Don Pasquale, London, November 2004
Juan Diego Flórez & Tatiana Lisnic in rehearsal
Photo © Rob Moore
Darkest Peru bears a tenor to fill gap left by Pavarotti, The Independent, 27 November 2004
"Soy un corredor de los cien metros", EFE, 25 November 2004
The new Pavarotti, London Evening Standard, 17 September 2004
Darkest Peru bears a tenor to fill gap left by Pavarotti
Louise Jury, The Independent, 27 November 2004
The last time anyone at Covent Garden caused such a buzz by hitting nine top Cs in rapid succession, it was Luciano Pavarotti, nearly 40 years ago.
So, when the young tenor Juan Diego Flórez took to the stage at a Royal Opera House gala on Monday to dash off those same high Cs in the fiendish Donizetti aria, "Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fête", it was a moment to be savoured.
The young Peruvian's dashing virtuosity in one of the trickiest of numbers was applauded wildly by the gala night audience who had paid up to £2,000 a ticket for the fund-raising extravaganza before Prince Charles. But Flórez has been anointed by no less than Pavarotti himself as the great Italian tenor's natural heir apparent. And for many, Juan Diego Flórez is the star most likely to rise above others in the years to come.
He is young, 31, good looking and played in a rock band before his Peruvian conservatoire suggested he had the voice for classical music. And as Monday's audience found out, he can hit the high notes as few others can.
Tonight's challenge at Covent Garden is his debut in the role of Ernesto in Don Pasquale, another Donizetti opera. It, too, has moments that defeat some of the greatest of singers, but Flórez is performing the entire score. "I'm doing the whole thing complete which is very seldom heard. It's more challenging that way," he said yesterday. "In a way I have a duty, because of the way I sing, to attempt the role as the composer wrote it."
And his high tenor, in the light Italian style known as bel canto, means that the Royal Opera House is now in a position to consider staging some works that it could not touch due to a lack of suitable performers.
Insiders suggest that even La Fille du Régiment, the Gaetano Donizetti opera from which the aria he so impressed the gala crowd comes, may be staged in the next few years. It has not been heard at Covent Garden before or since Pavarotti performed it in 1966 and 1967.
He admits he would love to perform the role. "It's a beautiful opera, it's a funny opera and it was the opera that Pavarotti sang here. It was a big moment for him - it made him in a way."
Elaine Padmore, Covent Garden's director of opera, refused to confirm the Donizetti operawas on the cards. But she admitted that when a talent emerged capable of performing the demanding operas of composers such as Donizetti and Rossini then an opera house would want to add to its repertoire. "He'll be back a number of times in the future," she said.
There were few light, high tenors and Flórez was emerging as the top one, she said. He has worked at all the major opera houses from La Scala in Milan to the Met in New York with bookings through to 2010.
"The special thing about his voice is it is lovely, fresh and easy flowing, a natural high tenor. He doesn't strain at all for the top notes," Ms Padmore said.
Flórez is part of a generation of singers emerging from South America, such as the tenors Jose Cura and Marcelo Alvarez from Argentina. Flórez thinks it is the natural lilt of their native musical traditions that helps create their voices.
But he remains modest about comparisons with Pavarotti. As expert commentators point out, their voices are very different. Flórez, for instance, is unsuited to Puccini's La Bohème for which Pavarotti was famous.
Flórez said: "He [Pavarotti] thinks I can be his successor because I'm good in what I do, not because I'm singing the same repertoire. It makes me happy he thinks so ... he is an idol for me and if your idol says something like that it's incredible."
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY
At last! Here's a man who can sing! - Luciano Pavarotti
His is an exquisite voice; an improbable thing of liquid, careless beauty delivered with effortless charm, cool style and beautifully traced, intelligent phrasing. Am I gushing? Well, you should have heard the rest of the audience. - Anna Picard, The Independent on Sunday
No doubt who the outstanding bel canto tenor is these days: Florez - David Mellor, The Mail on Sunday
Florez is a star with the pulling power to introduce a new generation. The Beckham of bel canto - Jeremy Nicholas, Gramophone magazine
Perhaps the most charismatic and technically accomplished tenore di grazia of our time - Ivan Hewett, The Times, on Florez's recording of Rossini's Le Comte d'Ory
After years of searching, the anointed heir has been found: Juan Diego Florez - Tom Service, The Guardian
"Soy un corredor de los cien metros"
EFE, 25 November 2004
El tenor peruano Juan Diego Flórez se declara, desde el punto de vista vocal, como "un corredor de los cien metros y no de los diez mil metros planos" porque, explica, "la calidad de mi voz está en la agilidad y no en la resistencia".
