Bravo Cura


José Cura



La Fanciulla del west: Press





Fanciulla del west, Zurich, May 2004: 'The singer displays unquestionable charisma as the repentant outlaw, and his voice enchants in its valor, the luminosity of its timbre and the ease with which it reaches the highest notes.' Concertonet, May 2004

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2005:  'In José Cura [Minnie] has a Dick Johnson worth dying for. This is the best performance Cura has given in London: the selfish outlaw comes good with a voice that rings out handsomely without milking the notes, with a style of acting that never stoops to melodrama.'  Andrew Clark, Financial Times, 19 September 2005

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2005:  ‘José Cura gets Dick Johnson’s macho posturings just right while singing with plenty of dark tone – one of his finest performances.’ John Allison, Opera, September 2005

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2005: '...The piratical José Cura, a sort of Errol Flynn with tonsils, is in his element as Johnson....' David Mellor, September 2005, Mail on Sunday

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2005: 'But the "prize", of course, is Dick Johnson, alias the bandit Ramerrez - and José Cura, looking as though he'd been built specifically for this role, is the best he has ever been. His animal magnetism counts for a lot here and, since the vocal requirements are all about swarthy, full-on, heroics, he was in his element, being resoundingly butch.'  Edward Seckerson, The Independent, 19 September 2005

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2005: 'So far as singing goes, no-one need worry much about the soloists in the current revival. José Cura ... was in top form on Saturday, easily fulfilling the early promise that he showed in the 1990's. He looked the part, sounded splendidly manly and simpatico throughout the whole thing and had all the notes necessary even for Act III's  Che'lla mi creda libero. His early training as a baritone still shows through though, now and again (there's a depth to his lower register which is decidely untenor-like occasionally) but if anything this simply added to his performance as Johnson: this was the kind of singing we go to Royal Opera to hear.'  Bill Kenny, Seen and Heard, 1 October 2005

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2005:  ‘As the bandit Dick Johnson/Ramirez José Cura might not have looked sufficiently dangerous, Gary Cooper he ain't, but his voice was another matter; for the entire evening he produced a gorgeous stream of sound, truly sexy.’  Robert Hugill, Classical Music Blog, 26 September 2005

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2005:  ‘There was only one singer whos mere presence on stage lifted [this staging] to international theater. José Cura arrived and the atmosphere changed completely, his clarion voice well placed, his baritonal register making me wonder if someday he would sing Tristan… his high notes were clean and centered. Cura is also a sensible and intelligent actor who with a look can change the atmosphere of a scene from danger to security, uneasiness to affection and love, a great creation….’ Eduardo Benarroch, Operayre,  15 September 2005

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2005:  ‘José Cura cuts a dash as the bandit Ramirez, with handsome appearance and burnished tone.’  Camden New Journal, Helen Lawrence, 23 September 2005

Fanciulla del West, London, September 2005:  ‘Those familiar with this charismatic and spirited tenor are well aware that he can add distinction even in new productions of his best roles.  This fall, he…once more proved able to impress without reservation.  Though the role of Dick Johnson is not long, it offers the best possible opportunity for the virile timbre of this tenor to shine not only in tenacious high altitude flights but also in elegantly measured veristic attacks in the middle voice.  The presence of this singer guaranteed high quality...’  Das Opernglas, November 2005

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2005:  'As for José Cura, the role of Dick Johnson, alias the bandit Ramerrez, might have been written for him. He plays it to the hilt, his burnished, baritonal tenor shaping the vocal lines with a subtle regard for meaning and emotion. And he can’t half open up for the big moments like Ch’ella mi creda. Terrific stuff.'  David Blewitt, The Stage, 19 September 2005 

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2005:  ‘Cura sang with stamina and ringing ardour right up the top of the voice...the evening was a memorable one.’ Opera Japonica, September 2005

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2005:  'As Johnson, José Cura has all the requisite swagger and testosterone-packed tone, and sings his arias in an effective, stand-and-deliver way.’  Andrew Clements, Guardian Unlimited, 17 September 2005

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2005:  'Cura adds smoldering Latin charisma and some thrilling top notes into the brew.’ Warwick Thompson, Metro Café, September 2005

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2005:  'In the lead, José Cura was an inspiration.  His voice rang out clearly, with refinement, and with power.  Dramatically his Dick Johnson/Ramerrez was both flashy and passionate at the same time, which matched the character perfectly.' Mundoclasico, Enrique Sacau, September 2005  

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2005:  'José Cura gets Dick Johnson’s macho posturings just right while singing with plenty of dark tone – one of his finest performances.'  John Allison, Sunday Telegraph, 18 September 2005

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2005:  'José Cura was, inevitably, the star turn.  He looked the part, evidently enjoying the boots, the strut and the swagger; but, more important, he has a good baritonal presence (most of the first act is set very low) and some of the best high B flats in the business.'  Roger Parker, Opera Magazine, November 2005

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2005:  'José Cura, as Johnson, gives off a strange oral musk that makes you believe he’s the sexiest thing on legs, even though good sense would normally tell you otherwise.  But he can shape a phrase with the best and his voice is ideal for the barely controlled histrionics Puccini demands.'  Fionna Maddocks, Evening Standard, 16 September 2005

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2005:  'The Argentine tenor José Cura demonstrated once more the stature of his artistic talent in his interpretation of the bandit ‘Ramerrez’ yesterday evening in the Royal Opera production of 'Fanciulla del West,' the opera Puccini set in the American old west.  In marvelous voice for an opera of complex orchestration and rich contrast, Cura seemed comfortable in a role that seemed made for him, and his presence filled the stage at all times.'  Terra, 16 September 2005

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2008:  '.... tenor José Cura has never looked so swaggering or sounded so thrilling in the role of Ramirez.' Metro, Warwick Thompson, 17 September 2008

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2008:  '[Cura's] Dick Johnson has plenty of bravado, and, when he gets into his vocal stride, he can sound mighty impressive.' The Telegraph, Rupert Christiansen, 19 September 2008

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2008:  ‘Argentine tenor José Cura carries off his Ramirez/Dick Johnson arias with aplomb.' Cadmen New Journal, Sebastian Taylor, 18 September 2008

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2008:  ‘Cura's Dick Johnson is a magnificent role assumption; indeed it's one of his finest, in my opinion. The expressive vocal writing – free and conversational rather than classically rigid - is well matched to his talents, while it's a treat to see a singer-actor of his stature inhabit a character as fully as he does here. He's every bit Ramirez the Bandit, and he made a particular impression in the final two acts – which call upon him to declare passion, fall about dizzily while bleeding from a severe wound and give a moving speech before his death – at this performance.’   Dominic McHughes,  Musical Criticism, 17 September 2009

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2008:  ‘Cura's Dick Johnson is a magnificent role assumption; indeed it's one of his finest, in my opinion. The expressive vocal writing – free and conversational rather than classically rigid - is well matched to his talents, while it's a treat to see a singer-actor of his stature inhabit a character as fully as he does here. He's every bit Ramirez the Bandit, and he made a particular impression in the final two acts – which call upon him to declare passion, fall about dizzily while bleeding from a severe wound and give a moving speech before his death – at this performance.The Pappano-Cura partnership was the most pleasurable aspect of the evening.’   Dominic McHughes,  Musical Criticism, 17 September 2009

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2008:  ‘José Cura was born for this role. Quite apart from looking exactly right, he inhabits the character to an extent I've rarely seen from an Opera singer. Plus he's got charisma in spades and along with all this he's no slouch in the vocal department. He doesn't handle the more gentle, upper-register music all that well (he managed to fake them quite well though), but when it comes to massive vocal moments few can compare. His "Ch'ella mì creda libero" is every bit the highlight it should be.'  Teenage Theatre Critic, 25 September 2008

