And he's not a bad singer

Jose Cura's good looks are the latest weapon in the battle to create the next generation of male opera stars.

It all started with a woman, a cello and a chaise-longue: Ofra Harnoy and her instrument locked in an embrace so intimate, so satisfied, that only the post-coital cigarettes were missing. Classical music took longer than most industries to acknowledge the pulling power of pheromones, but in 1990 - more than 20 years after Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland - it shed the white tie and started to run, naked, through the wild woods of mass marketing. From Anne-Sophie Mutter's bare shoulders to the panda eyes of the Medieval Baebes, this was the era of the divas.

It all started with a woman, a cello and a chaise-longue: Ofra Harnoy and her instrument locked in an embrace so intimate, so satisfied, that only the post-coital cigarettes were missing. Classical music took longer than most industries to acknowledge the pulling power of pheromones, but in 1990 - more than 20 years after Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland - it shed the white tie and started to run, naked, through the wild woods of mass marketing. From Anne-Sophie Mutter's bare shoulders to the panda eyes of the Medieval Baebes, this was the era of the divas.

But what about the men? We had Kennedy's squiggle-like name-changes and his spiky hair. Simon Rattle had a kind of hippie chic with his Jackson Five coiffure. But the singers were lagging behind in the image race - wide of girth, stiff of stature and woefully straight of dress. It took a World Cup and a long top B to launch Mr Big into mass appeal, but Pavarotti took two of his mates with him. The Three Tenors were (briefly) the Spice Girls of opera, but even football couldn't really do it for the primo uomo and sales started to fall again. So what was left? Sex. It had worked for the girls, after all.

Italy gave us Andrea Bocelli, the soft-voiced, blind romantic, and pretty- boy Alagna; but he's very, very married (to soprano Angela Georghiu) and not terribly tall. Both Italians are said to stir up "maternal feelings"; but where do you find an opera singer with a six-pack? Argentina. Jose Cura, tall, dark and handsome, a youthful 36 years, a body-builder, a Latin smoothie to challenge even Antonio Banderas, all the usual interests (likes football), GSOH (gives bitchy soundbites about his competitors), tenor, conductor and composer. Cura, strong of voice, talent and looks, is Warner Brothers's miracle drug for the ailing industry and, according to some, he knows it.

Soon, there will be no getting away from Cura. Next month he is the subject of a South Bank Show, and Verismo, his third solo album, a collection of 19th-century Italian tenor standards, is set to be heavily marketed.Cura's press pack comes complete with a glossy photo, head inclined downwards like the generic haircut pictures in a thousand provincial barbershops, designer stubble, a wolfish grin, and more styling gel than Ross Geller circa 1995.

But is he sexy? This may seem irrelevant. Surely the question is "Can he sing?" and yes, he can, but a few calls to people in various areas of the classical music industry confirmed that I, my female friends, my gay male friends and probably my mum too may be the target audience for tenors.

Traditionally the marketing wisdom has been that women buy books and men buy CDs. The trouble with classical music is the repetition of core repertoire, which is usually already covered in its audience's record collection. How do you persuade even the most die-hard opera lover to buy yet another recital disc?

Neil Evans, editor of Classic CD, finds the push for a new three tenors, or even a fourth one, every interesting. "I think they're trying to look at a new market," he says. "Whether it's there or not is debatable but from the interviews I've seen and from how they're pushing him, they are big on the macho, moody figure. Bocelli, Alagna and Cura are certainly being marketed in terms of mass appeal, in a sexual, romantic way. There's always been the Mario Lanza type, the popular light tenor - but Cura is more Clint Eastwood.

"The thing with Cura is he's quite able to acquit himself with serious opera aficionados as well. I'm a fan, I'm afraid. I don't feel with him that the marketing is outstripping his abilities, which you do get with a lot of musicians. At the end of the day, whether it's classical music or any other market, the product has to be good. With Jose Cura you've got a genuine talent who combines compelling acting skills, a wonderful voice and just happens to be highly marketable."

The record companies admit that good looks help. "Who would you rather have sing to you?" asked Talia Hull of Warner Brothers, quite reasonably. But Warner Brothers and EMI (the company of both Alagna and the pale- and-interesting Ian Bostridge) deny a conscious move to hype up the sexiness of their tenors - to women or men.