En declaraciones tras participar en el ensayo general de su primer "Don Pasquale", de Donizetti, que se estrena este sábado en la Royal Opera House del Covent Garden londinense, Flórez afirma no descartar un día interpretar a Mozart, pero prefiere de momento seguir con el repertorio belcantista en el que es especialista.
"Podía haber hecho ya a Mozart, pero prefiero centrarme de momento en mi actual repertorio, que es lo que quieren los teatros y también el público además de traerme éxito", señala el tenor en su camerino, aún disfrazado con peluca rubia y calzas.
"No soy un cantante verdiano ni pucciniano, aunque sí podría ser mozartiano, pero hay especialistas de este último. Así que prefiero esperar a que repose un poco mi voz antes de abordar a Mozart, que plantea menos exigencias de agudos o acrobacias vocales", explica.
La voz de Plácido Domingo puede "abarcar un repertorio más amplio, pero no ligero", afirma. "Yo no cantaré nunca "Tosca" y él tampoco cantará "La Italiana en Argel", explica Flórez, quien agrega que con la fama que ha conquistado y su voz "ancha y llena" , el tenor español puede "cantar un poco lo que quiera".
Flórez ha sido comparado muchas veces por su timbre luminoso y ágil, ideal para el "bel canto", a Alfredo Kraus, que también cuidó mucho su repertorio, aunque, como explica el peruano, el tenor canario cantó también "cosas fuertes como el Fausto (de Gounod) junto a otras más ligeras como "Don Pasquale".
"Yo también abarco desde cosas más ligeras hasta otras más fuertes como I Puritani (de Bellini)", agrega Flórez, quien justifica, sin embargo, la fidelidad a Rossini o Donizetti porque "basta cambiar una vez de repertorio y la voz se desordena".
Flórez, que dará el 21 de octubre del próximo año un concierto en Lima con repertorio de aires de ópera y canciones peruanas y latinoamericanas, explica que entre los tenores latinoamericanos e italianos está bien visto cantar canciones populares de sus países.
"(Enrico) Caruso, por ejemplo, o (Beniamino ) Gigli cantaron canciones ligeras napolitanas, pero otra cosa es que intérpretes de de música ligera hagan creer que son cantantes de ópera y llenen incluso teatros gracias a una operación de marketing", critica el tenor, que prefiere no dar nombres.
Sobre su debut, este fin de semana, en "Don Pasquale", ópera en la que interpreta a Ernesto, el sobrino de un viejo solterón al que éste quiere casar con una mujer rica, pero que está enamorado de una viuda sin un chavo, Flórez dice que "es una parte muy difícil por sus insistentes agudos".
"Las arias las interpreto de forma integral, y no cortando a la mitad tras la parte rápida. Es una ópera que no da mucho descanso y en la que el fraseo es muy importante", según explica.
El cantante peruano afirma haberse acoplado "fantásticamente", bajo la dirección musical de Bruno Campanella, con la soprano moldava Tatiana Lisnic, que hace de Norina, la joven viuda, aunque es la primera vez que ambos cantan juntos.
También se manifiesta encantado con la puesta en escena, de Jonathan Miller, que describe así: "es como una casa de muñecas, y las muñecas que somos nosotros le damos realismo a lo que sucede".
Se trata de un montaje tradicional, y Flórez dice no tener nada en contra de otro tipo de puestas en escena más vanguardistas siempre y cuando, indica, lo que pasa en escena "sea congruente con la acción y el libreto".
El tenor peruano se dice, por otro lado, encantado con volver al Covent Garden, uno de los cuatro teatros de ópera más importantes del mundo, donde debutó por suerte en 1997 con "Elisabetta", de Donizetti, cuando sustituyó en el último momento al tenor principal y se tuvo que aprender su difícil papel en sólo cinco días.
Desde entonces ha hecho aquí el "Otello", de Rossini, "La Cenerentola", del mismo compositor, o "los Sonámbulos", de Vincenzo Bellini, algunas de ellas incluso varias veces.
The new Pavarotti
Fiona Maddocks, The Evening Standard, 17 September 2004
The world's most famous tenor has declared Juan Diego Flórez his successor. But the young pretender is not in any rush to seize the crown.
