Cura, José - Stage Director

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La commedia è finita
(Rijeka, June 2007)
A well articulated and intense show capable of drawing the audience in and making them think, so
much so that at the end, the engagement drew long applause from the packed house. Cura’s
directing is all about enhancing, all about bringing out the feelings, the powerful and primitive
passions, the dynamism and the theatrical vitality, and it is geared toward taking advantage of the
total (theatre) space (the side boxes, the stalls). There is no doubt that it kept the audience spellbound.
A richly stimulating theatrical event took place Wednesday evening at the TNC Ivan de
Zajc. The spectacular is based on the music of Respighi/Rossini and Leoncavallo with the
participation of the ballet, chorus and orchestra of the theater, of guest vocalists and with Cura
himself in the triple role of director/set designer, singer and playwright. It evidently testifies to the
many-sided, multi-talented personality of the artist whose generous, exuberant and imaginative
nature is reflected here in that he has created and developed a show which is complex, replete
with facets and has an intense and direct impact on the audience.
Samson et Dalila
(Karlsruhe, 2010)
José Cura, one of the world's leading tenors and a sensational multi-talent, the Argentine
top singer, who is also active as conductor, designed the set for his acclaimed production
of Saint-Saens' "Samson et Dalila", as well as directing it. That he would take on the role
of Samson was all but obvious.
Cura knows his job, he masters the director's craft. The singer-director offered up a
plausible version, which thankfully omitted superficial updating. There were scenes of
violence, brutality and warlike barbarity, of seduction and hypocritical eroticism, in which
lust for power, hunger for revenge and unbridled blind passion characterized the actions of
the main players. The dynamism of Cura's production was captivating in many respects.
For all its economy, the set design, a desert landscape with three stage-high watchtowers,
"an abandoned oil camp" (Cura), also had an optical appeal of its own. The most
hauntingly powerful moment staged was the excitingly intense and sensitively acted
seduction and fake love scene, where Samson found himself continually entangled,
caught in a white stage-high veil or net ‒ code for Dalila's web of seduction.
Der Operfreund
"It has been one of the rare opera evenings that are etched on one's memory and
you won't forget for your whole life. The first night of Saint-Saens' opera "Samson and
Dalila" at the Badische Staatstheater ended with standing ovations and got to be a real
triumph for all participants. It is no exaggeration to speak of a great moment of opera, one
that will go down in the annals of the Karlsruher Staatsoper. […]"
José Cura, the "Gesamtkunstwerker" (i.e. an artist who creates and crafts an integrated,
total work of art).
On to Karlsruhe. There, José Cura premiered as "Samson" yesterday, with José Cura in
the title role but also as director, set and costume designer. The "Frankfurter
Rundschau" (newspaper) attended a rehearsal: Tenors who direct are not quite the rarity
one might assume them to be, and singers with conducting talent, too, can be found
occasionally (Domingo, Schreier, Fischer-Diskau). Quite unique, however, is Cura's
ambition to personally design set and costumes to boot. If it wasn't possible to compose
the opera oneself; well, at least as performance it gets spun off of the fantasy and
capability of one individual - a romantic notion of Wagnerian dimension; possibly even a
subject arising from the ostentatiously all-pervading power of the pop-culture entertainer.
The Gesamtkunstwerker José Cura stands right about midway between these two
phenomena. A romantic artist, in tune with the "Zeitgeist", the spirit of the times, with
precision accuracy.
It was José Cura's evening, outstanding in every respect: one doesn't necessarily have to
shift this subject matter from the Old Testament into the present time (three shut-down
derricks) - that one can nonetheless succeed in a very coherent manner with an
interpretation that is inherently logical and absolutely sensitive, was clearly shown by this
Badisches Tagblatt
José Cura produces a modern version of Saint-Saëns’ opera Samson et Dalila in
Karlsruhe and shines in the title role.
The Badisches Staatstheater gave the singer the opportunity to develop Samson et Dalila
based on his ideas: Cura created the stage design, the costumes, directed, and sang the
role of Samson. He uses symbolic images to illustrate his concepts. Between the old oil
derricks representing human greed he placed the choir and extras in a tableau with a dark
orange backdrop that shows the misery of the oppressed. Children at play bring the scene
to life, with the children of the victors playing with the children of the defeated until parents
chase the others away.
All-round star José Cura did himself triple credit in one swat and secured a publicity-hype
rarely seen in this form for the ambitious Karlsruhe Opera House. In previous years
already, one had been able to experience the outstanding tenor there in several key roles
of his repertoire, most recently in his signature role of Otello. He has been following his
calling as conductor even at the major houses on a number of occasions and has been
thoroughly successful. In Karlsruhe José Cura was given the special honor of directing, set
designing, and singing the lead role. The experiment was successful with only the smallest
of missteps, bringing a much celebrated triumph to the theater and the singing-director.