Bostridge, the most heavily promoted of the young English tenors, is a curious alternative tothe more obvious va-va-voom of the Latin lover. His career is built principally on Lieder recitalsand relatively little operatic exposure, so Bostridge's profile has had to be set in a differentniche. EMI's response has been to have Bostridge loitering diffidently in black turtle-necks, likean academic Hugh Grant. The company's uncharacteristically cautious comment on this departure from glitz and glamour was that Bostridge has "quite a few female fans".

EMI was recently featured in Private Eye over the homoerotic photographs of scantily clad "pretty young things" from its press department that it used to illustrate Szymanowski's King Roger. But Theo Lap, EMI's head of marketing, says he is uninterested in chasing the pink pound. "I don't think it's necessary. The gay audience and the gay population will already have a natural interest in classical music. They always have done, so they're even easier to reach than other groups. It would be money wasted."

So that's that then? Not according to one record industry executive, who wished to remain nameless but who reminded me of the high-camp photo- story that Vanity Fair ran way back in February 1995 to coincide with Farinelli, the ultimate castration-anxiety movie. Six male altos (Chance, Asawa, Gall, Ragin, Minter and Daniels) were presented in full 18th- century maquillage, draped across crushed velvet, luxuriantly lit and photographed by Pascal Chevallier, with the (we hope) tongue-in-cheek title "The High Boys of Opera".

"It's definitely there in the counter-tenor market," my source told me. "The packaging of Andreas Scholl's Heroes CD is disgraceful! You don't need this. Decca is up to something, and I think it will rebound." Aside from the allegedly camp portraiture of the (happily married and stolidly butch) Scholl, the executive believes that ladies of a certain age are the main target - 36-plus and Italian-American.

"The men are the thing at the moment," he went on. "In the 1960s it was the sopranos. These days, basses are out of it, so it's baritones, which means Dmitri Hvortovorsky who, if you look at his Phillips covers, is marketed as the yummy side of Russia, Bryn Terfel - your original Green Man - and tenors. Tenors have always been sold on their charm, particularly their Latinate charm. I don't think anyone tried to sell Pavarotti or Domingo as sex objects; but women melt when they meet them, they really do. Alagna is interesting because EMI have tried to market him-plus-Georghiu as love's young dream. I think there has definitely been a conscious attempt at that." So Roberto and Angela are the Tom and Nicole of opera. What about Cura - does he have what it takes? "Oh absolutely: (a) he's a very good tenor and (b) he's a really good musician. Of the younger tenors he is by far the most complete."

Things bode well for Cura. He has been steadily working for more than 15 years, and his live performances have consistently been acclaimed. In addition to the high Cs he is a competent conductor and a rather good orchestrator and composer. "It's not Hollywood! I wasn't discovered overnight in a pizza restaurant!" he snapped once with a none-too-subtle dig at Alagna's starry-eyed story. Verismo - operatic for "sh-- happens" - will probably be that rare beast: a popular success that has critical backing too.

Though Rodney Milnes of Opera magazine says he finds Cura's vanity astonishing - referring to his alleged habit of presenting only his left profile to the camera - he admits he's "a bloody good singer". Milnes is unconvinced that the phenomenon of the Three Tenors can or should ever be repeated. "I don't think it's all that operatic, honestly. The failure of Turandot at Wembley proved that. They are two different markets. They're selling records but they're not necessarily doing the art of opera any good. Cura is the strongest candidate for the fourth tenor if there has to be one, because he's a very good singer. If he does have sex appeal, then you can't blame the record companies for selling him that way. He knows it." "There is a definite push with operatic stuff to appeal to people who want to buy in a bit of culture, the nouveau riche, the women who want to buy a little bit of culture for their house," added the executive.

I researched the effectiveness of this approach with my girlfriends - all opera-goers, all CD-buyers, all - I liked to think - sophisticated women, unlikely to be taken in by a pretty face.

The quiz was straightforward: given a list of operatic "hunks" (all mentioned above), do you find them sexy? Yes/no. Of course, they broke the rules and several mentioned Simon Keenlyside, the unhyped British baritone.

The scores went like this. Domingo: 2. Scholl: 2 (plus one "Yes, if he'd take off those stupid glasses). Daniels:1. Hvorostovsky: one "Oh god, yeah!" Cura: one "ish". Alagna, Pavarotti, Bocelli and other candidates: nil.

Whatever the vocal merits, in tests nine out of 10 CD-buying women still prefer Denzel Washington. Good luck, boys!

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories
comedy

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?