take your time."
To finish, I tell him about the opera scene in Ireland.
The trouble we've had in the past and the fact that, despite
excellent work by companies like the Dublin based Opera
Theatre Company, there has too often been a lack of vision
and commitment from the people holding the purse strings,
especially in the north.
His closing remark is typically magnanimous: "If I can be
of any help, then please ask."
It seems that Belfast could have a new and influential
ONE EVENING WITH JOSÉ
Translated by Dana
the middle of May 2006 the heads of state and government of
the European Union, Latin America and the Caribbean met in
Vienna to discuss the political and economic relations of
trade. At the same time non-government organizations also
met to demonstrate alternatives to the official policy. In
the middle of the conflict of these political summits the
festival Onda Latina was organized, during which one of the
most famous artists of Latin America, José Cura, was honored
for his brilliant career and his untiring support of young
artists and talents.
Onda Latina joined with
Elite Tours for this special meeting to enjoy,
together with the Maestro, the concert of the Duo Klaus
Paier (Bandoneón and accordion) & Gerhard Preinfalk
(clarinet), two outstanding composers and musicians. Maestro
Cura even offered a small musical contribution: the “Sonetos
de Amor y Muerte,” written by Nobel prizewinner Pablo Neruda
and composed by José Cura.
He was accompanied by the
Italian pianist Speranza Scappucci.
A brief Tango Exhibition
with Elizabeth and Christian from Buenos Aires ended the
successful evening and then friends and fans of José Cura
had had the chance to get the autograph from the star.
from Réjane Suttheimer: Dear Maestro Cura, first of
all I would like to thank you for this interview. It is a
big honour for me and our readers will be very pleased to
Here is my first question: You
sing tomorrow, on 15 May, “Le Villi” in the State opera and
conduct the day after tomorrow “Madame Butterfly.” What is
the difference for you between singing and conducting? Is
there any emotional difference?
José Cura: On
the emotional level both are equal for me. If someone is
emotional and sacrifices everything--no matter whether as a
conductor or as a singer--one gives everything.
The difference lies in the
responsibility. The singer is primarily responsible for
himself in his role and afterwards for his colleagues. The
responsibility of a conductor is just the opposite. He is
responsible for all! It is simply turned around, a conductor
is like a mediator, or if you prefer like a fuse (seen from
electric point of view). The opera conductor is the junction
between stage and pit. Because from the stage one does not
see into the orchestra and the orchestra does not see onto
the stage, the only one who sees both sides is the
conductor. He is the connection, the mediator, between these
two levels. And, because of the enormous concentration and
even more because of the enormous responsibility, this is
very stressful and exhausting.
conduct for the first time at the Viennese State opera. How
is it for you?
JC: I have
conducted “Butterfly” quite often in the past, of course,
but this is the first time I have conducted it in Vienna.
Emotionally it is very delicate situation, because the
conductor’s podium in the State opera pit is a very hot
podium! All the great conductors, from Mahler to the present
ones, have stood at this desk. Every time you stand there,
you could say, well, at home we would say that you have ants
in the back! (laughs) It is a big responsibility! Because of
budget restrictions in the arts it is becoming more
difficult to get the proper number of rehearsals. One
actually always works on the edge, because there are too few
rehearsals. I had only one and a half rehearsals. That is,
one three hour rehearsal for a two and a half hour opera,
where one 25 minute break is intended! It is therefore not
actually a rehearsal but a quick run through without the
possibility to correct anything. And all this naturally
increases the stress enormously.
When you are studying a new role, do you
get advice from anybody? Many singers work on new roles,
even after years, with their vocal coaches.
On one hand, I should say yes so people won’t consider me
arrogant. But on the other hand I don’t want to lie. I
haven’t had a teacher for more than 15 years. That was my
decision. I wanted to develop my own style, my own sound and
I didn’t want to be dependent on anyone.
That is why I
don’t have my own Maestro but I get advice from everybody I
work with. When you work with great colleagues you say
"What do you think, how was it?" or "This doesn’t sound
good." Even when great conductor says, "You know, I didn’t
like this or that.”
From your own
experience but mainly when you work with good colleagues, in
good houses and with good conductors, it is this that makes
you more secure than being dependent on Maestro. But this
is matter of opinion.