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2008:  ‘José Cura, who played Johnson in 2005 with Andrea Gruber, brings balance to the stage.  Magnetic, out-of-the-ordinary, appealing, his bandit entices us like a black diamond with his quiet confidence and fiery eyes.  The performer hit perfectly in each situation; his full and intoxicating voice throughout the register reminds us what a great tenor stands before us.’  ConcertClassic, François Lesueur, 19 September 2008

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2008:  ‘Through his natural and magnetic presence, José Cura offers a portrait of the bandit Johnson that was larger than life from first glance.  His performance is both rich and unsettling in that it expresses both desire and mystery accompanied by an exceptional vocal performance, where the tenor can exploit the dark grain of his voice. Having made Sylvia Valayre (in Zurich) and Andrea Gruber (London 2005) swoon, Cura is working for the first time with Eva Maria Westbroek…..'  Scénes Magazine, François Lesueur, 1 November 2008

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2008:  'Cura sings with muscular energy, and he’s the macho bandit to the hilt.'  The Times, Neil Fisher, 18 September 2008

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2008:  'José Cura (Dick Johnson) returned to the role he had previously sung in 2005 at Covent Garden in wonderful vocal health. His was a much understated, subtly emotional, performance throughout Act I in the playful delicate blossoming of love between him and Minnie and which continued through their duet (of sorts) in Act II. After that he doesn’t get much chance for further passion because he is soon shot and seemingly fatally wounded. Of course, Johnson/Ramirez recovers and Cura was exaltedly impassioned when singing Ch’ella mi creda libera in Act III. There was an ease and command to his performance throughout the whole evening allied to a burnished baritonal timbre and effortless, ringing, high notes.'  Seen and Heard, Jim Pritchard, 16 September 2008

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2008:  'José Cura ... physically and vocally has the dark, swarthy complexion the role requires.' The Independent, Edward Seckerson, 19 September 2008

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2008:  'José Cura didn't disappoint. Visually Cura is perfect for the part: handsome, charismatic, a little rough around the edges and his voice, too, lives up to the hype; the showcase 'Ch'ella mi creda' aria could have been a touch more lingering, but elsewhere he was close to perfection.'  Music OMH, Laura Battle, September 2008

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2008:  'José Cura didn't disappoint. Visually Cura is perfect for the part: handsome, charismatic, a little rough around the edges and his voice, too, lives up to the hype; the showcase 'Ch'ella mi creda' aria could have been a touch more lingering, but elsewhere he was close to perfection.'  Music OMH, Laura Battle, September 2008

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2008:  'José Cura is well known to London audiences as Dick Johnson, a role that fits him like a glove. As the bandit transformed by the love of a good woman, he is in sensational voice and a dominant and potent presence. A great night for the Royal Opera – and for Puccini.' The Stage, George Hall, 17 September 2008

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2008:  'José Cura’s Dick Johnson returned from the 2005 cast, in throatier voice, but still with ringing top notes. ... [H]e looks the Latin-American bandit to perfection.  I doubt he can be bettered in this role today.' The Times, Hugh Canning, 21 September 2008

Fanciulla del west, London, September 2008:  'José Cura’s Dick Johnson returned from the 2005 cast, in throatier voice, but still with ringing top notes. ... [H]e looks the Latin-American bandit to perfection.  I doubt he can be bettered in this role today.' The Times, Hugh Canning, 21 September 2008

Fanciulla, London, September 2008:  'We live in an age when opera is truly theatre too, in the sense that action and staging are not mere adjuncts to the music, but - as they should be - full partners to it. This La Fanciulla is just such good theatre, but it also reminds one that the quality of singing has a role in the psychological dimension of that theatricality along with the quality of the music. In every role from minor to major the performances were sure, satisfying and full of energy and intensity.  The moment in La Fanciulla most often reprised in concerts and on compilation discs, Ch'ella mi creda, is beautifully done by José Cura. It comes in the high tension of his proposed lynching, the posse assembled in the mine workings under a towering pithead wheel from whose scaffold Ramirez is to be hung, and where Minnie saves him with her hymn to the meaning of individual relations of love and kindness.  This was a night of opera as opera should by definition be, which is to say a great night of opera.'  AC Grayling, Times Literary Supplement, September 2008

Fanciulla, London, September 2008:  'With tenor José Cura in swaggering form and a suitably passionate conducting from Antionio Pappano, it ass up to a thrilling ride.’ Warwick Thompson, Bloomberg, 19 September 2008

Fanciulla, Zürich, November 2010:  'Tenor José Cura delivered when it counted most—in his climactic solo in Act II after he has confessed his identify to Minnie, and in his brief but haunting Act III aria.’ Mike Silverman, Associated Press, 10 December 2010

Fanciulla, Zürich, November 2010: ‘José Cura’s singing has always and will always polarize:  of course, the dark, almost baritone, bronze timbre is fundamentally a joy and absolutely right for Dick Johnson and in performance the Argentine is immensely involved and looks exactly how one images the character.  In addition to generally good legato and some downright chiseled high notes, there were a few pressed sounds.  However, he had a really good Ch’ella mi creda with some beautiful piano tones and an impressive B.’ Thomas Tillmann, Online Musik Magazin, 14 November 2010

Fanciulla, Zürich, November 2010: ‘Whoever has reservations about Puccini’s Fanciulla del west should quickly toss them overboard and attend this production with open ears and eyes.  A gripping production, fabulous conducting, and a trio of protagonists who could not be bettered provide the electricity in this first Western opera in musical history.  José Cura’s Johnson lies extremely well in his voice—so liberated, so gloriously blooming in the high notes.  The only actual hit in the opera, Johnson’s Ch’ella mi creda in the third act, is hauntingly beautiful and sung with moving expressiveness.’  Kaspar Sannemann, Opera Aktuell, 15 November 2010

Fanciulla, Zürich, December 2010:  'José Cura  is a time-tested, proven routinier as Dick Johnson; in this reprise, he surprised with a refined interpretation which gave careful attention to the vocal line and was without overly exaggerated touches of   superficial artistic touches.’ Dr Rainhard Wiesinger,, December 2010

Fanciulla, Zürich, October 2011: ‘The positive impression, which I could report on a year ago has been more than proven right-- and there is profound regret that this wonderful production will now be gone forever. This also seemed to be the sentiment of the performers. At the end, Jose Cura turned to the audience and announced -his voice tinged with melancholy- that after ten years, this had been the last showing (of this production). And what a show it was! We had the good fortune to be present at a performance where absolutely everything was right.

