Tenor Luis Lima wishes opera fans paid as much attention to how he acts as how he sings.
"Most opera lovers come for the voices. I never accepted that," said Lima, who has performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and is booked at La Scala in Milan.
"I enjoy being able to meld my voice into the music. But most of all, I like the theatrical performance--the roles, the way you interact with your partners, the study of the psychological situations of the characters."
Lima, 42, considers himself an actor who sings rather than the other way around. He gets irritated when a love scene or fantasy role is judged only by what comes out of his mouth.
When a fan told him his execution was fuzzy after one performance, Lima responded, "Were you listening with your head down?"
"He was, and so he couldn't see that I was turned away from the audience, watching my lover leave," the tenor recalled.
Early in his career, Lima's acting ability covered deficiencies in his voice. "I was a very slow pupil," he said. "I couldn't really adapt my voice and my nerves onstage to the technical control. . . . Now, I think I can control my voice."
Lima decided to study opera seriously after hearing Richard Tucker at the Colon Opera House in Buenos Aires. He made his debut in 1973 in Lisbon, Portugal, in "Cavalleria Rusticana."
He was raised in a small city in Argentina and lives part of the year on a horse ranch in Cordoba.
Offstage, the father of four and son of a military pilot doesn't act the role of the typical opera star. He skips parties, avoids the glitz and complains about the falseness of show business and lifelessness of most opera movies.
A few hours before curtain call, Lima is more likely to be romping with his kids than fretting over the high notes.
"It's more important that I take care of my children than go to the theater and sing perfectly," he said. "And if by changing diapers or talking to my children . . . I'm going to lose a little bit of energy or quality in my voice, it doesn't really matter to me."
Not that he isn't serious about singing.
"When I go to the theater, I try to sing as accurately as possible," he said.
"But before, I think my life belongs to the place I am in. Otherwise, you contaminate with your profession every aspect of your life."
Lima has about 40 roles in his repertoire. Later this year, he'll appear in Vienna productions of "Carmen" and "Don Carlos." Next year or the year after, he's booked for "Carmen" and "Lucia di Lammermoor" in San Francisco.
Recording projects include Verdi's "Requiem" with Seiji Ozawa, and an album of arias recorded at the Colon, where he appeared last month in "Faust."