Apropos of critics, who is your harshest critic? Your
(Laughs) Probably myself! There is not a single performance
at the end of which I can’t say nothing went wrong or I
didn’t like something. And all those who are around me will
say: "No, it was good, stay calm, everything will work out
But those who
are most ruthless with me, because they can afford it, are
my relatives, my wife, my assistants, my secretary. They
say the things as they are. And this is only right. Because
if you are a recognized person, famous, loved or hated, than
you run the danger of living in the clouds.
Your occupation affects your private and family life. As you
have already mentioned before, you are lot on the way. How
do you and your wife deal with it?
JC: It is
difficult, however not impossible. Six or seven years ago
it was more difficult, as my fee per performance was not as
high as it is now and so, even if I had two free days
between performances, I couldn’t afforded the luxury of
getting on a plane and fly home. It is much simpler now. As
soon as I have 2 days free between performances, I jump on
the airplane and fly home. Especially when you are in
Europe and can get home in two or three hours. No, actually,
I am not away from my home more than a week.
R-S: How do
your plans look like? Would you prefer to conduct and
compose more than to sing? What do you intend?
of all something! I have further plans within all ranges.
At the end of this or the beginning of next year my first
book with photographs may come out. A Swiss publishing house
wanted the copyright to publish it. I have taken photographs
for nearly 25 years. It began as a hobby and with the time
developed further--not as a profession but photography is
like a safety valve that allows me to switch off my
profession. Since I don’t need to dedicate myself to the
photography commercially , I don’t earn my living by it,
I don’t take portraits. I can concentrate and dedicate on
social photographs. My pictures are mainly of people and
people’s behavior around world, from Japan to the United
States. The publisher said something interesting to me:
“These photos interest me, because by them one understands
what goes on in the head of the photographer. And that you
are who you are, it gives your fans the possibility to see
the world with your eyes.” I liked a lot what he had said
and here we are ready to do the book.
R-S: I find
personally that your voice has a very soft, warm and
actually dark timbre, like a baritone. At least it seemed to
me in “Il Trovatore” in 2002. I know many singers who began
their career as tenors and later changed to baritone. Do you
still feel comfortable with the high notes?
enough- and do not ask me why, because I do not know, but in
the course of years my voice became much darker. You
mentioned “Il Trovatore” at Covent Garden from 2002. If you
hear my voice singing the sonnets this evening, you will say
that it has become even deeper in the meantime. I really
sound like a baritone, like a deep baritone. But strange
enough, the deeper my voice becomes, the easier it feels to
me to hit the higher notes! I do not know what is happening,
I can’t complain! Apparently the vocal cords adapt and
between 40 and 50 a man reaches his optimal peak vocally,
which goes well with my age. It is quite possible that I
will lose the notes later and end my career as a baritone,
but right now I have the high notes that I never had before!
R-S: And which
are your projects as singer in the future? Some of your fans
follow you around the world to see and hear you!
JC: Oh, I have
many plans. I will open the season in Verona this summer.
In September I will return to Vienna with “Le Villi” again.
In October I will be at the Metropolitan Opera NYC with
“Tosca,” then I will have a whole series of performances of
“Don Carlo” in Zurich. Then I am again in Vienna. In January
2007 I have “I Pagliacci” in Berlin; in February 2007 I have
a tour in Germany with an evening of sons and in April and
May of the coming year I go to London with “Stiffelio” in a
production which I was actually finished with, but they
asked me if I would like to do it one last time. In
September 2007 I will be also in Barcelona again, with
“Andréa Chenier.” Yes, and so I could go on until the year
the last question: opera is nearly always about love and
passion. How you would define love?
difficult question! I do not believe that one can define
love. Anyone can define love one day will also be able to
solve all the problems of mankind! (Laughs) I believe love
cannot be defined; one can only celebrate it either with
music or with words.
Cura, thank you very much for the discussion!
– Restless, non-conforming,
and talented. This is the way José Cura is known in the
world of opera, as a versatile singer whose prestige and
fame has spread increasingly towards other areas of the
musical business. Although his beginnings in the Rosario's
conservatory focused on the guitar, conducting and
composition, it was opera singing (a discipline to which he
came later) that took him to the center of the international
scene. Today, with a wide path and as one of the most sought
after tenors in the world, José Cura often presents examples
of his multiple vocations and of the solid preparation upon
which rests one of the most unique opera careers of the
Among them, for example, was the acid test in conducting a
production of Madama Butterfly recently at the Vienna
State Opera. "Nobody saw me as a tenor who was trying to
conduct,” he told LA NACION. “All the best from
Karajan have appeared there,
so the fact that I was accepted professionally by this
orchestra and the public who has seen and listened to all
the great ones is very important and very flattering to me."