Almost superhuman: the accomplishment, the level of performance achieved by José Cura. It was only yesterday that he had saved the "Otello" premiere, and on this, the following evening, he did not spare himself in the least and pulled out all the stops in presenting a Dick Johnson of the very highest quality on stage. Besides Canio, this is another of his signature roles. Physically and vocally, everything just fit and worked together; his distinctive tenor was able to fascinate with its power and radiance, its confidence and security as well as its sophistication in creating subtle shadings.’ Kaspar Sannemann, Oper Aktuell, 22 October 2011

Fanciulla, Vienna, September 2014: "[...] vocally José Cura as Johnson was in excellent form. The highlight of the evening, the aria in the last act was performed admirably, the mellowness of his impressive voice still being his trademark. [...]” Johannes Marksteine, Der neue Merker (Online Merker), 11 September 2014

Fanciulla, Vienna, September 2014: "[...] José Cura sang a really flawless, beautiful “Ch'ella mi creda” [...]" Elena Habermann, Der neue Merker (Online Merker), 14 September 2014

Fanciulla, Vienna, September 2014:  "[...] José Cura is perfect for the portrayal of the character Ramerrez/Dick Johnson. Tall and looking venturous, he is ideally cast as desperado - an eye-candy for his numerous female fans. He is acting convincingly. Cura being meanwhile about 50 years old, you cannot expect his style of singing to change much anymore. He still has got a very beautiful timbre and this time was singing following the score with discipline. That he is pressing the high notes and that the transition from chest voice to head voice is not always neat - this is not unknown anymore. In any case, verismo is at present a very good territory for him and he was hailed by the audience during the curtain calls. [...]" Kurt Vlach, Der neue Merker (Online Merker), 18 September 2014

Fanciulla, Vienna, November/December 2016:  "That [Minnie] melts at this Dick Johnson is easy to understand. José Cura is currently in excellent form and puts his whole passion into this love story.  The security and beauty of his wonderfully timbrized voice is impressive."  Der neue Merker, 30 November 2016, Maria und Johann Jahnas  

Fanciulla, Vienna, November/December 2016:  "José Cura is here–as he was three years ago—a dark-timbre Dick Johnson without any fear of the high notes while being somewhat generous in dealing with rhythm and declamation. However, his nonchalance makes him appear highly desirable and certainly explains the appeal of the ‘intruder’ in the time of the gold rush."  Die Presse, 29 November 2016, Wilhelm Sinkovicz  

Fanciulla, Vienna, November/December 2016:  “The robust tenor José Cura, working with a figure not as deep as [Minnie’s], manages to make Dick Johnson sympathetic… this is a rare, great stage magic."  Der Standard, 28 November2016, Daniel Ender



José Cura:  Let's Get Physical


The Independent

20 September 2005

José Cura breezes in from his rehearsal at the Royal Opera House looking rather like an off-duty nightclub bouncer. The dark-eyed Argentinian superstar, a former rugby player and body-builder, could have been tailor-made for the tenor lead in La Fanciulla del West, Puccini's take on the gold rush, for which he received rave reviews last week. His character, Johnson, aka Ramerrez, is an escaped Latin bandit, by turns a "goody" and a "baddy" in the best tradition of spaghetti westerns, but - in the best tradition of romantic opera - ultimately redeemed by love. Cura has run the gamut of "goody" and "baddy" in terms of critical opinion over the years, but it's his passion that carries him beyond that. His treacly, seductive, dangerous voice can knock you into submission in seconds.

Fanciulla gives him plenty of opportunity to let that voice shine. It's rarely performed, yet filled with vintage Puccini melody. "I first sang the role in a concert performance in 1992," Cura recounts, "so it's been growing inside for 13 years." He's particularly glad to be singing it at Covent Garden: "This production is a real classic," he says. "I remember watching it on video years ago and thinking, 'Hey, look at that, if only one day...' And suddenly you find you're in the middle of the set."

Cura's path to stardom took even him by surprise. His musical life had a difficult beginning; his native Argentina - where he was born with roots a quarter Spanish, a quarter Italian and half Lebanese - is a loaded subject. He hasn't been back for seven years. He adores Argentinian music, and dedicated the second CD he made for his own label, Cuibar Phono Video, to his country: "The Argentinian flag even appeared in the booklet," he says. "But the only country I couldn't sell the CD was Argentina. As the Bible says, no man is a prophet in his own land." His label, though, is doing fine: Cura is "in conversation" with a major label interested in taking Cuibar Phono Video under its wing.

If Cura had grown up somewhere else, he might never have found his voice. He began to sing through luck and necessity. "When I was about 12, I decided I wanted to be a musician," he says. "Argentina at that time was leaving military oppression and becoming a democratic country, but in the middle it wasn't so easy; you had to decide to do something reasonably useful. It was a big fight to make my parents understand I wanted to be a musician in a country where that was a hopeless decision. The purpose was to become a conductor and a composer. I had vocal coaching to complement the conducting, and one of the coaches said to me, 'Hey, you have to use this voice'. Later, a teacher told me, 'You don't have to be a singer, but you must learn how to sing, because that will make you a better conductor'. That was the best advice I received.

"It is always difficult to find opportunities to conduct or to get a premiere for your compositions - but in Argentina at that time, it was hopeless. Singing is a discipline where you can find some way to survive: in a choir, an opera chorus, or a musical comedy. I started to sing as a way of surviving. And, well, here I am. I survived pretty well." Once he had won Placido Domingo's Operalia competition in 1994, there was no turning back.

Is that rarest musical instrument - a glorious tenor voice - down to nature, or nurture, with hours of hard slog every day? Forget "hours", says Cura - even "years" would understate what it takes. "You cannot hurry up the processes of developing your voice," he says. "If you want to become a lawyer in two years, you can do it if you study hard, but singing is both intellectual and physical: the body has to have time to get used to what your brain understands first. And you can't stay home and work alone until you're 'mature'; you become mature by being out on stage, exchanging experiences with other singers and working with good conductors and directors.

"You can't expect wine to be more mature if you leave it longer inside the grape. You have to take it out and work on it. There are no miracles. I'm 42; I've been singing for 20 years and now - finally - I'm starting to feel that I'm kind of in charge. There's no way to do that only in the shower."

Italian and French opera has long been home to Cura, but will he ever sing Wagner? "I've been wondering too," he laughs. "The problem is the language. I can read and understand German, but I have not mastered it. To produce a believable character, one desperately needs the undertext, and there's no way to have that if you're reading phonetics. After so many years, people are used to a certain standard whenever I go on stage, so I feel uncomfortable with the idea that I would be performing knowing that I'm not giving what I'm supposed to give. When I go on stage, I feel secure in what I'm doing - you can agree with it or not, but you cannot say I'm not convinced or secure. If I give up on that security, I'd be giving up on the major secret that has made my career not only a success but a healthy success: I've never lost my nerve on stage. And I'm not intending to do so."

Cura, meanwhile, has found his way back to conducting; another happy accident, he says, that came about a few years ago when he conducted the Sinfonia Varsovia "as a joke", but found himself invited to become the orchestra's principal guest conductor - "much to the delight of my vocal detractors, who'd found the perfect excuse to say I'm a better conductor than a singer". Next season includes a stint at the Vienna State Opera, conducting Puccini's Madama Butterfly. He divides his time between singing and conducting "about 75 per cent to 25 - the perfect balance to prevent the singing from becoming a routine".

But thanks to his roots in conducting and composing, this most romantic of operatic tenors cites his greatest musical passion as something different: "Mozart said that, 'After J S Bach, each note we write can only be a commentary'. If you analyse Bach's music, you realise you can only try to be as good as you can be, without pretending to be more, because after that, what can anybody say? The experience that most touched my soul was conducting, years ago, the St Matthew Passion. One thing I regret is that I cannot sing Bach, because his works are far away from my type of voice."

Still, an artist such as Cura is never going to be pigeonholed. "The mood nowadays is to put people into specialised boxes - it's the most comfortable way of keeping them under control," he says, "but those who have things to do will jump out. I'm not alone; many people are trying to make society less cold in terms of specialisation. I don't see myself doing just one thing for the sake of avoiding being pointed at. I would be frustrated and I prefer to take the risks." He grins. "Altogether, it's not going too badly."



Restless Cura

La Nacion

BERLIN. 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 moment.

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 Mahler to 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 ballo in 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.

Between performances of La fanciulla del West in Deutsche Oper of Berlin, José Cura agreed to give us an interview.

- 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 Valkyries 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.

- 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 on Fanciulla & Turandot at Covent Garden and keeping opera modern

Musical Criticism

Hugo Shirley

6 September 2008

"Modern artists have always been those who understood their society, the problems of their times and reflected them in their artistic activities."

Superstar tenor José Cura is renowned not just for his singing but also for the power of his acting.