The exceptional project lent wings to the ensemble and created an artistic result
that would do credit to any international operatic stage.
Der Neue Merker
Breath-taking: "Samson and Delilah" in Karlsruhe
It is not exactly often that this work by French composer Camille Saint-Saens (1835 -
1921) can be found on the opera stages of German-speaking countries. Two years ago,
the Argentine tenor José Cura staged the composer's opera "Samson and Dalila" for the
Badische Staatstheater Karlsruhe. It is a production which received a great deal of
attention from beyond the region and which Cuibar, his marketing company, is now
presenting as a DVD by way of the Arthaus Music Label. Cura himself also takes the
responsibility for the film. It is certainly out of the ordinary. The camera is always close to
the action on stage. And it shows neither Jochem Hochstembach, the conductor, nor the
orchestra -- not even the audience. And the applause was not recorded either. Instead, a
music film was created -- no less breathtaking than the mis-en-scène itself.
Cura is also responsible for the costumes. He shifts the action to the here and now, and
the High Priest even presents himself on stage in a tie. Cura intends to show that history
repeats time and again. He succeeds brilliantly all the way to the downfall of the prison
camp where a ray of hope remains: Samson sends the young people away. Two extremely
worthwhile hours of viewing.
As If Made For Film
Cura's concept for the stage seems perfect for a conversion into film; the suggestive
scenery makes a strong impression also on the TV screen. And the interminable cycle of
the oppression of one people by another in the name of God, which in turn results in
equally brutal methods of the freedom fighters, comes across as even more poignant due
to the detailed views and close-ups. Lucidly staged, the hope for a peaceful future, which
the director sees in the attitudes and actions of the children, comes to light beautifully. That
one of the visually most impressive productions of the Badische Staatstheater has been
captured on DVD, is certainly to be welcomed; after all, it provides evidence beyond the
House of its high level of performance.
La rondine
(Nancy, 2012)
Opera News
A new production conducted, designed and produced by tenor José Cura. This was a
Youth Production sponsored by Nancy Opéra Passion, featuring a double cast of young
singers. Cura is a well-known pedagogic figure here, where he has conducted master
classes, and although it was an undoubted risk to allow him a free hand in all aspects of
the production, the exercise produced a highly enjoyable performance of Puccini's
underrated score. Cura was eager to reveal the seriousness of purpose behind Puccini's
work, not as a Viennese-style operetta — as it was initially commissioned — but as a work
dissecting the female psyche that could stand beside the works of Richard, rather than
Johann, Strauss. This complex psychological tussle was directed with skill by Cura, who
chose to set the action in designs and costumes of a post-World War II period. Puccini's
much-revised ending was cleverly staged.
In charge of all aspects of the performance, José Cura was also in charge of the staging,
the sets, and the costumes. His work was most respectable and even appealing, moving
the action from the Second Empire to the Fifties and extending the metaphor of the bird
cage, where the swallow (la Rondine) will return to self-imposed confinement. The
direction of the actors led to a perfect naturalness; the costumes were elegant; and the
sets, colorful and well lit, constantly appealed to the eye. But what was most seductive
about this Rondine was the conducting of the very same José Cura. He lovingly supported
his singers by making sure never to drown them out. He supported them without ever
lacking refinement, without a single uncalled-for affectation, without a single wronglyplaced
emphasis. This was a veritable jewel of balance and subtlety.
The series of performances of La Rondine at the National Opera of Lorrain is the
culmination of a project that started five years ago with master classes led by José Cura.
From among those singers was then formed a troupe that would perform in Puccini
operatic comedy, direct and conducted by the famous Argentine tenor. […] The ending,
with the heroine returning to her golden prison as the swallow returns to nest ‒ remember
the French translation of the title ‒ reveals an effective intelligence in staging the scene,
testifying to a skillful know-how in distilling dramatic tension.
In caring for the vocal platform, José Cura’s conducting breathed with the confidence that
seemed connected to the musician of the Orchestre Symphonique de Nancy and
confirmed the relevance of the project that he carried, bringing credit to the institution in
Cavalleria rusticana / Pagliacci
(Liege, 2012)
Cavalleria/Pagliacci: intelligent and creative
José Cura: traditional, but creative and without stereotyping in his mise-en-scène
José Cura has staged Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci at the Opéra Royal de Wallonie,
and as a distinguished singer of verismo tenor arias, has also taken on the two tenor leads
himself. Within the framework of this production's handsomely illustrated scene (he also
designed the stage set), he has carried out a number of ideas that are really original. First
of all, Cura locates the two stories in the same place, on Caminito in Buenos Aires. The
time of the action is the beginning of the 20th century, a decade of quite heavy Italian
immigration to Argentina. Thus, the production already has an appropriate logical
These days, it is no longer quite so easy to achieve the same effect as fifty or even a
hundred years ago with these perhaps most typical examples among the Verismo
operas that have survived in the repertoire. But José Cura has definitely done it with
his adaptation. It is not only the logical, convincing staging concept of interlocking
the two operas plus naturally also the nice décor and costumes (Ferdinand Ruiz
signed for the pleasing, vividly expressive costumes) that contribute, but also the
perfect (hands-on stage) craftsmanship. From the seemingly casual movement of
the choruses to the detailed directing of individuals and the many staging ideas, the
craftsmanship, too, impresses as being inspired and sensitive. Cura proves that
with clarity, inspiration and delight in detail it is definitely still possible to stage a
work in a traditional manner and be of interest to the audience.
The raw meat of passion
José Cura, who is evolving from “just” a star tenor into a “stage-all-rounder”, is making his
third guest appearance just now at the Opéra Royal de Wallonie. This time, he sings, acts,
directs and does the stage design for Cav and Pag' the veritable twins of Italian operatic
verismo: Pietro Mascagni's "Cavalleria rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci".
Everything is direct, unmitigated expression. The wild, the excessive, the being-in-turmoil
remains Cura's constant companion, even in restraint; thus a scathing glance, a tender
gesture, an abrupt turning away suffices for the almost 50-year-old to conjure up with small
gestures the great drama about love, jealousy, infidelity and murder.
LESOIR: Editorial Opinion
José Cura has managed to merge the evening's two works successfully in beautiful
temporal and spatial continuity. The set is a replica of the scenic Caminito alleyway in the
heart of the Italian Quarter of la Boca in Buenos Aires. And all the characters in the course
of the two operas live there. The realism is immediate, powerful and poignant, tastily
colorful but without an excess of local color. Each character emerges from the crowd there
in the Quarter or turns up uninvited like the comedians of Canio's troupe. And it works from
start to finish, with a bandoneon player taking care to ensure nostalgic continuity by
playing during the intermission whereas the two composers monitor what's going on onstage,
Mascagni incognito and Leoncavallo by appropriating the famous recitative of the
prolog to "Pagliacci".
Jealousy in Argentina
José Cura enchants the audience with a production that leaves nothing to be desired.
The enthusiasm about Cura’s singing and his production got the audience to their feet. It is
not unusual to have a connection between the two opera that only with the passage of
years grew together to a sort of diptych. In particular Cura does not only set the two parts
at the same stage setting and, consequently, the company of actors plays at the same
square, but also integrates most of the protagonist in both parts. Nedda’s lover Silvio
works as a waiter in Mama Lucia’s taverna and he´s like a second son to her so that at the
end Mama Lucia did not only lose her real son Turiddu but has also mourns the death of
Silvio. For that very reason Cura puts the last words of Canio "La commedia è finita" in her
mouth. Also Alfio and Lola appear as picture roles in the second part of the evening and
show the audience the pitiable fate of Lola after Turiddu´s death.
With a view to the stage design Cura was inspired by his Argentinean homeland and he
relocates the story in Caminito, a pedestrian zone in La Boca district in Buenos Aires. The
colorful street, that is also named Italian district, catches an atmosphere with his popularity
that, on the one hand, relocates the event of both operas to this days and, on the other,
leaves the operas to their originality and they breathe a breath of tradition.
Grand opera in Liege: Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci
The two one act operas are often shown on one evening. In the production in Liege tenor
and director José Cura even combines them to a thematic unit. And it was successful.
José Cura is in Liege for the verismo double performance. Cura is responsible for direction
and stage design and he sings both title roles. He settles the story in consistent stage
design for both one act operas. Namely at the Italian quarter of his homeland Buenos
Aires in the 1920s when his own ancestors arrived there. One by one he had the streets of
the quarter recreated and this image, by no means kitschy, is of appearing beauty. And this
was the aim of Cura.
And so he tells the story in a realistic way, there´s no need of philosophical superstructure
to maintain tension. At the suggestion of José Cura there´s also a Bandoneon, the
Argentinean national instrument, included in the musical event during the famous
Intermezzo of Cavalleria and as a transition between the two operas. And, as already said,
the story continues despite the break. Small example: Santuzza, who´s at the beginning of
her pregnancy in Cavalleria, is six month later at Pagliacci, heavily pregnant.