Juan Diego Flórez & Vincenzo Scalera

Die Zauberflöte – Dies Bildnis
Così fan tutte – Un’aura amorosa
Don Giovanni – Il mio tesoro
Il Turco in Italia – Intesi, ah, tutto intesi
Elisabetta d’Inghilterra – Deh troncate
Rosa Mercedes Ayarza de Morales
Hasta la guitarra llora
Vanne, o rosa fortunata
La ricordanza
Per pietà, bell’idol mio
Linda di Chamounix – Linda, si ritirò

Juan Diego Flórez (tenor) & Vincenzo Scalera (piano)

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 9 December, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

During the 1940s the great Italian conductor Tulio Serafin dreamed of reviving the bel canto tradition; he found a diva who could fulfil this ambition in Maria Callas. Since then, greats such as Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne, as well as such as Beverly Sills, Edita Gruberova and June Anderson have graced the world’s stages, ensuring the tradition goes from strength to strength. And in recent years the interest in Rossini, as opposed to Bellini and Donizetti, has also grown apace. But what of the men?

All-purpose tenors such as Luciano Pavarotti and Nicolai Gedda essayed some of the bel canto roles, as did lyric tenors such as Luigi Alva. But the ability to sing the taxing fioritura, coloratura and challenging tessitura ensured that this species remained rare. However, some 20 years ago there was an explosion of what have become known as ‘Rossini tenors’, including Blake, Ford and Mateuzzi, who were followed by singers such as Filianoti, Brownlee and Zapata. But for many, the most exciting of this latter variety is the Peruvian Juan Diego Flórez (now in his early ‘thirties), who already has many recital discs and complete operas in his discography.

As is often the case with such voices, lightness and flexibility are not married to fullness of tone or a wide range of tonal colours. How listeners respond to these shortcomings will inevitably influence their response. At this Barbican recital, Flórez was also suffering from a cold which had led him to cancel a Carnegie Hall recital a few days earlier; consequently he chose to substitute Ferrando’s aria ‘Un’aura amorosa’ for ‘Ah! lo veggio’ from “Così fan tutte”, to “aid the flow” as he put it. Both this and the opening ‘Zauberflöte’ aria were far from distinguished. There was little sense of line and tone that sounded dangerously unsupported in the central section of ‘Dies Bildnis’. Worse was to follow in the showpiece ‘Il mio tesoro’, where there was a big breath before, in the middle of and at the end of the semiquaver run and aspirates in the brief cadenza passage. As to how much this lack of breath control was due to the cold was initially difficult to tell.

In the three Rossini items there was greater fluidity, but the runs were dangerously close to being overly staccato and Flórez was clearly suffering some strain above the stave.

After the interval there were further substitutions, and in these Peruvian pieces Flórez sounded far more at ease and clearly demonstrated that he could become an excellent cabaret singer if his operatic career were to falter or the voice give out through strain and/or singing the wrong roles!

The three Bellini songs brought some beautiful shading and dynamic contrasts, and the voice sounded far fresher, but still the breath control didn’t allow him to sing in great arcs; as a result there was an element of stop-go to the phrasing. Much the same could be said of the Donizetti, which was technically secure but lacking in characterisation.

There were three encores and when he announced the first, ‘Una furtiva lagrima’, there were great gasps of delight. Unfortunately the aria was no more than proficient, with little sense of characterisation, some stiffness in the embellishments and a grindingly slow tempo. In ‘La donna e mobilé’ the tempo was similarly leisurely and the final unwritten B flat was held for an eternity. The final ‘extra’ was the last part of Tonio’s big scene ‘Ah! mes amis, quell jour de fête’ from “La fille du regiment”, replete with numerous high Cs which Florez despatched with some authority.

All in all though this was a disappointing recital, but then perhaps I am looking for the impossible, a singer who can do the pyrotechnics with ingratiating and varied tone and greater characterisation – such as the young Pavarotti! And Flórez was certainly not helped by his accompanist, who merely played the notes, without insight or imagination.

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