Then, in addition to his schedule as a singer and a
businessman who heads his own company, and only to enumerate
the whirlwind of his activities, there is the composition of
an opera for children that will be presented in a German
theater and the publication of two books by an Italian
publisher (in one Cura analyzes his repertoire as an
interpreter and in the other he presents a collection of his
photographs). To these you can add two more novelties: one
is his debut as director
in 2008 in a production of Un
maschera in the
Staadtsoper of Cologne,
Germany (a project about which we cannot reveal major
details before it is announced in the local press), and his
long-awaited return to an Argentine stage in 2007, after
almost a decade of absence from his country.
of La fanciulla del West
in Deutsche Oper of Berlin, José Cura agreed to give us an
- What is your motivation to look for new horizons?
Does the routine as a singer bother you?
- In my case, because I am very restless, yes. To sing the
same role, the same music, in the same theater, the same
production and even with the same colleagues... It is
necessary to charge the batteries for that. To tell the
truth, many artists seem satisfied with this tranquil life
without surprises in which everything is predictable. If one
accepts this as a way of making a living and wants nothing
more than this, then it is fine. But if
you want something more and
arrive at the theater
proposing this or that, they say to you: ‘Uf!
Cura is here with his wish to change everything!’
- But you can do that because you are famous tenor.
Theatres usually don’t allow singers to change the
production as you did with La fanciulla....
- Independent of whatever label you carry, every singer has
professional authority. I love the challenges and the
madness, but I cannot support a true error in concept
because for me there is a rule: on stage you can feel
strange or awkward but you should never feel like an idiot.
In Act II of this Fanciulla
the director asked me to
appear in a impeccable white, newly ironed suit with a
frilly pink shirt ... "I will put it on,” I told her, “if
you can explain why and convince me that it is possible for
a bandit who is running from the law to appear dressed like
that in the middle of nowhere. Then she tells me that Dick
Johnson does not carry a gun... This is an illogical
approach! To a gunman the gun is a necessity. It is what
makes him dangerous, what he uses to threaten others. What I
finally did was hide the gun and, without saying anything
the baritone and I reached an agreement. We worked out the
new scene together and it was that determination that
established the relationship between the two characters.
- There was a rumor that you would play Sigmund at
Bayreuth. Are you going to
sing Wagner? Have you
started studying German?
- No. Actually, I am not going to sing
Wagner. Yes, there was a
half invitation from Bayreuth to make my debut in The
in 5 years. I thought that this would be the final
motivation to study the language because I do not support
the idea of singing just phonetically, but we did not agree
from the contractual point of view, so for the time being
there is no Wagner.
- Do you think you might leave singing and devote
yourself more to conducting?
- It would be foolish to leave this capital now when I
finally got possession of it, because I have reached the
point in which I can be relaxed on stage, I already know how
to sing and I can sing with almost no suffering.
- How were you suffering?
- Never psychologically, but physically. The color of my
voice has always been suitable for the dramatic roles, but
my muscles and my voice as body needed many years (to
mature) so what was musically and artistically clear from
the beginning can now be heard and seen and reflected
in an integrated, clear voice and with equal result in all
ranges. Earlier they were not matching, and that is normal
in the big voices. And when the result must come from
muscular adaptation to support a theoretical concept that
you already learned, what
is lacking only is the passage of time.
Return with glory
- What do you
plan your performance in Argentina?
- Although the contract is not yet signed, I trust [Marcelo]
Lombardero because the
proposal for my return for a season at the Colón came
directly from him. We will do a concert version of Samson
and Dalila, with a
completely Argentine cast in Colón, between end of June and
beginning of July.
- For how long you have you not sung in your own
country and do you regret this absence?
- From 1999, practically my whole career. I want to meet the
public and my companions and one of the things that most
attracts me to return is the possibility of doing something
with Argentine singers. Regarding my absence, and this is a
conclusion I came to only after traveling around the world,
I believe that the problem with Argentina is a lack of
national pride. As a result of this syndrome, we
Argentinians are forced to leave with great pain in the soul
to work in places where we are appreciated. There is an
absence of the same sort of nationalistic pride that, for
example, Englishmen have when they defend their own people
at any cost.
- And how do you see the Argentinian?