As a conductor and a composer, as well as a singer, his background displays an unusual versatility that has helped him create a series of much admired operatic portrayals, many of them at London's Royal Opera House.

Two of these signature roles are in Puccini's later operas and he's back early this season as Dick Johnson in Piero Faggioni's lavish production of La fanciulla del West. In this eagerly anticipated revival conducted by Antonio Pappano, he sings alongside Eva-Maria Westbroek as Minnie and Silvano Carroli as Jack Rance. He returns as Calaf, his Covent Garden debut in the role, in a December revival of Turandot.

We meet in his dressing room before a morning rehearsal for Fanciulla and it is with Puccini's Wild-West classic that the conversation starts. I point out that it's a work which is greatly admired but has never achieved the popularity of some of Puccini's other operas. What does Cura see as the reason for this?

'It is true that Fanciulla is not an opera with a super-engaging, psychological background. It's not like Otello or Samson or Aida, which speak about betrayal, or Pagliacci which reflects the conflicts of show business. Fanciulla is a kind of idealistic love story, a Spaghetti Western, where the girl loves the boy and the bad guy hates both; it's a situation straight out of Hollywood. We have some ingredients there, of course, but it's not the kind of heavy plot that you would dedicate a month of Freudian analysis to. In that sense, the plot is sweet, it's light. It's an opera you go to and, for once, nobody dies; it finishes in a very optimistic way and everybody forgives everyone else. Considering what we see in the news every day, it's not bad to come to the opera and, for a change, not see people dying and betraying everybody. Fanciulla is probably not so extremely popular in that sense because it is not a tortured opera, it's almost a musical, in a way, although obviously not in terms of the composition, which is incredible.'

How does Cura explain its special musical character?

'Fanciulla, like Tabarro, like the last operas of Puccini, its an opera that moves almost in the rhythm of straight theatre, where people sing almost as if they're speaking to each other. It flows really well and Tabarro is the same, it's not an opera that allows for clichés in terms of acting and movement: you really have to act, to flow with the text in a natural way. It's the perfect opera in the sense of the evolution of the genre. Of course, for some people the perfect opera is one where the tenor stands and just delivers his aria. That might be the perfect opera for an old-style approach, but at the same time it can be very hard to be realistic in those melodramatic, old-style operas. You can try but there are times when you've just got to stand and deliver, because that's how it's written. With this work that's not the case, you can really be modern. It's the ideal opera for young people, for people who've never been to the opera who you want to bring for the first time, to seduce them for the future. Bring them to Fanciulla!'

Piero Faggioni's production is well known for its grand, cinematic sets (designed by Ken Adam, best known for his work on several James Bond films). Does the grandeur of the production make it more difficult to bring across the character of Dick Johnson?

'No, on the contrary. The fact that the staging is hyper-realistic, it allows you to just be the guy, to go and live it, to get into his skin and walk on to the stage as you would into a normal saloon. You don't have to imagine, say, that there's a chair on stage when there isn't, as you might in the kind of psychological mises-en-scène that are fashionable these days, or pretend you're somewhere when you're actually just in a black room.

'All that's very interesting, of course, but with this opera it's very difficult to carry off because the whole thing is there: the colours are there, the bangs, the fights, the smell of the gold is there. People have tried it and I've done Fanciullas that have been a bit weird, but they never work. I remember a Fanciulla two or three years ago when I walked on stage and there was a telephone, there was a fax machine, people had the Internet, there were antennae everywhere. So I said to the director: "Sorry, just one little thought: why is everyone so eager to receive the post when they're emailing all the time, why are they all nostalgic about their loved ones and homes being so far away when they can speak to them on the telephone every day?" The main thing in Fanciulla is the nostalgia; the violence also comes from the distance, from not being able to communicate and the feeling of isolation everywhere. So the moment you have all this modern communication equipment, the whole thing falls to pieces.'

I bring up the idea of the opera's 'happy ending', does Cura see an irony in the fact that such a realistic opera avoids the fatal clichés of verismo?

'Puccini was not 100% a verismo composer. He was a realistic composer: his operas were realistic, were true, the rhythm was almost that of the spoken word. That is of course verismo in the sense of it meaning that it reflects truth, but not in the sense of what defined that movement, not in the sense of people breaking all the rules of old-style opera, going for bloody situations and people shouting on stage. That is what we understand by verismo – like Pagliacci, Cavalleria rusticana – which is wrong in the end. Because these operas, if they're done properly, are also very stylised. You're not supposed to go there and shout and kick chairs around in Pagliacci just because it's verismo. But tradition has, also, unfortunately created that habit and that's why these operas are not very well loved everywhere. You can do them in a very stylised way and they can work really well. So Fanciulla is all that, Puccini's all that: it's almost impossible to define. It's true there's verismo there but there's also a lot of style.'

This brings us on to Turandot; Cura is returning to Covent Garden in December to sing his first Calaf for the company. Everyone knows 'Nessun dorma' but for some people there's a problem understanding what Calaf is about as a character. How does he set about persuading an audience that there's more to him than the one aria?

'Turandot is a very tricky opera. The problem with it is that it's become famous just because of one song. We hear that and we think of the World Cup, we think Three Tenors, we think of big stadiums. But the opera is really very complicated. It's a very Freudian opera in the sense of the conflict and confrontations between the female elements and the male elements, by which I also mean within the individuals themselves. We have the female in conflict with the past and in fear of physical contact, and the male who wants to possess. It's an opera that came around the same time as Lulu where psychology was evolving, it was the peak time for Freudian and Jungian theory and an extremely complicated period, but a fascinating one for humanity too. It was a time when people were discovering lots of things that were always there and had never been thought or talked about before. In the middle of all this Puccini writes an opera which finishes with a big conflict, one that remained unsolved because he died. So some people talk about the great music he might have written if he'd lived to finish it, while others read a lot into it, since Turandot was also a very autobiographical opera for Puccini. They see the conflict brought about by the Manfredi girl in his family; Liú was the alter-ego of Manfredi and Turandot the alter-ego of Elvira, his own wife. For them this explains the confrontation between the two women, the sweetness and love of one and the aggression of the other, Turandot, who in the end surrenders to love. With this personal dimension, some people think he would never have been able to write the proper music for this duet. Not because of any technical obstacles, but because of the conflicts of his own psychological situation.'

Bearing all this in mind, I ask Cura about the completion of the opera by Franco Alfano, who pieced together the final duet and finale from Puccini's sketches to produce the version usually performed in the opera house today.

'I think people are wrong to say "Oh, Alfano did a shit job". I don't think that's fair. The guy was not Puccini and that's it. It's not fair to lay into a composer because he couldn't rise to the challenge. He did what he could and was very humble in the way he tried to serve his teacher and master. He gathered all the pieces as best he could and he wrote what he knew. Of course it's easy to say, "It's not Puccini and because it's not Puccini it's shit." For some people that's just an action reflex, and they're just repeating an opinion that's chic. I wonder how many really know what they're saying or have really analysed what the guy did, which is actually really interesting. If you acknowledge the fact that he's not Puccini and if you take it on its own terms, harmonically it's very revolutionary. The first version of Alfano's ending is even more complicated, with harmonies that were completely ahead of their time, so the guy was not stupid. Even suppose for a moment that Alfano was a genius, in any case he was not the same guy who wrote the music before so there was never going to be a perfect match in the music.'

And does Cura have any views on Luciano Berio's completion?

'I've not heard it. And with all due respect to Berio, it was probably a very interesting adventure but I don't see the necessity for it. Having said that, I'm due to do a Turandot in a couple of months in Germany and I heard they're planning to finish with the death of Liú, which is another solution. One thing's for sure, let me tell you: Calaf without the final duet is a piece of cake! Yes, 'Nessun Dorma' is an appointment but it's solvable. The last duet, though, is a massacre; it really is very tough to sing. So if the fashion is to start cutting the last duet, there'll be a lot of happy Calafs out there!'

