Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Juan Diego Flórez @ Barbican Hall, London

07 May 2010

Besides the obvious the fact that it featured one of the world’s greatest tenors several factors gave strength to this recital from Peruvian born Juan Diego Flrez.First, it very much witnessed Flrez ‘going solo’.

Unlike some recitals in which a small number of contributions from a star performer are padded out with reams of orchestral numbers, Flrez shared the stage with a lone piano, played by Vincenzo Scalera. It may have been a grand piano, but there was still little for him to hide behind. Second, far from the programme covering ‘opera’s greatest hits’, it contained a wealth of relatively obscure pieces that were interesting to hear in their own right, and ideally suited to showing off his voice at its best.

And what a sound it makes. Many singers succeed in combining head and chest voice, but the particular way in which he does so feels unique to him. Not only does it make those top Cs (of which there were many) sound effortless, but it is ideally suited to expressing a wide range of emotions. His voice can be light or rough, and it can capture passion, despair or joy with similarly breathtaking ease.

On stage, Flrez cuts a dashing figure. He is slightly smaller than one might imagine, but such a compact stature has its own air of slickness about it. As he clasps his hands, rests his arm on the piano, or moves from one foot to the other, every piece feels rehearsed to perfection, both vocally and visually. There is nothing mechanical about his performances, however, and as each piece ends his manner suggests that he has just been on a journey, the successful completion of which has demanded every ounce of his concentration.

Amidst excerpts from operas by Serrano, Soriano and Massenet, one particular highlight was the performance of Pria che spunti in ciel l’aurora from Domenico Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto. Written in 1792 when the favoured vocal style of tenors was changing (eunuchs were old hat, but the taste for a beefier tenor sound was still emerging) Flrez demonstrated beautiful control in tackling the piece, combining the right level of power with some wondrous phrasing.

The songs from Rossini’s Pchs de vieillesse (‘Sins of old age’) also saw him flourish. In Le Sylvain as he ‘cried’ in sorrow and despair, the very air became pervaded with a sense of foreboding. In direct contrast, the jolly L’orgia saw him lighten up and punctuate his phrases as he proclaimed ‘Let us dance, let us sing’.

The main programme may have been relatively short, but Flrez went on to contribute four encores everything from La donna mobile to a Peruvian song and still left the audience wanting more.

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