Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Juan Diego Flórez

10 December 2006

London is having a good run on tenors at the moment.

Vladimir Galouzine and Jonas Kaufmann, to name but two, have recently graced the stage at the Royal Opera, the latter in particular giving a stunning performance in Francesca Zambello‘s new Carmen.

The handsome Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez may have been dealing with a throat complaint of some kind, but his Saturday evening concert at the Barbican was thrilling, involving and immensely satisfying.

Flórez cancelled his debut at the Carnegie Hall the previous week, and it was evident that he had not completely recovered. A couple of items were changed, presumably due to lack of preparation time Cos fan tutte and a strangely titled Peruvian aria were out; Il re pastore and two equally strangely titled Spanish-sounding ditties were in. Meanwhile, Flórez could not help coughing and clearing his throat between most numbers, and occasionally during them.

But rarely has a performer overcome such a handicap with such panache; such charisma; such vocal splendour. Mozart’s Dies Bildnis may have displayed a voice not properly warmed up, though for all the difficulty they posed, top notes were always reached and sustained. By the time of Il mio tesoro, this tenor was truly firing. To take but one moment as demonstration, we need look no further than that most challenging of phrases “cercate di asciugar” with the tenor line needing to ride the shifting harmonies and firm melodic phrases of the accompaniment. Flórez’s graded crescendo from piano was firmly honed; his flowering coloratura release pinpoint. Meanwhile, the vulnerable tone used did nothing to dispute Ottavio’s reputation as a submissive fool, but in the circumstances, it was irreplaceable.

There followed Rossini, beginning with the most poignant of laments, L’esule. Flórez sailed through the lengthy legato lines, finding poignancy and expression in every moment, finally sailing high into his tessitura for the triumphant climax. And so it continued, with only a couple of flat notes marring Intesi, ah, tutto intesi and a tumultuous rendition of Deh! Truncate I ceppi suoi providing a thrilling end to the half.

If anything, the second helping was not as sweet as the first. After the interval, some Peruvian pap was all Spanish-sounding modulations and undemanding vocal lines. Even if Flórez sounded more at home here, with his nuanced shaping of phrases and obvious enjoyment of the music providing much pleasure, four songs was pushing tolerance levels somewhat. Some introspective Bellini arias boasted so many treasures, but vocal fireworks were missing and the audience’s concentration sadly waned. But then Donizetti’s Linda!… Si ritir popped up and such was the glory of the performance that specific quotation would be futile.

Flórez was evidently struggling throughout the evening, but his voice remained massive, sweetly coloured and gloriously clear up above and perfectly deployed. Pianist Vincenzo Scalera accompanied nicely, and his playing in the three Bellini pieces was shiveringly fragile. Sadly, he could seem underwhelming elsewhere and the angry modulations of Deh! Truncate I ceppi suoi especially called out for full orchestral accompaniment.

Flórez opened explaining that he was not 100% but, he added, “I didn’t want to disappoint you guys”. And judging by the reverential hush of the audience and the numerous standing ovations at the end, he did not. His appearances at the Royal Opera next year (starting with Donizettis La fille du regiment in January 2007) should be quite something.

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