Many people think that church music is something old, boring, left from the period of powdered wigs, not being able to tell anything new to today’s society. For years, as a member of permanent or temporary church formations, I’ve been trying to persuade people to give this genre a second chance – and now I accidentally got support for that. A polymath of music will visit my homeland Hungary soon, bringing three totally modern oratorical works that speak for today’s people. He conducts two of them and plays the role of Christ in the third one. Indeed, José Cura seems to be capable of basically everything.
An extraordinary talent
José Cura was born in 1962 in Argentina. He played guitar with 12 years, was a choir director with 15, and started piano and conducting with 16. He sang in several professional choirs, but up to his late twenties, he realized he wants to make his career as a solo singer. With his master Vittorio Terranova’s help, the young tenor debuted in the opera Polliccino. Later on, he played the title role in Otello, Ismael in Nabucco, Samson in Samson and Delilah, or Don José In Carmen.
He also didn’t give up conducting, though. He goes down in history as the first artist who sings and conducts simultaneously in one concert or recording, as he did with the works Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci at the Hamburg State Opera in 2003. He also likes the ‘half and half’ concert format where he combines symphonic works with singing.
How did he write a passion?
Now let’s see his works as a composer! What inspires someone in the end of the 20th century to write oratorical works? From the three pieces, it’s Ecce homo that has a rather predictable background story. As choir singer and conductor, José Cura worked with the St Matthew Passion and got literally shocked by it all the time. This is how he decided to write a modern passion that has the same effect on the audience, or an even more cathartic one. It’s in our language in the end, and our nerves, hardened through screens, are completely tense by the theatrical nature of the work.
A woman’s monologues
In Magnificat, Cura lets a teenage girl speak who just realized she’s pregnant. When he was twenty-five, two events collided accidentally: his wife expected their third child and Pope John Paul II announced the Year of Mary. Cura tried to imagine how Mary had felt in the desert, listening to the baby’s still unnoticable movements, not knowing if she should get a panic attack or start to praise the Lord for this wonder? The result might be a mixture of both.
Off to Prague!
Modus is the only piece from these three that isn’t based on a Biblical story but of Medieval environment. José Cura collected his impressions and shreds of athmosphere in the historical downtown of Prague, and so he got the inspiration for this piece of art. If we consider that medieval society was organized around church rituals and how beautiful churches are there in Prague, Modus simply can’t disappoint us. Anyway, its premiere was also in Prague.
(Post scriptum: I hope that for his next visit, José Cura will bring the Pablo Neruda poems set to music. Yes, he has them, too…)