Amazing what a couple of tenors can get you

Jose Cura/Carlos Alvarez | Royal Albert Hall, London
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The Independent Culture

The programme cost £8 for nine pages of relevant text, badly proof-read (do you know a work called Samson and Delia? Sounds like culinary opera to me), and with the musical running-order garbled. OK! took a full-page ad to announce its support for the event, and it was an OK! kind of concert.

The programme cost £8 for nine pages of relevant text, badly proof-read (do you know a work called Samson and Delia? Sounds like culinary opera to me), and with the musical running-order garbled. OK! took a full-page ad to announce its support for the event, and it was an OK! kind of concert.

Well, the Argentinean tenor José Cura has an audience that extends beyond the confines of the opera house, and good luck to him. If the programme was a rip-off, you can't accuse "All-The-Way" José of ever giving less than his all. That is part of the problem; the relentless energy of his singing tends to overwhelm the music, especially in a concert of showstopping arias.

Not that the show was all Cura. The first voice we heard belonged to the Spanish baritone Carlos Alvarez, who showed a powerful, dark-hued voice and properly idiomatic phrasing. For a baritone in Italian opera, that's half the battle. But where tenors are impetuous, ejaculatory, baritones must be thinkers. Instead, Alvarez blasted away with a monochrome timbre that the sound enhancement only emphasised. Later, he took the role of Escamillo from Bizet's Carmen, where swagger is mandatory, but still he lacked the necessary finesse, while his French was all but unintelligible.

At least in duet with Cura there was genuine vocal empathy between the singers. Cura, though, was the main attraction. His first entrance was as theatrical as the context allowed: while the Philharmonia Orchestra played the introduction to "Vesti la giubba" from Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci, he emerged from the wings, head hung low, shoulders stooped. Reaching centre stage, he put his hand to his forehead as if resigning himself to the worst that life could throw at him. Theatrical, then, but a mite exaggerated: rather like the voice itself.

Cura is the real tenor article, with that Italianate ring that is so rare. He enjoys filling his chest for the big crescendos, which he manages with no apparent difficulty; and there were moments, in Don Jose's "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée" from Carmen, for example, when the timbre lightened, the head voice bringing a delicacy of colour. I can even take the sobs that he introduces here and there: they're a token of wholeheartedness.

Too often, though, he's inclined to pump up the volume so that the lyricism becomes a fading memory, effaced by sheer vocal force. He's a big personality with a big voice, and no one would want to stand in the way of that. If only he would temper the largesse with a degree of restraint: but maybe that's not what tenors are for.

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