I lead the conversation onto other plans. Cura has sung several less well-known roles, starring for example in productions of El Cid and Edgar last season. I ask if there are any other unexpected roles he's keen to tackle?

'I have some plans but some of them depend on the possibility of learning the language. I've had several people ask me to do The Queen of Spades but I really have to learn the Russian. That's not something I can do overnight. I hate singing phonetics, it doesn't work with my style of interpretation which has always depended on the subtext. It's OK to sing in German or in Russian just repeating things phonetically and having an overall idea of the plot. It's another thing entirely to speak the language and to understand the "perfume" of the words. So whether this is something for the future, or just the dreams, I don't know.

'Another is Peter Grimes, but I'd love to do that in England. I want to learn the role and perform it in the proper way by coming to the source. But every time I say this I hear, "No, but the accent and this and that", and I say "Give me a break, have you ever heard English people singing in Italian?" They're very good and they try as hard as they can but you can hear the accent. It's natural, you can't avoid it. So does that mean that only English people can sing Peter Grimes, only Italians can sing Italian opera, only French people sing in French? Then we'd end up with a very limited international panorama. All of a sudden we'd have theatres closing. So I think this is nonsense. It's interesting to have someone in a role if they care about it and train hard for it, even if you hear the accent here and there. Who cares about that as long as you have an interesting psychological approach. So sometimes when you want to experiment you have to fight against prejudice. I don't know, I'll end by doing Peter Grimes somewhere else, for sure, because I want to do it. It would be a pity, because it's one thing to do it here to learn the style and how do it properly from someone who's English. It's a different thing to do it elsewhere and learn it from someone who's not English. Every time I mention it casually here I get a smile in return. So I've just stopped mentioning it! I'll have to live with that.'

So, with Hermann in The Queen of Spades and Peter Grimes, Cura's eyeing up Russian and British roles, has he ever thought about tackling the German repertory?

'I've even had invitations but I'm so afraid of the language. The point is that when you set a standard – regardless of whether or not people like that standard – you go on stage and people expect certain things. Some people expect mistakes and some people expect thrills, that's part of the game, but they expect something. I'm afraid that if I start doing German roles I won't be up to my own standards. I think that's OK if you cannot live up to the confrontation with another artist, there's always going to be someone better than you. If you can't live with the confrontation with your own self then you're in trouble. If they say "Cura is not as good as Del Monaco or Domingo", that's OK because it's true. If they start saying "Cura is not as good as Cura himself" then you have to pack your bags and go home. For that reason I'm not ready for Wagner because I know I will not be up to my standards.'

After the two roles he's singing at Covent Garden this season, I ask if we can look forward to seeing him return next season.

'I've got nothing next season because my calendar is very full, but I hope that we can have some interesting conversations before I go to work something out. I've been singing at this theatre for fifteen years so it's a very important part of me as an artist. I've done many important roles here and it's always a great thing to come back. Also, each time you come back to the Royal Opera House you have a feeling that you're starting again from the beginning, that you're a student. With lots of other theatres you arrive as the personality you are and that's it, and they're just glad you've turned up. When you arrive here the levels of expectation, organisation and pressure are so high that you're not the "star" any more, you're just another piece in the machinery who has everything to prove and has to start at the beginning. And it's not bad to have that kind of detoxicating cure every two or three years, to be brought down to earth and start again. The point is that in London, which I see as the world capital of art, you are one more artist among many, you just have to shut up and get on with it. It's very good, it's a good therapy to be made to realise that no matter how good you might be, there's always someone who's better.'

This Fanciulla revival is being conducted by the Royal Opera's Music Director, Antonio Pappano, a Puccini specialist. Is that something else Cura's looking forward to?

'I'm very good friends with Tony and he's great fun to work with, particularly with these works, because they're in his DNA. You see him going through the score with complete emotional understanding. Without having to pretend, he's there at the heart of it. It's great because when you're up on stage and you look down and see someone who is struggling – not technically but psychologically – with the piece, you can feel it, and it gets transmitted to the stage. I'd rather have somebody who's completely at ease with the piece, even if they miss a beat here or there, than someone who's a great intellectual but not necessarily fully at ease with the piece psychologically. In this case, though, we have the best of both worlds. Add to that the fact we've got Faggioni, who is a genius, and we have a pretty ideal situation. It's not every day that you get a great cast and a fabulous company so I feel, as an artist, that I'm a bit spoiled.'  

Cura is well-known as a versatile musician but has recently shown another side of his artistic personality having released Espontáneas, a book of his own photography.

'I think it's already in the shops in London and they should have it on sale in the shop here at the Opera House,' he jumps in. He continues, 'but it's completely on the side. It's a hobby, it's like a way out. If you're a lawyer you might choose music as a way out. If you're a musician, what's your way out? To do law?' He laughs: 'No, if you're a musician your way out is probably another form of art. Some people paint, some people draw, I love to take pictures. I've been taking pictures for the last thirty years at least. I've been improving and practising and get to talk to a lot of great photographers in my job. I always took pictures as a part of my hobby, my passion, but also as a way of observing life. I'd never thought about bringing about a book but two years ago the Swiss publisher came to me and said, "I saw some of your pictures in friends' houses and I'd like to publish some of them in a book." I replied that I didn't really think the world needed a book of pictures by me but he said something nice back. He said "You might not be Richard Avedon but you're a well-known artist and people who like you will like to see how you see things. For them it would be a nice thing to have." So I said OK and we did it.'

Does he think then that these photographs will give people an additional insight into José Cura the singer and musician?

'Well, you know what Avedon used to say: pictures are not a portrait of the model but a portrait of the photographer. So it's true that you cannot take pictures ignoring your own self. It's the same if you paint a picture, it's you; even if you try to avoid it, it's always you. So it might be true, I don't think it's absolutely necessary for people to know me through pictures but the book is a nice book, with some nice pictures and that's it! It's another step in the holistic conception of a career that I always had. Being a performer, the more you enrich your secondary activities the more you transmit on stage. In the end, you're on stage telling things and you've got nothing to tell if you haven't lived. The more you live, the more you touch, the more you smell, the more you are in contact with reality, the more things you've got in the background when you try and communicate.'

Aside from his busy operatic schedule, Cura is regularly involved in education work. This London visit will also see him lead a masterclass at the Royal Academy of Music. Does all this mean he's confident in the future of opera?

'Opera has a future, but it depends on us being modern, it doesn't depend on opera. And I don't know why - and you see this particularly in London - there's been such a revolution in straight theatre but in opera we still think that the way it was done fifty years ago was ideal and that what we're doing today isn't. There's an idea today that a modern production is one where the audience needs a manual of explanations to understand what's going on. That's not being modern, that's not having anything interesting to say about a piece and just being weird so at least no-one will say you're copying. But from there to being modern is a long way. Modern artists have always been those who understood their society, the problems of their times and reflected them in their artistic activities, and that's what we need to do. If we continue to do Otello as they did it in the fifties, you ignore the worldwide crisis of fundamentalism of today: in 2008, the fact that Otello is a Muslim converted to Christianity opens up a whole world to investigate. After 2001 and September 11, the whole approach to a fundamentalist opera like Otello has changed. That's just to mention one example and it's something that can be applied to many other operas.

