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Wednesday, 18 April, 2001, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Opera singer Jose Cura quizzed
Opera may have a hard time convincing people that it is open to everyone.

The Royal Opera House in London's Covent Garden is doing its best to bring in new audiences, with a policy of cheaper seats and matinee performances.

Argentinean singer Jose Cura - dubbed the "fourth tenor" - is also helping opera's image. He believes that the challenge of opera is keeping it alive and spontaneous.

Cura is not your average opera singer. He has a black belt in Kung-fu and is a body builder. He insists that he is a actor who sings, and not "a singer who pretends to act".

Does he believe that opera is open to all people of all ages? How does he keep his performances fresh and exciting? What inspires him? What would he like to achieve?

Jose Cura joined us for a forum on Tuesday and answered a selection of your questions. You can see him in Otello at the Royal Opera House from next week.

To listen to coverage of the forum, select the link below:

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Highlights of interview


Anushree Mazumdar, Kolkata, India:

Which is your favourite opera?

The only way to give an answer as to which is my favourite opera is that at this point, thank God, I am only singing the operas that I really love. So you can very easily say that my favourite opera is the opera that I am singing that evening.


Newshost:

So presumably next week's favourite opera is Othello?


Jose Cura:

Exactly.


Graham Bancroft, Ifrane, Morocco:

Although it is commendable (and expected) of you to sing roles from the nineteenth century Italian repertory in operas that every aspiring music lover needs absolutely to see (and hear!), do you have ambitions to learn parts from operas by 20th century composers such as Berg, Britten etc?


Jose Cura:

It is a valid question however, is not as easy as one would think.

For marketing reasons, there are certain operas that are always in demand and because of the kind of singer I am, I am always asked to do those operas. That does not mean that I am not curious about other operas, mainly because I am a musician and I am very interested in Berg and Britten and other great composers of our century.

But it here that we need the help of the audiences and not only the criterion of the artistic directors of the opera. The problem is that when we do those operas it is not easy to achieve a sell-out and therefore pay the bills. So it is good to want to achieve the modern repertoire but to do this we seriously need the help of the audience. There is no point in staging a modern opera if nobody is going to come to see it.


Newshost::

Apart from the audience, Graham was wondering if you think that there is anything that the singer can do to make a modern work, in particular, more accessible?


Jose Cura:

It is the same thing you do to make an old work accessible. That is to be committed and true to your emotions and not as a lot of people want me to be - but will never get it - so ascetic and dry in my interpretation that you never come close to the real character. You will have beautiful notes but without the meaning of what the character is going through. Just imagine for a moment that you go to a theatre to see an actor and you only have the declamation of the text without having the feelings of the actor. So the same goes for opera.


Newshost::

So it is about making a credible character on stage telling a story?


Jose Cura:

It is exactly that. For example, I don't see how you can be on stage at the end of Othello after having killed your lover and dying yourself without sobbing. Would you in a real-life situation go through that without sobbing - no - so why hide your real emotions. Of course this has to be done with a measure of good taste but emotions should go out to the audiences - that is the only way to keep opera going.


Lao Zi, London, UK:

Does Kung-fu help in your singing (and acting) or is it just an interest of yours?


Jose Cura:

Yes, I have a black-belt in Kung-fu and it is something that I am interested in but it is part of the past. However, what is good about this - apart from the colour of the belt - is the discipline of it. With marshal arts or yoga, ballet etc. whatever you have done, gives you the discipline and control over your own body in a way that when you are on stage you can almost make your body work the way you want it to - there a limitations of course - but you know that you can do certain movements and not just produce nice notes.

If you are a good cinema actor you have to be a complete package - poise, looks etc. but the same doesn't apply to opera - you can let yourself go and see your weight go up to 200 kilos and nobody will complain because you are an opera singer. This is not good - if you are fat because you are fat then there is nothing you can do about it - I am lucky, I am not fat - but to use your art as an alibi and not to take care of your body is another thing.


Newshost:

Those are strong words - I imagine you get into trouble sometimes for speaking in those terms.


Jose Cura:

Of course. But I repeat, I am not criticising the way someone looks on stage - what I am criticising is when someone uses their job as an alibi - which is a completely different thing.


Ellie, New York, USA:

Do you feel the Three Tenors have helped opera and do you agree with a lot of critics that they should retire and allow the new generation to be heard?


Jose Cura:

These three legends were great for a certain moment in opera. These three tenors - they are known as the Three Tenors because of this time in the 1990s with the football etc. - but they are not the only tenors. In their generation there are plenty of great tenors as there are plenty of great tenors in my generation. The fact that someone does not appear in the media - this does not mean that we have only three tenors - there are plenty of us.

These three masters of our art witnessed the great change in the music market - with CDs, digital recording etc. - so their contribution in terms of image of what opera now is in this new century, was crucial.

As regards the second part of the question about young opera singers, again we need the audiences to give us help with this. When these three tenors were young that had to face comparison with the previous generation and perhaps hearing that they were not as good as the previous generation. Being young, we too have to suffer these comparisons as they did when they were young and so it continues down the generations. What we would ask is for some objectivity in this and to give the young the time to grow and develop without giving undue criticism.


Josephine Ducros, Paris, France:

I recently had a pleasure to listen to Mr Cura performance of Otello in Paris and I was amazed by the emotional expression and intensity in his singing, which he always had, but never that strong, also not in his recordings. I would like to ask what is the source of this "emotional evolution"?


Jose Cura:

Thank you Josephine. That comment "heals the heart" because after my performance of Othello in Paris - where there were comments such as "It was so disappointing to see somebody who was not Othello to be hailed as Othello" - so thank you very much for those kind words.

As you start to get more experience, you learn how to pass on your emotions. It is like everything in life - when you are young you think you are being intense and strong just because you are shouting and then you learn that intensity is not about the amount of noise you produce but about the amount of energy you can move around. So maybe this is the secret of this "emotional evolution".


David, Cardiff, Wales:

Do audiences in different countries respond to opera in different ways?


Jose Cura:

I say this with due respect - an audience under normal circumstances gets from an artist the performance they deserve. It is not only what the artist can do on the night that is under judgement. The other side to the equation is the audience. If you are on stage and the audience is not giving love to you then you are not giving back love to the audience. So this is why I say in an evening an audience has the performance they deserve in a sense that if the artist feels the energy and the love and the engagement of the audience then he is ready to give his blood for that audience.


Robert del Valle, Royal Oak, Michigan, USA:

If you could get on stage with a cast of your own choosing - a dream cast, who would you choose?


Jose Cura:

That is a dangerous question! I don't think I will name names as this is not gracious. So I would say that whoever is in front of me - the thing I would ask of them is the same amount of commitment of energy and love that I am sending to him or her, to receive that back. If you can achieve that then it not important - the name or the amount of hype about the person who is in front of you - it is not about that. The key thing of all that we have talked about - and I would thank Josephine for her great question - is the emotional aspect - that is the key at least for me in terms of my way of seeing art.

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