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Argentinean lyrical tenor José Cura began his musical studies under guitarist Juan di Maestro and debuted as choral conductor at 15. Composition and piano under Carlo Castro and Zulma Cabrera respectively led to enrollment at Rosario's School of Arts of the National University where the choirmaster encouraged his vocal development.

By 1994, Cura collected top honors at the International Operalia competition and made his U.S. debut in the same year, followed by his London debut in 1995 and his first solo album, Puccini Arias, two years later. On Boleros, he crosses over into the Latin equivalent of the Jazz ballad, a form of romantic song called bolero and not related to the symphonic concert form made famous by Ravel and de Falla.

The present project grew out of composer/arranger Jorge Calandrelli's love of 20th century Latin American folk music when exposure to Jazz and African rhythms as well as contemporary classical and film music had forever altered its former innocence. Examples of this maturation are the 50s' Bossa Nova movement and, later, Piazolla's nouveau tango. Calandrelli had already recorded an album "Symphonic Boleros" with Ettore Stratta and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for Teldec Classics.

José Cura's admiration for said album, coupled to meeting Calandrelli during his own recording of Verismo, sowed the seeds for a follow-up Bolero album. This time it was to be a vocal project, backed by the Sinfonia of London, Calandrelli on piano, Paquito D'Rivera on clarinet and alto sax, Rene Toledo on solo acoustic guitar, Javier Colina on bass and Marc Miralta on drums - a mixture of symphonic, salon and Jazz elements carrying the creations of such famous Latin songwriters as Armando Manzanero and Vicente Garrido.

Boleros transcends similar efforts by famous operatic tenors. Cura successfully abandons the heavy vocal mandhandling that such traditional material requires as a matter of course - to overpower a full orchestra, to flesh out the often ridiculously tragic, bigger-than-life, epically excessive characters of the operatic runway. When this stylistic gravitas is transferred to thematically lighter songs that demand lyricism rather than heroics, a crass rift in gestalt instantly alerts the listener. "Ah, Pavarotti's doing Paul McCartney - but who can stomach pasta Alfredo for desert?"

Undoubtedly helped by being a lyrical rather than heroic tenor to begin with, Cura "undersings", adapting his vibrato to remain subdued and shallow, eschewing certain affectations, toning down the intensity of delivery to suit tender declarations of love, even humming along or laughing out loud.

This restraint manages the -- based on ample precedents -- highly unlikely: an operatic singer slyly crossing over into a lighter milieu with nary a wrong color to call him an expertly disguised chameleon. Add compositions with memorable melodies and beautifully crafted orchestrations. Boleros becomes a highly accomplished, sophisticated celebration of Latin romance such as you might expect in an upscale night club, yet expanded by the broader tonal palette of a full symphony orchestra into which is mixed a small Jazz contingent. The Latin lover crooner persona is entirely subliminated to reveal something altogether more refined and becoming. In short, an outright rarity, delivered by a celebrated tenor whose voice hasn't been destroyed yet by the unrealistic demands of standard opera. Highly recommended.