Juan Diego Flórez in recital at Barbican Hall
After several disappointing high profile recitals recently it was a unalloyed pleasure to sit back and enjoy an artist who is completely comfortable in his voice, platform manner and rapport with his audience. Juan Diego Flórez, in town for the upcoming run of La Fille du Régiment at the Royal Opera, is at the peak of his astonishing powers and he never put a foot wrong in this generous and varied programme.
Cimarosa’s Il Matrimonio Segreto is rarely performed these days despite its many charms. However Flórez has already recorded Paolino’s aria “Pria che spunti in ciel l’aurora” and it provided an ideal opener for the concert showing off the singer’s beautifully spun line in the opening section (as well as a restrained sense of mischief) before launching into the presto final section which demonstrated his ease with fast fioriture and generous high notes. This aria set the high tone for the evening as both audience and singer relaxed and prepared to enjoy themselves.
Flórez followed with three of Rossini’s Péchés de vieillesse. While these late “sins” do not require the hair raising vocal gymnastics of Rossini’s earlier works they are still a test of the singer’s line and range. Especially noteworthy were some beautiful mezza voce high notes in “La lontananza” and Vincenzo Scolera’s lovely tone painting in the introduction “Le sylvain”. Indeed Scolera was an immaculate accompanist all evening. The enticingly titled “L’orgia” turned out to be more a paean to Bacchus than Cupid and is on a lesser artistic plane to the other songs. However, Flórez brought it off in fine style and easily encompassed the escalating demands of the peroration.
Flórez capped the first act with Rodrigo’s “Che ascolto!”. The character is drawn with considerably more sympathy than in Verdi (or Shakespeare, for that matter!) and Flórez ably charted the rejected suitor’s pain and rising anger. This was the role that introduced the singer at the Royal Opera and, in the intervening years, he has grown yet more dazzling. The cabaletta starts at a pitch where most tenors prefer to stop and rises from there. To say that Flórez was breathtaking hardly does him justice. Diction, agility and hair raising high notes all combined to bring the house down.
Four zarzuela arias after the interval showed Flórez easily encompassing an entirely different style of song. Only in the excerpt from Dõna Francisquita was one occasionally left wishing for a touch more spinto vulgarity!
The next item on the programme was probably the most controversial - Massenet’s Werther is customarily sung by a considerably weightier voice than Flórez’s. However, on this evidence, he might successfully essay the role in smaller house such as Zurich. He took huge risks, especially in the quiet lines after the b flats, yet his rock solid technique never faltered.
The programme finished with “Viens, gentile dame” from La Dame blanche demonstrated Flórez’s mastery of the Opéra Comique style with some beautiful mixed voice high lines and long breathed cantilena. The audience demanded, and got, four encores of which the thrillingly voiced “Ah lève toi, soleil” was for me the highlight and, again, possibly indicated a move towards the lyric tenor repertoire. I trust he will manage any move with the care that he has nurtured his career so far and will not be tempted by siren calls of irresponsible promoters. That route is already littered with the husks of would be Pavarottis and Domingos!
- Sebastian Petit