'That's the challenge but of course you need guts for it. If you go on stage destroying the myth that Samson was a saint, for example, and point out to people that he was killing in the name of God and therefore is comparable to a terrorist of today, then you have a scandal. If you point that out people might accuse you of being anti-Semitic because Samson was a Jew. But the philistines are also killing in the name of their god, Dagon, so both were behaving in the same way, so it's not against a particular race or group of people, it's understanding that killing in the name of God is something that's just as modern today 3,500 years after the original story of Samson. It's the same with so many operas, take Ballo in maschera with all its political intrigue, or Aida. Aida might be famous for elephants and monkeys on stage but we shouldn't forget about what's going on behind it all. So that's the future, trying to find that aspect of these works. And if you want to do that coming in in a flying saucer then that's fine, but if that's all you do then it's ridiculous. There's no point in trying to create a scandal for the sake of it, people will have forgotten it by the next day.'



BBC Mundo Quería ser director de orquesta



I wanted to be a conductor

When I was 14 or 15 years old I told my father I wanted to be a musician, that I had a vocation as a musician.  And this was because I wanted to be a conductor and composer.

That was, and that is still, my vocation.  All my academic background is as a conductor and composer.

I started singing at the age of twenty-nine, almost fifteen years after starting as a musician, and then there was a period in my life between 2000, 2002, 2003 when I suddenly had several opportunities to return to conducting. 

I was invited to conduct the Symphonia Varsovia and I also began to conduct many other orchestras.  We did a DVD with the London Symphony.  

So there were stories coming out about my being a conductor and some people maybe got the impression that Cura had stopped singing and started conducting.  No, it wasn’t like that. 

Rather, it was a kind of respite that made me return—not return but continue—in opera with the usual enthusiasm because one of the dangers of opera is that the number of roles to which one can turn is so limited, not because there are so few operas but because of what the market drives, that you can in time fall into a humdrum routine. 

A lot of danger, no?  For example, I did 45 performances of Otello in 2001.  And there comes a time when you go for the number 25 and you say, oh, again I have to be painted black and again I have to go on stage to sing the same things. 

Of course, the romantics of the art will tell youwhat an honor to have the luxury of singing Otello!  We all agree, of course we are in agreement, but the saturation is a risk because you are always repeating the same things.

BBC:  One of the questions we wanted to ask is about how you identify yourself.

Oops, the Freudian part of the interview begins.

Let’s see.  Let’s start with my accent.  I am Argentine, so my accent can easily become an Argentine accent if I’m talking to an Argentine.  But I lived for four years in Italy, so my way of articulating the words unconsciously became very Italian.

Then I lived for four years in France and it got worse.  And now I live in Spain with a Spanish accent and now I have mixed everything. 

I try to adapt to the tone of the person I am with.  So as you speak with your accent I try to get into your accent. 

If I’m with an Englishman I speak with an English accent and if I’m with a Yankee I speak with a Yankee accent-- but it is because when you have the ear of a musician you, unconsciously, adapt to the rhythm of your interlocutor.

BBC: And having come from Argentina, have you been well received?
Well, it is true that there is a tendency, especially in Europe, to be surprised when someone from the third world succeeds. 

It is a trend that is slowly disappearing because many more artists and doctors and engineers and architects are coming from our Latin America.

As there are many who are now coming from countries of the former Soviet Union and elsewhere, people with great talent and fewer are surprised.

BBC:  But the question is how is there suddenly five great tenors and all Latin Americans?  It is a very common question.  Marcelo Álvarez Vargas, Flores, Villazón, Cura—what is happening in Latin America?

Nothing, there is nothing special happening.  People have as much talent that they always have, though I agree today it seems a coincidence that we are more or less the same age.


BBC: What has been the most difficult moment of your career?

The most difficult time was 1999, 2000, not for career reason but for personal ones. That was the year I moved from France to Spain.  I also left all my managers and agents because they were driving my career in a direction I wasn’t interested in. 

My career happened very quickly and the results commercially and economically were huge but it was not a road that gave me satisfaction.  So I said, sorry, I’ve spent my life studying music. Why now, instead of emphasizing my professional training and my capacity as a serious musician, I am marketed as tall, more or less good looking, as the opera sexual and all that crap?

The success was great but I had not spend twenty years of my life studying just to be known by the way I look.  Then things began to degenerate even more, much more than I could handle.  It so happened that in 2000, 2001 Erato and Teldeck, the classical branches of Warner Classics with whom I worked, closed and, well, it was a very tough period when even my singing suffered. 

So I created my own company.  My own label, my own production company.

Of course, after four or five years, we can look back and laugh because now we are very, very happy but there were several years where I was attacked from all sides:  how can you not have an agent;  who do you think you are; how are you allowed to have you own label; where are the sales…. 

BBC: Well, if we talked about the difficult times, what would you say are the moments that make life worth living?

Oh, I’m going to be cliché.  I think that the four moments which are worth living are when I married and when my three children were born.  Being there and seeing them leave their mother’s womb is the one thing you cannot forget.  The rest is all an invention, all collateral.


BBC: And what is the internal energy that turns the motor that moves the life of José Cura?

I don’t know, ask my mother.  My mother…when I turned forty, she gave me a huge surprise.  She gave me a letter written by my teacher in 1973 but that I had never seen before in my life. Ever.  The letter says:  “I am writing just to tell you that your son is very intelligent and also a rebel, so difficult to handle but showing in his rebellion the germ of someone who will be a leader, a leader in maturity for many people.” 

And my mother held on to it for 25 or 26 years and when she gave it to me when I turned forty she said, “I never gave it to you because I never wanted to fill your head with what your teacher said. Now you are 40 and you are already what she said you could be and you have your head in place so you are not going to be swayed because you know who you are, your gifts.



Real Gold in Them Thaar Hills!

Jim Pritchard

Puccini, La fanciulla del West: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Conductor: Antonio Pappano. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. 16.9.2008

1907 was a good year for fans of horse operas – Western films – and for real opera too as it was the year in which John Wayne was born and when Puccini found an American subject for his next opera after visiting the United States. David Belasco’s play (The Girl of the Golden West) gave him an ideal scenario: ‘an open space in the great California forest, with colossal trees’.

The opera seemed to succeed with the public on its première at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, 1910 but critics were generally unenthusiastic. The music was considered too modern and it was n
either American enough for American critics or sufficiently Italian for those in Puccini's home country. Yet for Anton Webern in 1919, it was ‘Splendid. Every bar astonishing. Very special sounds. Not a shade of kitsch!’

Puccini tries to fuse tightly constructed uninterrupted drama with continuously expressive music and the impressionism of Debussy
in La fanciulla. Critics felt that it lacked the pure lyricism of La bohème or Madama Butterfly and was also too melodramatic to be fully credible; and so La fanciulla del West has never ranked as high with Puccini lovers as La bohème, Tosca or Turandot. Much of it does seem unlikely - a bunch of weeping, childlike gold miners singing in Italian or Minnie’s Act I bible class - or even downright offensive now, like the Native Americans given pidgin vocabulary including frequentUgh!’s and the stereotyping of them for their love of whisky.

One reason why La fanciulla del West is worth its occasional revival though is because of its rich, dense score where hints of chromaticism and dissonance are wedded to music from La bohème and the yet to be composed Turandot. Puccini ends up with a great outpouring of music with recurring fragments of motifs related to characters and events. A further reason for its relative unpopularity however, is the lack of show-stopping moments, even though the work turned out to have lasting effects on the popular musicals of the twentieth century. Without Puccini there would surely be little Andrew Lloyd Webber and La fanciulla in particular lives on as Dick Johnson's Act I ‘Quello che tacete’ is central to Lloyd Webber’s Phantom’s ‘Music of the Night’.