- He does exactly the opposite. When one of his triumphs, he
goes looking for some shortcoming or defect to bring him
down, especially in the eyes of foreigners. Imagine how a
person feels who is applauded everywhere in the whole world
except in his own country... It is a kind of failure. It is
as if everyone says how wonderful this one is except his
parents. His own parents even discredit him in front of
others. It is just as in a family: if someone is smart, he
does not go about ranting about his wife and his children;
on the contrary, they are his principal allies. You must
never betray them because it would be a serious mistake. As
for the country, it is somehow sad, and as for society it
means a sort of defeat.
- Which has been your experience in this sense?
- The experience was not very pleasant the last time I was
there. But I stopped worrying some time ago, since 1999 when
I came back fighting to give the people what I had to offer.
I left the country with a knife in my back ... from my own
people. I learned this in proper flesh. But I will come
back, smiling and happy, without trying to tilt at windmills
again. I would like to be wrong and when people read this
note they will say to me: “No, José, you
are mistaken! When you
come, we will start working together to improve things!"
This would be a big dream come true!
José Cura conducts for the first time in Wiener Staatsoper
born in 1962 in Argentina, has long been one of the most
popular tenors in the world. He began his career as a
conductor, composer and pianist and learned to sing only
within the scope of his conducting studies. He made his
debut as an opera singer in 1992 and since then Cura has
been a guest in major opera-houses around the world. In
1996 he debuted as Mario Cavaradossi (Tosca) in the
Vienna State opera. We were able to see him here as Otello,
Don José (Carmen), Canio (Pagliacci), and
Andrea Chénier. In May, José Cura debuts as a conductor with
Madame Butterfly in the State Opera; we will also
enjoy him again as Roberto in Puccini’s first opera Le
spoke with Julia Engenderer (translated by Dana):
You will conduct for the first
time in the Vienna State Opera. How do you prepare for a
work which you conduct?
In the same way that I prepare
as a singer--by careful study. The difference lies in the
responsibility. As a singer you are responsible only for
yourself, as a conductor for the whole ensemble.
Do you listen to different
recordings of the opera or does this bother you?
Usually I avoid it. However, I
listen to my own recordings to learn from my mistakes. With
Puccini everything exists in the score so that if you follow
the score, then you are safe.
You began, actually, as a
conductor and pianist. Why did you come relatively late to
This happened during my
conducting studies. One of my teachers advised me to learn
to sing to become a better conductor. I wanted to understand
the phrasing and the breathing of singers. Without planning
it in the beginning one thing led to another and one day I
was a full-time singer.
Why have you decided, in the end
to be a full-time singer and conductor less?
This was, actually, a social
decision. I was studying in Argentina during the final phase
of the military regime and at that time there was no future
for me. I came to Europe and here it was simply easier to
find work as a singer, especially as a tenor. I had small
engagements as a conductor but I got more and more offers as
a singer and this is the reason why I am now what I am — a
Do you regret that you now have
such little time to conduct?
Actually, there is nothing to
regret if one is lucky and successful. Perhaps I would like
to have more time to work as a conductor. On the other hand,
the career of a singer is much shorter in comparison. As a
conductor one has the right experience and maturity only
when older, at the age of 60 or so, so I think I still have
enough time to transform slowly from singer to conductor as
I grow older.
In the State Opera you appear
one evening as a singer, next as a conductor. How do you
manage this role change?
This is very difficult for me,
but it is possible because Le Villi is such a short
opera. With Otello, for example, this would be
How does your work as a
singer influence your work as a conductor and vice versa?
I love long phrasings and big
curves in the orchestra, I love it when the orchestra
breathes with the singers. Therefore, I would say that the
singer influences the conductor more than the conductor the
singer. Vice versa if I stand on the stage I try to follow
the music with great discipline, and maybe that is the
influence of the conductor on the singer. The advantage is
that you always know what goes on when you know both sides.
That means you try to accompany
As a conductor I treat the
singers in such a way as I would like to be treated as a
singer. That is to give enough space to the singer for good
breathing, to give him the feeling of being in good hands.
However, I also try to make it clear to the singers that
they are part of an ensemble and do not stand alone on the
stage with the orchestra and the conductor running after
them and trying to understand what the singer plans to do
the next minute.
What would you reply to somebody
who states that opera is an antiquated art form which the
world doesn’t need any more — like the above mentioned
work Puccini’s Madame Butterfly?
