Carlos Álvarez performed in Prometheus at the Roman Theatre in Malaga on the 6th of October.
IVA “All professional music has suffered a blow from an unfair law that imposes a 13 per cent increase all at once in a mistaken attempt to make money by attacking those who are the weakest”.
Cutbacks “We cannot pretend that there is a way of educating the population that does not lead to accepting that culture is part of the human development of society. We cannot make cutbacks in education, put a tax on culture, and then not expect there to be consequences”.
Auditorium “The fact that our Philharmonic Orchestra in Malaga is the only one in Spain that doesn’t have an auditorium in which to work in decent conditions is something that makes you think. It makes me sad that there has been no progress in a project that has been in existence for 20 years, no matter which government has been in power.”
The man has vindicated the divo. This a man who has conquered the audiences of La Scala in Milan, the Opera House in Vienna, the Metropolitan in New York and Covent Garden in London. A man who has given the best of himself under the batons of Solti, Ozawa, Muti, Maazel, and Benini. The man and the divo. Two years ago he finally left the dry dock to which an illness which affected his vocal cords (leucoplasia)had banished him. The restlessness and curiosity of Carlos Álvarez, who was born in Malaga in 1966, didn’t give way during the 15 years he spent on the sidelines. New words, such as patience and relativity, entered his vocabulary. The three operations, the relapses and the fear of never singing again are in the past. Now his diary is full of projects once again, both musical and charitable, and last week he is starred in ‘Prometheus’, the first production to be held at the Roman Theatre in 25 years. The man, and the divo, smile with an enviable calm. “This is a sweet moment”, they say.
–‘Prometheus’ is being produced by a new local cooperative, Iniciativas Escénicas y Musicales, for the rebirth of the Roman Theatre as a stage setting. It seems that culture in Malaga is gaining in importance at the hands of society.
–Taking on the risk of joining a cooperative initiative means being aware that working as part of a team can give better results than doing so as an individual. The main aim was to join forces to promote the work of our cooperatives, but also to present ourselves to the cultural enthusiasts of Malaga as a platform that can make suggestions, can find solutions - for example by using the Roman theatre - and one that has something to offer in the management and administration of cultural venues in the city and the province. We have several projects of this type.
–But ‘Prometheus’ is the cooperative’s star project.
–It is the most important to us. It also signifies the first revalidation of the project. Juan Hurtado is responsible for the stage direction of the script by Francisco Fortuny. Antonio Meliveo is music director, and Carlos de Mesa and Ana García are the producers. Other people collaborate too, and I believe that this week will be the start of an experience that I hope will go a long way.
–Last Monday you read the manifesto at the protest concert given by the Philharmonic in Malaga against the increase in IVA and the cutbacks. And on Sunday you took part in the tribute concert for Francisco Herrera, the director of the Opera Choir, who died recently. The words solidarity and commitment seem to figure strongly in your diary.
–They are fundamental words in my vocabulary. And I believe that they shouldn’t only be spoken, they should be acted upon. It is an exercise in coherence, of honesty. I believe that if you want to be coherent you cannot just say nice words, they have to be backed up by action. Doing that in my own city also allows me to give back something I have received from it.
–You weren’t sure whether to go into medicine or music. You already seemed to be keen to help others.
–Yes, maybe due to a personal restlessness. Becoming a doctor would have enabled me to help people directly. When I became a professional singer I wasn’t sure what beneficial effect that could have, other than the mere sense of wellbeing that is created by music. But having a voice to speak for others makes me feel better.
–Buddhists say that what you do comes back to you. Did you receive solidarity when things were difficult for you?
–I have always felt greatly supported, not only by the people closest to me but also by the institutions and the theatres. The constant compliments and people thinking about me helped me do my part towards recovering and being able to work again. But I also knew that if I couldn’t, there were still many other possibilities open to me.
–The uncertainty, three operations, the relapses and a difficult recovery. They say pain is a teacher. What did it teach you?
–First of all patience, which is something that has to be learnt because it doesn’t feature in our normal lives. We have entered into a dynamic where immediacy practically dominates everything. Having an objective, let’s say in the medium or long term, means you are constantly re-eavaulating yourself: where am I, where am I going, how can I do this?
And seeing that things are relative. This is fundamental, because things are important but there are other things, other situations or feelings, that are even more important and once you realise that, your way of looking at life simplifies enormously.
–Were you afraid?
–Of course! But you’re afraid because of the responsibility; not of what may happen to you, but to those who depend on you. If I have learned anything, it is that we have to be very aware that now is the time to act, to take decisions. Looking ahead is fine, but sometimes we take too long in making a decision. And what you have to do is, for example, if you want to give someone a kiss, do it at the right moment.
–It is two years since you recovered and returned to the stage in Spain and all over the world. This season you have already performed in Japan, Austria and Switzerland and made your debut at the Colón Theatre in Buenos Aires. How does it feel to be back in the game again?
–I think maybe I’m enjoying it more than before. Because when things are going well, you think there is no problem and you don’t have to think too much about tomorrow. But when things have gone wrong, maybe you enjoy things more. I think that is what has happened to me. Above all, because you have to practically reinvent yourself when you have been told there is a possibility that you won’t be able to return to work. Right now, this is a sweet moment for me.
–Will you be coming back to Malaga soon?
–I’ll be coming back to sing with the Malaga Philharmonic Orchestra in March, with a work by Mahler,‘Kindertotenlie- der’ (songs for the dead children). The professional relationship with Malaga, even if it didn’t exist, would be like the promised land one is searching for: to be able to come here every now and again, to sing in concert or an opera, or take part in a production, like ‘Prometheus’.
–You’re also planning a programme of duets?
–Yes, for Cudeca. That’s being organised by the Malaga Foundation. It will be a CD of duets with singers from Malaga and we’ll be performing songs that are not the type that we would normally sing.
–Can a musical note say more than a thousand words?
–Yes, undoubtedly. I’m very aware that in my work music is based on a text, but if we take that text away the music, that note, remains and has the same meaning as it did when the text was there. Music has the ability to create opinion, to influence feelings.
– Is there anything worse than being booed?
– Some applause is embarrassing. For example, I am embarrassed by the constant, uncritical applause in government. The leader speaks and has to be applauded by a group of people who are only interested in keeping their posts. We shouldn’t allow that to happen. If we want truly professional politicians, those who applaud like that will have to go.
–Does Carlos Álvarez just live for opera?
–No, fortunately I have a family and friends! And I am able to do things for other people, outside my profession. When I hear that people get bored, I think that is terrible because life is full of opportunities. I’m lucky to be restless, culturally and socially. I’m a bit like a salmon, I like to swim against the current, not to die but to do other things.
–If you hadn’t broken your ankle when you were 17, would you have been an athlete?
–I don’t think so. Sport is for a limited time and there are few sportsmen over the age of 30. I think practicing sport is very important, though, and it has helped me with my stage performances.
– If we can’t find you, where will you be?
–If I’m in a city, I’ll be in a bookshop or museum. I always carry books in my hand luggage.
–Did you used to sing to your children?
–I used to sing García Lorca’s ‘Galapaguito’. I didn’t sing to them much, we weren’t always together because of my work.
– A month ago you celebrated your 47th birthday. What did you wish for as you blew out the candles?
–I’m not one for making wishes, maybe because it is disappointing if they don’t come true. Maybe I would have asked to stay as I am. This is a sweet moment. And the good thing is, that at the age of 47, I can look back from a perspective of 25 years of work, but fundamentally I can look ahead because I have time. And that is magnificent