Juan David Latorre
The most important opera houses in the world have enjoyed her voice, and she has just performed Falla’s La vida breve at Madrid’s Teatro de la Zarzuela. She has been living in Madrid for some time now, and declares herself a fervent defender of culture.
Do you think opera singers represent their own countries too?
When I began to sing opera, with Plácido Domingo, I really saw that we are ambassadors for our countries and for opera, although you can’t just sing this genre in a concert, you can also offer other types of music. But in fact, we are also ambassadors of our countries and I am specifically ambassadors of my country, Argentina. Members of the Diplomatic Corps and ambassadors from other countries always come to our performances, because we are lucky that opera has only one language, the music and the language in which the song is sung, and we are always a mixture of singers from different countries and this melting pot of artists means that it also attracts many embassies.
Some say culture is “soft power” and one of the weapons of diplomacy. What do you think of this statement?
The first person you turn to in a moment of crisis or to raise funds is the artist. In that sense we are like ambassadors of peace, because in those moments we are indeed the representatives of soft power. We can’t get caught up in any political flag, because my art is for everyone, not for the politician I like best. In this sense, I believe that we must also be careful and use the diplomacy that is required of diplomats.
When I began to travel around the world, I saw that Argentina was very much associated with the tango and its dance, and I had to take classes because everyone asked me if I knew how to dance it. But I made an effort because I felt the responsibility of being the ambassador of Argentina. Because apart from being an opera singer, I also had to know other types of arts that were very much associated with my country, such as sport or tango. I have friends who are singers outside their country who are awarded a distinction as artistic ambassadors and without receiving any salary. How important is that? It would be good if the embassies did this, if the governments of the countries did this.
You told me your career began thanks to an Argentinean diplomat.
My career began thanks to an Argentinean diplomat who was the Argentinean cultural attaché at the Embassy in Norway, a very sybaritic person in the arts, especially opera and music. Back in 1999, he learned that every two years Queen Sonia in Oslo held a singing contest and contacted a friend of his in Argentina to find out who could be a young singer who could represent our country in that contest. This friend arrived at the Colon Theatre in Buenos Aires, where I was, and there he was given two names, including me. He came to see me and proposed me to participate in this international contest. At first I was scared, I was only 23 years old and I had never gone to any contest or sang in public or anything. But I saw so much enthusiasm in them that I decided, I had to record an audio and send it in for a pre-selection, they pre-selected me and I won the contest. It was a very noble job by the cultural attaché. He paved the way for me and that was the beginning of my artistic career, thanks to a diplomatic job.
COVID19 is doing a great deal of damage to the world’s economies and the cultural sector, especially the entertainment world. ¿Lyric singers are also being badly affected?
For example, what is happening now in Italy because everything has been closed down is an outrage. It is not only the artist who lives off this industry. We can’t imagine the people who work in the theatre and everything that comes after the theatre, from whoever dresses you to go to the theatre to the spectator; that’s why I can’t understand how European countries like Italy, which basically live off culture, at this moment say no because of the COVID, when in a metro people are much closer to each other. Here in Spain, I think they are doing very well at the theatre level. With the protocols we had at the Teatro de la Zarzuela, where I have just performed, I really never felt so cared for. We were rehearsing with some masks that the theatre gave us that were like a kind of veil that covered us, but which allowed us to sing without any problem. It was a very big care and that is also culture. You realise that they are people of culture.
What is your current relationship Argentina?
Times have changed. Today there is not an opera singer on the covers, there is a reggaeton player perhaps, and it is not to detract from any style, or there is a sportsman or an influencer. I feel very privileged because I don’t belong to a very popular profession, but I do feel very supported. In my city Santa Fe, in the interior of Argentina, whenever I have gone to a concert or whenever I am called to participate in some event I feel part of society, and for me that is fantastic and I do like to be a prophet in my land.
Rome, Turin, Trieste, Los Angeles, Parma, Washington, Amsterdam, Madrid… In which country have you felt most at home?
In Spain, all my life, that’s why I chose Madrid to live. I came here when I was 19 with a school trip and when I got off the plane and set foot in Madrid, I don’t know what happened, whether it was the air or the sky, which made me fall in love from the first day, and I said to myself “one day I’m going to live here”, and for me today it’s a dream to be living in this city. They say that the Argentinean is ‘an Italian who speaks Spanish and thinks he’s English’, because we are a mixture, a melting pot made up of the Italian who came from the south, the Spanish who came from the north (that’s why we call you Galicians) and those who came after the World War, including the English and a little bit of the Germans. For this reason, we have a very diverse culture. But, of course, we feel at home in Spain.
Which do you consider to be the most difficult character you’ve played?
Suor Angelica, from the opera of the same name by the great Giacomo Puccini, and not only because of her difficult vocal technique. I do not conceive of opera as a reproduction of notes; for me it is sung theatre, that is, I cannot disassociate myself from the character. I, a character who does, even if he is an evil one, always look for a reason to love the character.
What is for you the most unforgettable stage you have ever performed on, because of its equipment, its grandiosity or its sound?
The Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires. I’m sure that if that theatre were in Zurich or Viana it would be the bomb, because the acoustics and beauty of that theatre and how enormous it is, means that there is no other in the world. At first, in 1908, 4,000 seats were installed, although when they renovated it in 2010 they had to take out a lot of seats to build the emergency exits, because when it was built they didn’t consider that aspect. But even so, it is a monumental, gigantic theatre, and for me it is the most beautiful in the world in which one can hear the voice best and to which I always want to return.