It is not true that things from
the past have no right to exist. If we extinguish the past,
we have no base upon which to stand and so fall down. This
is like a building from which one removes the cellar —
without the cellar the entire structure collapses. If one
tries to look at opera, however, as if it were a science
fiction film, then one begins to force things and then
nothing fits. One must view and enjoy each piece of art it
was meant to be and not to try to do it differently. This
would be wrong.
was Puccini’s first opera. How has his music of Le Villi
developed to Madame Butterfly?
Tremendously. Le Villi
still has a very easy orchestration, the harmonies are
almost naive. Puccini developed [musically] in very short
time, whereas other composers needed 30 years. Verdi needed
even longer. He was like a good wine which matures slowly.
If Puccini lived to the age of Verdi he would have met
Stockhausen and Penderecki and who knows what he would have
written then for music. That Puccini is somebody whom we
will never know.
was not successful at first. Was it performed for the first
time at the wrong time, or was it improved with the
La traviata was also booed at
first and now is Verdi's best known opera. We know only what
we read and what people of that time have said. Toscanini
wrote in a letter to Puccini: ' Dear Giacomo, there is too
much sugar in this opera.' 'Troppo zucchero,’ he wrote.
Is it true? Is there "troppo
zucchero" really in it?
No, I don’t think so. I am an
emotional person and, therefore, I like sugar. Actually,
this is a very cruel story and, unfortunately, a prophecy.
Pinkerton was in Nagasaki as what we now call a sex tourist.
How was the work with Karoline
Gruber in Le Villi?
She is an intelligent and
sensitive director. I am not persuaded that her direction
has a lot to do with the work. I have already told her
this. However, it was a very intelligent solution.
What do you expect from a
director with whom you work?
I expect the same as from a
conductor, namely that I work with somebody who knows the
opera better than I do. He might teach me something. If one
must work with somebody who is not prepared, one has the
feeling of pulling something too heavy.
You have already sung many big
roles. Is there a role outside your repertoire which
There is not so much for me
except for the German repertoire which I don’t plan,
however, at the moment, because I have a fear of German
language. What I would do with pleasure is Nerone of
Boito. I have also had offers for Peter Grimes, but I don’t
believe I am ready for it yet.
You were thinking about managing
an opera-house. What has become of it?
At the moment I simply do not
have time for it. Maybe I will in ten years. Then I would
take over the musical management of a house with pleasure.
The artistic management would probably have too much
bureaucracy for me.
tenor opened the season with Cavalleria rusticana
engagements until 2011 but next summer I will take a
break to be with my family”
star of the Arena: “I faced two challenges”
Engaged only for
the role of Canio, Cura has been forced to interpret two
works in the same evening. “It is enormously hard work,
repaid by the applause. La Scala? They do not call.”
great heat: I spent all evening getting water and
integrators to recover the lost liquids.”
That is the first thing tenor José
Cura recalls about his debut at Arena di Verona after
taking the lead roles in both Cavalleria
rusticana and Pagliacci. And there was
more: “A few minutes before the start – I was told - the
thermometer on the stage of the Arena registered 40
degrees.” In the mind of the Argentine tenor, one of
the most popular singers in the world, it is not the
thundering applause or the emotions of an opening night
that lingers but memories of “the great heat.”
In addition to
the high temperatures, Maestro Cura faced yet another
challenge: prepared for Pagliacci, Cura also
ended up singing Cavalleria rusticana after
Vincenza la Scola was forced to cancel. Someone should
speak [to the Arena] about planning…
“When I discovered
I had to do both Turiddu and Canio in the same evening,
I had to figure out how to manage my energy. Certainly
it was a surprise when I arrived at the Arena: I had
just returned from Japan, where I had been on tour in
Andrea Chénier with the Teatro Communal di Bologna,
and I had to go onstage for the pre-general rehearsal,
still suffering from jet lag. And it had been seven
years since I had last been in Cavalleria, since
I had last sung Turiddu.”
How has it
“It has been
beautiful to rediscover in the vocal chords a character
like that of Mascagni’s and to confront this opera in a
new light, one that has been given a “symphonic” reading
from the orchestra’s conductor, Lü Jia.”
before the Intermezzo of Cavalleria, the Chinese
maestro put down the baton and asked the public for
continued to make noise as too many latecomers continued
to enter the Arena. Even worse was the attitude of
those who, before the end of the work, hurdle toward the
I heard that at
the end of Pagliacci, when Canio races across the
stage, he had to slalom between spectators.