The next Pavarotti? No one resists the title more than the most fancied successor, the dazzling, young Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez. "Of course it was flattering when Pavarotti said it - he's my idol," says Flórez. But our voices are different, our looks, our repertoire, everything. I began to want to be valued for myself."
Flórez, 31, stands alone as the operatic voice who, in a notoriously sniping profession, gets a unanimous thumbs up. Booking opens soon for his return to Covent Garden for a new staging of Don Pasquale, and you can expect some frantic, shady trading between opera fans desperate to lay hands on a ticket.
His discomfort at the Pavarotti tag began when he won overnight fame in 1996 as a stand-in at the Rossini Festival in Pesaro, on Italy's Adriatic coast.
Since then, the squirming has eased a little. "Luciano heard me two years ago. Some friends arranged for me to meet him. We were just chatting, eating ice cream. Eventually he said, 'Why don't you sing?' I sang an aria. He was very surprised. After that he began to say - and it was wonderful for me - that I was the person who would replace him."
Good tenors are in short supply the world over. But miraculously gifted tenors, who can negotiate trilling cascades of notes and reach the fabled top Cs with ease, are rare. And the biggest of all is on his farewell stage circuit.
"This year in New York," Flórez continues, "people wanted to make a celebration for Pavarotti's great career. It was to be an evening at the Waldorf Astoria for great singers. He was asked who he wanted to sing and he said, 'Just Juan Diego, no one else.' And then he invited me to his wedding!"
Flórez returns every summer to Pesaro, last month winning glowing praise for his virtuosic display in Rossini's Matilde di Shabran, the opera that first made his name.
Small, slight, with tousled, dark good looks, he has a circuit nickname: the Tom Cruise of opera. As a teenager Flórez had ambitions to become a pop star. His father is a well-known singer of Peruvian folk music. "I suppose I would have been a romantic crooner if I hadn't discovered opera. I used to sing my own songs in piano bars. I liked the Beach Boys and Led Zeppelin. Only when I went to the conservatoire in Lima did I discover classical music. Still, I didn't know any opera."
That discovery came when he won a scholarship to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where he sang in student productions of Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti, composers to whom his light, lyric voice is ideally suited.
"These composers have everything for my voice, which is not big or heavy but it responds to musical athleticism, to the rapid gunfire notes, the agility. It's a challenge, you get a buzz."
Why do tenors get so excited about high Cs? "It's the adrenaline, the danger. It's the most extreme and difficult thing you can do vocally. You see the high notes ahead. Will you do it?
Will you miss one? It's a most amazing thrill. Rossini knew he would excite his audience. That's what bel canto opera is for. I'm far away from singing the big Puccini roles Pavarotti sings. They don't fit my voice. Audiences would complain."
Serious and dedicated, Flórez is harshly self-observant. "My character is ultra-critical. I am very hard on myself. I have a great responsibility, to the composer, to the audience."
But he also has an infectious sense of fun. "I like English audiences. They know a lot. You feel that. They give you a strong sense of how it's going. New York is more mixed, 3,000 people in the Met waving at one another ... Milan is cold, sober. I only got a big applause after working there for several years. You earn it. But in Japan they mob you, giving presents, flowers, fruit. It's like Christmas."
Juan Diego Flórez is a wanted man. His diary this season reads like Leporello's list of his master Don Giovanni's lovers: Vienna, Finland, Paris, five cities in Germany and 11 in Spain, as well as back home in Peru.
How does he conserve his energy? "I don't have a strict physical system. I'm very normal. I get up late. I try not to speak too much, to sleep and eat well, pasta or rice or maybe some white meat four hours before a performance."
Does he share the view that the days of fat-lady opera stars have gone? He immediately mentions Deborah Voigt, the soprano who was dropped from a role because of her size.
"It is a little bit the truth that if people look like cartoons, it isn't the right image for opera. Younger singers take more care. Angela Gheorghiu is like a model. It's not true that the voice is better if you are large. It's the diaphragm that affects sound, not the waistline. It's important, too, for a singer to be physically flexible on stage."
But Pavarotti? Flórez half closes his eyes, a distant expression on his face. "Ah, Pavarotti. He has a voice in a million. He has a beauty of tone, a lightness, which is a phenomenon. It's something else." Juan Diego Flórez could be describing himself. Or the challenge ahead.
Juan Diego Flórez's recording of Rossini's Le Comte Ory is just released on DG, and his Great Tenor Arias (Decca) will be out next month. He sings in Don Pasquale at the Royal Opera House (020 7304 4000) from 27 November.
This page was last updated on: November 29, 2004