La fanciulla contains some of Puccini’s most
strikingly human characters. Minnies exist today: as tough, heart-of-gold, Bible-toting (and quoting) American prudes. Insecure, naïve and painfully aware of her lack of education, Puccini's Minnie naturally falls for the bad boy, Dick Johnson who is really Ramirez, the leader of a gang of bandits. Their exchanges, far from being almost wholly romantic as in La bohème arewonderfully natural, awkward, even embarrassing, and their burgeoning romance does not go smoothly. Minnie's idea of a ‘first date’ involves a single kiss before chastely bedding down Johnson/Ramirez in her bunk while she rests by the fire. There is also Sheriff Jack Rance’s  lust and jealousy to contend with.

Neither too ‘over the top’ or too dated, the romance that La fanciulla depicts is in fact very real and its flawed characters all too familiar to us, despite the American setting and characters matched against Puccini’s accrued ‘local colour’. This is why I have come back to it time and again in this particular production by Piero Faggioni ever since I first saw it in 1980; and this revival was a good opportunity to reappraise the work during the low-key 150th anniversary of Puccini’s birth.

As part of my reappraisal
, I was inspired by George Hall’s reflection in his programme notes on how much Puccini ‘revered’ Wagner and I began to see the leading characters in Minnie’s Act II cabin as Siegmund (Johnson), Sieglinde (Minnie) and Rance (Hunding). Writing about Minnie and Johnson’s kiss, George Hall says that ‘The idea of eruptive nature bursting through the door and initiating a love scene inescapably recalls a similar moment in Act I of Die Walküre’. I would also add that if you listen to your CD or the BBC Radio 3 broadcast on 27 December, it’s useful to think about how much Minnie’s exultation over the wounded Johnson sounds very like Sieglinde’s Act II delirium. It happens too that the story is also built on a familiar Wagnerian theme: the ‘redemption’ of the sinner (Johnson) by ‘das Ewig-Weibliche’ (the eternal feminine) - Minnie.

then, this was as satisfying an evening as I have recently spent at Covent Garden - which is not to say that it was faultless, but the plusses did outweigh the negatives. Kenneth Adam’s sets remain a three-dimensional cinematic wonder, although still a bit too solid to be manageable and requiring intervals of up to 40 minutes to change them. These are the wonderful Act I Polka saloon, Minnie’s mammoth cabin with smoking chimney for Act II and the gold-mine for Act III. Costumes (also by Piero Faggioni) are certainly of the Spaghetti-Western variety but authentic enough. Having been previously in a more cheap and cheerful seat I was not able to appreciate the stage in its entirety fully, but from the stalls I basked in the sets’ Cinerama-style glories.

The miners were more reticent and less rowdy than they should be at the start of Act I and lost a bit of coordination between pit and stage in Act III but
both the chorus and the miners with small individual roles remained a potent part of the evening’s success. Bonaventura Bottone as Nick, the limping and conniving barman, and Eric Halfvarson as the drink-swigging, thuggish Wells Fargo agent, Ashby, were acutely characterised and firmly sung. As Jack Wallace, the minstrel, there was another mellifluous and eye-catching performance from Vuyani Mlinde, a Jette Parker Young Artist, singing his wonderfully nostalgic song.

The veteran Italian baritone, Silvano Carroli, returned to the part of Jack Rance which he created in this production back in 1978 and who I saw both in 1980 and 1982. Regrettably
, he only has the remnants now of a once great voice and he was more menacing when speaking during the card game in Act II than in his blustery singing. He is now something of a pantomime villain; top-hatted and straight out of Chaplin’s Gold Rush. The 30-year old photograph of a young Carroli as Rance in the programme oozed more Scarpia-like evil than sadly he can muster now during an entire evening.

José Cura (Dick Johnson) returned to the role he had previously sung in 2005 at Covent Garden in wonderful vocal health. His was a much understated, subtly emotional, performance throughout Act I in the playful delicate blossoming of love between him and Minnie and which continued through their duet (of sorts) in Act II. After that he doesn’t get much chance for further passion because he is soon shot and seemingly fatally wounded. Of course
, Johnson/Ramirez recovers and Cura was exaltedly impassioned when singing Ch’ella mi creda libera in Act III. There was an ease and command to his performance throughout the whole evening allied to a burnished baritonal timbre and effortless, ringing, high notes.

He was matched by Eva-Maria Westbroek’s wonderfully gauche Minnie, whose love and religious fervour wins over the miners to release Johnson/Ramirez so they can start a new life together. Her voice has all the heft required for the role and she has a glorious, if a little steely and Wagnerian, top to her voice. She never
once stepped out of character from the moment of her dramatic entrance right through to her emotional farewell with Ramirez: a too rare achievement on the operatic stage.

This music is in Pappano’s blood and with his reliable orchestra he creates an almost symphonic miasma of swelling sound with refulgent climaxes that occasionally drown out the singers on stage. Over-sentimentalised maybe, indulgent (to his venerable Jack Rance) definitely, but Pappano’s reading was emotionally nuanced and compelling. Terrific stuff for fans of Westerns or ver
ismo opera alike!



El Mundo Interview on Fanciulla

Los musicales le han robado mucho a Puccini


London:  You could say that José Cura is a veteran on the stage of Covent Garden.  Here he was Otello, Samson, Andrea Chenier and Cavaradossi, but never has he managed to achieve the feat twice in the same year. That will happen in the new season when he performs two works of Puccini: La Fanciulla del west which premiered on Tuesday under the baton of Antonio Pappano and Turandot, for which we will have to wait until December. Mature, professional and relaxed, the Argentine tenor (Rosario, 1962) shared a few minutes with to talk about both works, his possible return to his country and the eternal controversy with Teatro Real.

Q:  La fanciulla del west is an opera by Puccini and yet it is not as popular as Tosca or La bohème.  Why do you think that is?

JC:  I don’t have an explanation.  It is true that the characters do not have a twisted psychology, it is set in the Wild West and the opera, unlike so many others, does not end badly.  But I don’t think any of these are reasons is should not work.  On the contrary.  It is a very simple opera.  Boy wants girl, girl wants boy, and the villain makes life miserable for both of them. 

Q:  In the background is the structure of a musical…

JC:  That is backwards. Musicals have stolen much from Puccini. Much of this work sounds sympathetic to us but it is silly to say we recognize it from many musicals. No one should forget La fanciulla was written before (most musicals) and much stolen from it.  And I don’t want to name names.

Q:  And yet it is still presented so infrequently….

JC:  Yes.  But I do not think it is because the public does not want to see it but because it is an expensive opera.  A Tosca is solved with three good singers and the rest is filler.  In La fanciulla there are many secondary characters who are central to the plot and an extra ingredient that makes it even more expensive:  in the work there is no women’s choir.  And for theaters it is very expensive not to have the women working.

Q:  What are the strengths of Fanciulla?

JC:  It has great melody and plenty of action.  It is true that at times it looks like a work in the musical theater but it is a very attractive and modern opera.

Q:  Nostalgia is the engine of the work.

JC:  Yes.  The nostalgia of those gold diggers isolated in a California gold mine town.  An inability to communicate to which each reacts according to his own nature.  It is a work that resists modernization.  I once did a production in which there were airplanes, telephones, faxes…with this staging the whole structure collapses.
Q:  And nostalgia?  Do you miss your country?

JC:  Not much.  I have spent almost 20 years outside of Argentina and one has to decide at the time when to take root.  My youngest son was born in Europe and I have no regrets.  If I had stayed anchored in Argentina, I would not have moved forward.  It is better for one to become strong here and then try to help others.

Q:  The first tier in opera is full of Latin singers.  Why?

JC:   Latino voices have always been very special.  They have a warmth and peculiar coloring…And then there is something I’ve talked about a lot with Marcelo Alvarez and Juan Diego Florez.  The first reason is the art of need.  Many left their country to survive.  A bit like my grandfather, who was Soriano and went to Argentina to make a living.

