sat 13/07/2024

Juan Diego Florez, Barbican Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Juan Diego Florez, Barbican Hall

Juan Diego Florez, Barbican Hall

The Peruvian tenor loves to ride the highest Cs

Juan Diego Florez, the man most likely to have had Rossini reaching for his pen once more

Can we clear something up once and for all, please? Yet again this week an all too familiar headline caught my eye: “Is Juan Diego Florez the heir apparent to Pavarotti?” Or words to that effect. Why do these lazy (and/or ill-informed) editors and their headline writers keep asking the same rhetorical question? Surely they should know by now that the answer is a great big resounding “no”.

Not because Florez is inferior or less famous or lacks the potential for superstardom (the marketing men have already gone into overdrive about him) but quite simply because he is a completely, utterly, different kind of tenor. Ok, so he and the big man with the handkerchief may have crossed over on a couple of bel canto roles, but that’s as far as it goes, folks. Florez is never going to sing “Nessun dorma” – deal with it.

So what kind of tenor is Florez? Well, the Italians might call him a tenore di grazia – a graceful lyric tenor with agility: namely the ability to finely nuance and spin the coloratura with a precision and speed that wider bore or more ample voices (like Pavarotti’s) could only dream of. And there’s something else. The tessitura of Florez’ voice is set so high that, vocally speaking, he sits on that high-wire above the stave and looks down at other tenors for whom a high C is a much bigger deal than it is for him. Florez pops those out with casual aplomb.

What you see is what you get: he looks exactly as you would expect him to sound – slight and dapper, elegant and boyish in his white tie and tails. A charming and slightly vulnerable figure – until he starts to sing, that is. Then he’s punching above his weight – bantam – to retain the world title in his fach. He and his pianist, Vincenzo Scalera, started with Cimarosa – an aria about illicit young love from Il matrimonio segreto and instantly found mischief in the rhythm and articulation with every last grace note underscoring a twinkle in the eye.

Then came his beloved Rossini who, in tenorial terms, dreamed only of life on the high ledger lines. There were two romantic songs from his collection “Sins of Old Age” and in the second of them “The Sylvan (Romance)” elaborate melismas lent great poignancy to the protestations of the lovelorn Sylvan. Florez always sings simply and honestly and with great style but I would like him to sustain phrasings more across the bars – that would compensate a little for the lack of resonance in the timbre and the way in which its reediness is apt to die more quickly.

He was wonderful in Rodrigo’s aria from Rossini’s Otello softening key words and phrases like “tradito amor” (“betrayed love”) and overcoming unfortunate associations with the infamous “Cat Duet” (same music) in the showy resolution where the vengeful roulades really fizzed. And, boy, does he know how to maximise a pay-off and invite, no demand, the roar of the crowd  - a sound he clearly relishes. Who wouldn’t?

I personally loved his selection of Spanish songs and one in particular – “The Emigrants” by Rafael Calleja and Tomas Barrera – smouldered magnificently. The homesick heartache of it had him digging deeper for a darker, swarthier, sound and the reach of the phrasing and the intensity of the line was something I’d been waiting for all evening.

It’s good, too, to hear him dipping into roles that he would maybe never contemplate singing on stage – like Massenet’s Werther where he rode the impassioned “Pourquoi me réveiller?”ardently against just piano but which still, if one’s honest, cried out for a beefier more refulgent vocal production. “Viens, gentille dame” from Boieldieu’s La dame blanche was much more his territory, the fioratura deliciously light on the chords and with one ascent into head voice quite literally taking the breath away.

A bunch of familiar encores added to the tally of high Cs but not much more. It’s not a timbre I personally want to listen to all night though of its kind it would very likely have had Rossini putting the cooking on hold and reaching for his pen once more.

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I would tend to agree with Mr.Seckerson's opinion here, but for the open-ended nature of vocal growth and development. Pavarotti had an easy top C at the start of his career, as his first recording showed. Yes, of course his was a 'heavier' voice, but not as different from Florez's voice as this article suggests. Pavarotti was on the LIGHT side of the historical list of tenors who sang Nessun Dorma. One would call his voice possibly a "spinto", the italian word for "pushed", usually reserved for a type of soprano. The point is, Florez is young. His voice can be trained to go in several different directions, and he can "train it heavy" if he wishes. There is danger in this, of course. Also, there is no telling what physical changes his body may make as he grows older (grows up, even!) which will impact the voice. I haven't heard him live, and it is foolish to form an opinion until one does so, but things are more open to change than this article would have one believe.

I can't agree, William. It is a much lighter, less ballasted voice than Pavarotti's ever was at that stage in his career. Of course we've always come across radical re-trains: Netrebko was a 'pitchy' light coloratura before she turned on the big guns, but I've never been convinced by that conversion. And Florez serves enough of a gap in the market to stay brilliant at what he does so well. So indeed, no 'Nessun dorma' please.

I think you might revise your opinion when you do hear Florez live, William. No voice can undergo that degree of change and even Florez himself (when I interviewed him at the Royal Opera House) acknowledged that. The interesting thing is that all Florez' teachers wanted to beef up the voice, give it more girth, and it was his father who recognised the potential in keeping it super-lithe and supple. And as John says - let him stay brilliant at what he does.

How can I download this concert ?

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