Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Juan Diego Flórez @ Royal Festival Hall, London

20 January 2011

Southbank Centre

Royal Festival Hall (Photo: India Roper-Evans)

Contrary to what I’m sure most critics will write, very little about this singer has altered since Juan Diego Flórez made his London recital debut ten years ago.

In fact, the only thing that’s different is that those same critics feel it’s now safe to praise him, albeit grudgingly. I’ve known since I first heard him that his is one of the great voices of our time, allied to a striking presence and personality, and this recital both gave ample proof of that and provided plenty of niggles for the carping to enjoy.

It’s almost foolhardy for any singer to begin a recital with ‘Se all’impero’ since this is an aria which nearly every tenor finds challenging even after an act and then more to warm up. Flórez got nearly everything right, from imperial bearing to sense of almost impossible rectitude, the phrases ‘un cor severo’ and ‘me date un altro cor’ incisively phrased and fluently sung; one missed only the sense of sweetness which a less weighty voice can bring to the lines. ‘Del più sublime soglio’ found him in much more subtle and tender form.

Three little Rossini knee-tremblers gave delight to certain sections of the audience, with much to be savoured in Vincenzo Scalera’s characterful playing, and the first half of the concert ended as daringly as it had begun, this time with Rossini in the full tenor-torturing mode of the ‘Qui tollis’ from the Messa di Gloria. It was fabulously sung, with the kind of confidence and panache which takes your breath away. Oh yes – he did make a mistake and say “Oh shit” and “I cant believe it” but Scalera ensured that he made a remarkably quick recovery. Big deal.

Lalos ‘Vainement ma bien-aimée’ began the second half, finely sung with Flórez’ wonderful French diction which manages to be at once astringent and succulent. Donizetti’s ‘Ange si pur’ and Verdis ‘Pietoso al lungo pianto’ gave further evidence of this singer’s elegant phrasing and near-faultless technique as well as his ability to elevate mediocre music into the sublime. Sadly even he could not do that for the three pieces written for him by Luis Prado, but all credit to them for performing works by living composers.

It will surprise some reviewers that there were in fact four encores, not including ‘Ah mes Amis’ which an increasingly rumbustious audience kept requesting. A predictably fluent zarzuela, a dazzlingly confident Rossini cabaletta, a lustily characterful farewell ‘La donna mobile’ – all were enthusiastically received, but it was the second encore which best characterized Flórez’ art. ‘Ah! lève-toi, Soleil’ revealed once more his superb French diction and management of style – anyone who imagines that Flórez is just vocal acrobatics ought to have been there to hear this, with singing of a passion to equal that of Corelli and a finesse to match that of Kraus.

Further details of Royal Festival Hall concerts can be found at southbankcentre.co.uk

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