Q:  So in Western Europe there are fewer singers?

JC:  Maybe.  Perhaps in Europe the youth are fine and have no compelling need to succeed in the short term.  There are always mom, dad, family….

Q:  Do you mean that there is less sacrifice?

JC:  Of course. And that’s a problem in careers like singing, where the muscular factor is important. A genius can complete an engineering degree in two years.  But no matter how very smart you are, you cannot dance Don Quixote or Giselle or sing Otello in two years. 

Q:  What role have you not sung that you want to sing?

JC:  Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten.  And to speak that in London is like blasphemy, but that is my point of view. My dream is to do it here and every time I say that, I get laughed at or noses twitched. And I don’t understand it but it seems that unless you have a quintessential English accent you cannot do Peter Grimes when in other places it bothers no one.  It is not as if there are no Englishmen and Germans and Russians singing Italian and French opera….



José Cura - Interview


01 Nov 2009
Piera Anna Franini

 The tenor José Cura has been hailed as the Marlon Brando of song. His dark timbre, combined with his vigorous going towards the notes (of which he is perfectly aware), have triggered the interest of the singing community so that, when the tenor appeared, he was hailed as the new Del Monaco. Yet, at the same time, he has been the object of harsh criticisms because of certain interpretations that were not quite appreciated. Being a star means oscillating from pitiless controversies to embarrassing praises and José Cura has been living with these extreme reactions for a long time. José Cura, an Argentinean tenor, was born in 1962. He has been living in Madrid for the past ten years with his three children and his wife, who works for his company, Cuibar.

Cura’s turning point came in 1993, when he made his debut as the father in Henze’s Pollicino (Verona). “I remember everything as if it were yesterday”, said the singer, his voice filled with emotion. He gained international popularity in 1995 when he replaced José Carreras in Stiffelio, at Covent Gardens in London and again in 1997 when he performed in Carmen at the Verona Arena.

On the 12th and the 14th of December, Cura will be singing at the Opera House in Oslo. He will be playing Dick Johnson, in Puccini’s La fanciulla del west - on stage from the 21st of November. The tenor explains, “This is the opera where nostalgia is performed in a coarse manner.” Cura will be visiting Oslo for the third time; however, this performance will be another debut for him. He explains: “I have been to Norway for a couple of concerts, in a beautiful amphitheatre, but I have never been involved in an opera production. I am a Mediterranean creature; I love the sun and the sea, but I like the idea of performing in Northern European countries. They are ahead of us by 50 years, they have a more flexible approach to life than us Latin people. They do not continuously regret the past like we do. They are more pragmatic. This is why they may appear colder.”

Cura is filled with enthusiasm and energy. He is, after all, the son of Argentina; a land of sun and vast spaces, of élans and falls, a land characterized by the combination of temperaments and nostalgia. In addition, the tango, the cultural statement of Buenos Aires, filled with pride and abandon, will be on the stage to show these feelings. Cura conceived this dance according to his tastes; he also recorded it on a CD and will perform it during the concert scheduled on the 17th of December at the Opera House in Oslo. The conductor said: “I almost never go back to Argentina. The last time I set foot in this country was on the occasion of my father’s death in January of 2008. The year before Werther had invited me for a concert because the theatre was closed. To think that the Colon Theatre in Buenos Aires was one of the most renowned theatres in the world, the focal point to start a career. Del Monaco chose it to make his debut in Otello; Caruso also sang there. The Colon Theatre enjoyed a premiere first-rate reputation until the seventies; this is why it breaks my heart to see it in this condition.” Cura is a second-generation Argentinean; his grandparents are Italian (from Piedmont), Lebanese and Spanish, but he himself explains more about his heritage; actually, his hidalgo soul and his middle-eastern look speak plainly. Cura, born in Rosario, Santa Fe, on December 5th, 1962, left his native country in 1992. He explains: “Argentina still means everything to me.” To what extent does he feel Argentinean? “It is difficult to explain what being Argentinean means. After all, we are all Europeans; in other words, a true and real Argentinean personality does not exist, however the immigrant personality does exist.” The singer explains: “I left Argentina when it was recovering from the dashes of the dictatorship. In fact, my generation lived under different pseudo-democratic presidencies. At that time, if was difficult to make a life project, then it was almost impossible for people to develop a career like the one I have. I am referring to careers whose existence was compromised by certain national structures.” Therefore, leaving one's home country became a must. The destination? Italy, the mother of the opera theatre. Cura had Piedmont in mind, the region his maternal grandmother left a few decades before in search of fortune. Cura and his wife settled in Verona. “During our 14 hour flight, we met a couple from Verona. They left us their phone number and warmly invited us to visit them. This is why we chose Verona. We lived there for four years. This period was followed by years when we constantly tried to raise through the ranks.” He stoically adds: “ It was a hard, but a very interesting experience that allowed me to strengthen my personality.” He did every kind of work: he was a woodman, an electrician.

Cura is a restless soul. He enjoys being a tenor, especially when he plays Cavaradossi (he explains: “He is the character I feel most similar to.”) Then, he composes and conducts, showing the fruits of his studies. The range of interests explains why he started his career later in life. He studied piano and guitar, and enjoyed writing as well. “My guitar teacher advised me to study composition; so I decided to enroll in the conservatory in Rosario.” By chance, he discovered his voice was special; so, at the age of 21, he began his voice studies at the Colon Theater in Buenos Aires. Thanks to Horacio Amauri, Cura's first master instructor, he saved himself from receiving a mediocre education. Then, in Italy, he perfected his talents with the help of Vittorio Terranova.

Cura explains: “Now, conducting the orchestra represents 20% of my activities. This is enough to space out the vocal performances that would otherwise become routine if they were carried out exclusively.”

In 2007, Cura gained more practical experience through his involvement in the production of La commedia è finita, an opera, prose and dance performance. For this world premiere he was also responsible for the set design.

After the great success he achieved from this production, he kept dedicating himself to the setting by presenting A Masked Ball at the Cologne Opera. All of these performances were recorded for his label Cuibar Productions, a company created in 2002. The master explains: “I wanted to have a label so that I could directly manage my own things, the marketing and design. I was not satisfied at all with the work carried out by previous record companies, agents and producers. Everybody concentrated on the physical aspect; in the beginning, that was fine, but I did not want my ideas to be excluded. Therefore, I decided to create my own company. My idea caused a sensation. The agents and producers feared that my colleagues would follow my example, but this did not happen, so they all calmed down.” Cuibar organizes concerts and shows, with or without Cura’s participation. One wonders whether Cura thinks of renewing the operations of the meta-shows. “It is a dream. I would like to perform a huge surgery on the opera world. Everybody says that it needs to be renewed, but people don’t do much to make it appear younger. Opera is a masterpiece; however, like a beautiful picture, it loses its value if it is hung in a museum full of spider webs. One needs to start a revolution. One needs to read things again from a modern perspective, following the example of a prose theater that renewed itself indeed.”

Cura is a well-accomplished musician. And in light of his achievements, he breaks the mold in a field that is - rightly or wrongly - dictated by the following adage: “Musicians of yesteryear do not exist anymore.” He tells us “every singer with musician’s talents approaches the opera with a higher degree of awareness than in the past. The new generation of singers, or at least 90% of them, is composed of musicians who play the piano or another instrument and, therefore, they read music in a certain way.”

And finally, a minor yet recurring controversy. The conductor explains: “Classical music is suffocated by a hundreds of formalities, rites and prejudices. But we too often forget that Schubert wrote some of his masterpieces in front of a beer mug. And that Bach, who was very strict, had more than 20 children. Despite all this, we continue to treat these geniuses like museum pieces, destroying them.”