Germany Dresdner Musikfestspiele 2018  – Argentine Songs: José Cura (tenor & conductor), Dresdner Kapellsolisten, Semperoper, Dresden, 13.5.2018. (MC)
Songs by Argentine composers: Herrera, Walsh, Boero, Buchardo, Ginastera, Guastavino, Cura
The Semperoper was virtually full to welcome José Cura who was singing, conducting and had arranged the songs so this certainly felt like a one-man show. During the concert Cura speaking in English throughout told several anecdotes and right from the start his big personality shone through. He introduced himself, the programme and orchestra, and then heavily criticised errant use of mobile phones. Soon after he started singing a mobile phone rang, an instance he used to reinforce what he had been saying. Surely, he didn’t stage this!
Cura explained he loves singing the Argentine songs of his homeland and how he was exasperated by the view of one particular critic – I think he said from England – who disparaged Cura remarking that the music was not for Cura’s own pleasure. No wonder my interview request to his management went unanswered. Often admirers come along to see Cura sing and are disappointed he has chosen to sing Argentine songs rather than the opera arias from Verdi, Puccini and the verismo he is famous for. Yet Cura explained that now twenty-years old Anhelo his 1998 album of Argentine songs was a best seller, outselling his earlier album of Puccini arias.
For the concert Cura chose some thirty songs from the pens of seven Argentine composers working in the twentieth-century. The lion’s share came from leading composer Carlos Guastavino who was represented by six songs in the first half of the concert and the whole of the second half. In the programme Cura also included three of his own compositions. After living in Europe for nearly thirty years this is music to which Cura feels inexorably connected, which serves as a tribute to the legacy of his Argentine heritage and he sings it noticeably with love, tenderness and passion that all feels so authentic.
Sat on a stool surrounded by the players of Dresdner Kapellsolisten, Cura himself was directing. Overall the songs were of a tender and nostalgic ballad style yet there were a number of welcome dramatic episodes serving to enliven the proceedings. My highlight was the tender Guastavino song ‘Se equivoco la palomo’ beautifully performed with a sure sense of longing together with notable contributions from guest guitarist Barbora Kubikova. Striking too was Maria Elena Walsh’s ‘Postal de guerra’ with its light, delicate string writing and stronger wind accompaniment. Here Cura was in striking voice with a song that required a range from very soft to his high register all negotiated with comparative ease. Cura who has such an easy way with an audience seems to relish the intimacy that is not present in his operatic roles. At one point during a song Cura had an episode of coughing so he stopped, had a drink of water and said that air conditioning here is very good but not for a singer. Quite lovely, if rather a plain song, I enjoyed Cura’s rendition of Guastavino’s ‘Cuando acaba de llover’ which he stated was so optimistic it should be sung every morning to help one face the day. Cura could hardly have asked for finer support than Dresdner Kapellsolisten, numbering around twenty players, giving remarkably stylish playing which felt completely satisfying.
As an artist of rare talent, the multi-talented José Cura didn’t disappoint, singing an attractive selection of Argentine songs, but I simply can’t forget his verismo roles especially his heartfelt portrayal of Canio in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci.