(Copyright, Lebanese Imprints on the Twentieth Century, Volume I, Asma Freiha and Viviane Ghanem, 2006)
The Lebanese public discovered the tenor, composer and conductor José Cura, rightly considered one of his generation's greatest artists, at the Baalbeck Festival in the summer of 2000.
José Cura's ancestor, Chalita el-Khoury, was born in 1874 in Knet and his great-grandmother, Theresa bou-Saada, was born in 1881 in the village of Zghorta. In 1900, both left their home in Northern Lebanon to immigrate to Argentina.
By the time José was born on the 5th of December 1962 in Rosario (Santa Fe), his family had adopted the name Cura as it was deemed easier to pronounce in Spanish than the name Khoury.
He began guitar lessons at the age of twelve and at sixteen began studying composition with Carlos Castro and the piano with Zulma Cabrera.
In 1982 he was admitted to the Arts School of the National University of Rosario to further his musical studies. By the following year, he had become assistant conductor of the university choir. While focusing on composition and orchestration, he continued to sing in the university choir until 1988 when he began serious voice training with Horacio Amauri. Determined to pursue a career in opera, José Cura settled in Italy in 1991 where he continued his voice training with Vittorio Terranova. His first public performance was in Verona in 1992 in Pollicino.
In March 1993 he was offered his first leading role as Jan in Bibalo's Signorina Giuglia in Trieste and he has since been in constant demand for leading operatic roles ever since.
He won the International Operalia competition in September 1994 and toured America where he met with great success, especially in Chicago singing the role of Loris Ipanov in Fedora.
Success has since followed him from America to Buenos Aires, from Palmero to Trieste, from Paris' Opera Bastille to London's Royal Opera House where he received special acclaim for his role of Samson in Samson and Dalila.
In 1996, he participated in the recording of the BBC's Great Composers' with Julia Mijenez Johnson and Leontina Vaduva. In just a few years he had become a huge star, earning a particular accolade in May 1997 from La Nazione: after his performance with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado the newspaper's headline ran "José Cura, a new Othello is born."
After his visit to Lebanon and to the Baalbeck Festival, he said he felt close to Mediterranean aromas and senses: the olive oil, the sea, the sun, and the welcome...
Some of the Artist Quotes:
"I moved from Argentina to Europe in 1991. I worked for two or three years in restaurants—my wife worked with me, washing dishes—and we did many things that a lot of people wouldn’t even think about doing. We had a very hard life. We lived in a garage for one year because we couldn’t pay the rent, and we heated the garage with a small fire, with me gathering wood in the middle of the night!"
Classical Singer, January 06
"From 1999 to the beginning of 2004, I [was] under the harshest of … attacks from many different sources: people calling theaters to convince artistic directors not to engage me, and journalists being paid to write that I was history, that I was a falling star. But we persisted... After four years of struggle, we [Cura and his production company Cuibar] are now successful and very happy with our work."
Classical Singer, January 06
"Yesterday I said to a journalist that we need much more good than bad news in the media. If you have experienced the positive energy at this opening ceremony and saw how focused the athletes are on their sporting aim, then you know the big difference to those people who have only senseless destruction in their minds. [Write about it and} perhaps we will have a lot more positive news in the papers in the coming ten days."
Duisburg World Games, July 05
“The music world is fond of labeling people who tries to sep you nice and “safe” in the box they have chosen for you. However, it is you who, at the end of your life, will have to explain to that being who gave you your talents why were you so coward as to not use them all…”
The Times, 20 March 04
“It's bad for a singer to think only about singing. It kills the voice and deprives it of all charisma and in addition narrows one's sense of perception in general. One has to work against that.”
Kurier, 13 Feb 2004
“In this world, courage is viewed as a sign of arrogance.”
Chicago Sun-Times, 4 Jan 2004
“I’d like to say that this latest CD of mine is dedicated to my country, that our flag is on the cover, and that the CD is called “Aurora”. I love Argentina and I want my fellow countrymen to know that to the entire world and with a lot of pride, José Cura in an Argentinean tenor.”
La Nacion, March 2003
"Tradition should be respected, but intelligently. Leaving aside the questions of taste or historical legacy, I don't see why every interpretation should always follow the same lines, without deviation. Don't you think it's a shame to lock the dramatic possibilities offered by certain characters within the same cage, however gilded?"
Verdi Arias, 2000
“There are two ways to arrive at the top of a hill. You can be put there by a helicopter, and whoosh! The first wind that comes along whips you down. Or you can arrive at the top by yourself, making muscles as you go along so that when you get there you are strong. That doesn't mean you are invulnerable, but at least you are stronger.”
Irish Times, May 2, 1996
“I approach a role through the drama. I study the libretto, analyzing the character, and then I look at the music, trying to discover why the composer has used, for instance, a particular chord under a particular word.”
BBC Magazine, June 1998
“...If there is one musical experience I will always recall as the most extreme emotional of my life - as it was the first time I was really awakened passionately to classical music - it was when I performed Bach's St Matthew Passion in 1984. I can remember even today, 20 years ago, how much I wept.”
On his first significant classical musical experience - The Lady, March/April 2001
“I used to feel I wanted to be the angel of revenge and to cut off the heads of all the people who were so cruel to me, and the people who kept talking about me unkindly. Then one day I thought the contrary and said to myself: maybe I should thank them for what they did and said, because that all pushed me to go forward and eventually reach where I am now.”
Discussing the hardships in his early career - The Lady, March-April 2001
“A true art based on beauty and harmony elevates our souls and gives us hope for the future.”
“An artist is somehow like a doctor who cures people's souls."
Pravada, Moscow, 25 Oct 2002
“I try to do in my conducting what I try to do in my singing: to be as modern as I possibly can. I like pushing things as far as they can go in one direction then stepping back to find a balance. How do you know what your limits are otherwise?”
Opera Now, Sept/Oct 2002
"I make a rough plan for the staging (of a recital), but the details depend on the reaction of the audience, which is my partner. When you tell the one you love “I love you”, you don't always think about what you will do next, do you?"
Daily Yomiuri - Japan; Jan 31, 2002
"I don't understand why to be an opera singer you have to be ugly and why to be a sex symbol you have to be an idiot… Do you?"
Independent, 15 Oct 1999, Fiona Sturges
"When I'm recording, I forget about where I am, I try to be the character. If I have to cry, I cry, if I have to sob, I sob, and if I have to crack, I crack. The listener must take it or leave it."
Gramophone, Nov 1997, Nick Kimberley
"Nobody expects a reviewer to say that your performance was all lovely and wonderful every time, but also we have a right not to expect that writers use artists to take out their own frustrations. Critics have a responsibility because as such they should know what they are talking about and so be able to interpret what they see in the performance and tell other people about it in an engaging way. This is an intelligent critic. But there are many who are not, and it is the unintelligent writing that kills the audiences, that puts a prejudice in their head before they come, or stops them coming altogether."
Audiostreet, April 2001, Catherine Pate
"No good careers are really sudden. It's two or three years since the world has known about Jose Cura, but there were another 20 (years) before that. I wasn't invented by the media or my record company. I'm the result of hard work and that makes me feel comfortable."
October 1999, Opera, John Allison
"A career is like an iceberg, most of it under water."
Opera Magazine, October 1999, John Allison
"When I am criticised as a result of my professional performance, that is OK. But when the review is about the way I dress, the way I walk, the way I move my hands, that is completely wrong."
Electronic Telegraph April 2001, Paul Gent
"I hate the word tenor. I don't hate ‘being’ a tenor, but what I don't like is that 'tenor' puts an ‘original sin’ on you, from which you cannot be forgiven..."
Classic CD, December 1999, Jeremy Pound
"Some mornings I wake up and wonder if I am doing the right thing for the artist and myself, as opposed to the career."
Time Magazine, March 2, 2001, James Inverne
"One of the challenges of trying to keep opera alive is to make it thrilling: you're taking dangers, you're taking risks, you're making efforts to be different. Nothing is more frustrating for an audience than having a singer standing open-legged in the middle of the stage, trying to make sure that every note is in exactly the same place. It's boring and pathetic."
Classicalnet, 1998, Jeremy Pound
"I think that God was always surveying and controlling my life and saying: ‘You're going to be a singer even if you don't want to be a singer. It will take time to convince you, but you're going to be a singer’. Well..."
Opera News, Oct 99, Rebecca Paller
"If you have the luck in our job to be physically nice enough and you don't take care of yourself, you are stupid...What I am saying is that I might have been blessed with a certain look, but I am also a former bodybuilder, a black belt in Kung Fu, I taught gym, and I keep on training, making sacrifices. Looking after the way I look is part of the job for me."
Opera Now, September 1997