“Blinded by the
lights, I collided with someone. It was a disagreeable
episode that kept me from enjoying the evening until the
end of the applause.”
Which of the
other works from the playbill at the Arena would you
like to sing here?
sing Tosca under the direction of De Ana. I am
confident that, being a new production, it will be
resumed in the upcoming seasons. I can see myself in
In you calendar
of performances, it says that summer 2007 will be “a
sabbatical with the family.”
“It will be a
little time to away from the world to spend time with my
family, my wife and children.”
Where are you
going and what are you doing?
“I go to
the Metropolitan with Tosca and I return to
London in Stiffelio, which I sang there in 1995
giving me the start of my international career.”
however, we don't see you often.
“I would like to
sing here more often, I don’t deny it. I have received
some invitations, but much too late: I have signed
contracts until 2011 and it is hard to find spots for
theaters who program from one year to the next. I will
be to Turin in October to inaugurate the season with
Turandot and in 2008, I will be in Edgar. I
will return to Bologna with Samson et Dalila, my
warhorse that I have not sung in Italy since 1997.”
And La Scala?
“We are not currently
in negotiations for anything. Not to be on the marquee at
La Scala, when I sing at all the greatest theaters in the
world, does not seem a failure to me but something to
regret. I think that sooner or later they will invite me.”
The Real José Cura
José Cura: Without The
He has been on the
stages of theatres the world over. These days, he also gives
himself to conducting. Here’s a look at his private side, at
his passions and his fears.
His principal flaw?
The same: being too
Sign of the Zodiac?
What did he always
want to be when he grew up?
An adult. The kind of
man we call “serious”; in reality I have remained the
Only in operas. In
real life, that doesn’t lead to anything.
The book that has
left a mark on you?
The Mediocre Man.
A book by José
an Argentinean philosopher. I reread some chapters, some
parts of it often.
What is lacking the
most in your life at present?
Certainly the time for
everything that I do and would like to do. It seems to me
that I never have enough of it.
What importance do
you attribute to money?
I believe the right
and proper one: I have known how it is to live without and
now that, thank God, I’m not wanting, I realize there is a
great deal of difference.
What are you
It bothers me to think
of not being present for what’s going on in my family,
however big or small these things may be: from my son’s
ballgame to my teenage daughter’s first love. In essence, it
worries me to be an absentee father.
What kind of
authority and power would you like to have? A political
not! I have been offered posts as artistic director and
other positions in the music field, but at present, I intend
to make more music, to sing and conduct.
Who or what
More than embarrassed
I feel irritated about those who consider my career for the
most part tied to being, shall we say… “fairly
good-looking”. I believe that I have proven myself a serious
professional, the ‘afterlife’, so to speak, of my strengths
and weaknesses. My looks already show the marks of time. I’m
getting greyer all the time; the process is relentless.
that’s the most relaxing and calming?
To be at home….I also
would like to succeed in staying put at the house for 15
days in a row!
Favorite subject in
I must confess that I
did not like school much. I used to be an ‘anarchist’; I
used to escape the rules that school imposes on you.
However, I mainly loved subjects, material that dealt with
I don’t have a
favorite city. I am a citizen of the world. A true gypsy.
The ideal vacation?
To be at home.
Day or night
With the type work I
do, I find myself living at night to a great extend. But by
nature, I am not a night owl.
The film you like
I have always liked
Spielberg’s “Hook” very much and still do. As a father, it
has made me think a lot, and I would recommend it to all
The season of the
A note of regret. Just
now that I have gone on a diet again, it is a, shall we
say…delicate subject. It is clear that I have a very good
relationship with food.
Nothing fancy. Plain
pasta but literally smothered in aged Parmesan…you could say
that I eat Parmesan with a little pasta for decoration.
Red or white wine?
Red wine for sure. I
would say a full-bodied wine like the “Barolo”.
I have loved Karen
Carpenter, the voice of the group “The Carpenters”, best. I
confess, I wept when I learned that she was dead.
I only watch the news.
What should never
be missing from your bedside table?
Reading “Topolino” is very relaxing to me.
And in your
I’m Spartan. No
particular object. Only a bottle of water and one of tea.
How would you want
If possible of old
age, but I would add two options: one-an “heroic” death,
battling an illness. The other, let’s say, an ‘easier’ and
more painless death: in my sleep.
Your frame of mind
Positive to the max.
Carpe diem—Seize the
day and make the most of it.