This page was last updated on: June 8, 2006

November - December 2005
Riccardo Frizza, Darina Takova, Daniella Barcellona & Juan Diego Flórez
Press conference photo from EFE 17.11.2005

Wine Talk: Juan Diego Florez, The Wine Spectator, 5 December 2005
Idreno, Amics del Liceu, November 2005
Juan Diego Flórez brilla en una 'Semiramide' de ciencia ficción, El Periódico, 21 November 2005
Interview de Juan Diego Flórez, Arte TV, 1 December 2005 [English Translation here.]


Wine Talk: Juan Diego Florez
Kristiana Kahakauwila, The Wine Spectator, 5 December 2005

Opera tenor developed his delicate voice while cultivating a love of full-bodied wines

Tenor Juan Diego Florez, known for his high, acrobatic voice and dashing good looks, has sung his way into the hearts of opera lovers throughout the world as a master of the bel canto. Born in Peru, Florez, 33, recently purchased a home in Pesaro, Italy, where in 1996 he made his professional debut in Matilde di Shabran at the Rossini Opera Festival. Whether Florez is playing a king in Gioacchino Rossini's Semiramide at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona (from which he drops in on chef Ferran Adrià at El Bulli) or a daring lover in Gaetano Donizetti's Don Pasquale at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, he always has a few bottles of good wine with him.

WS: How did you become interested in wine?

JDF: I was studying at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, when, in '94, I auditioned for [tenor] Ernesto Palacios. He thought my voice was interesting and invited me right away to do a CD with him. In Italy, he took me around and gave me advicethat I was singing too heavy, that my voice was a flexible voice, a light voice. And I didn't want to accept that because I was taught in a different way. Little by little, I realized he was right.

And I learned about wine because Ernesto would take me to Italian restaurants and ask for nice wines. I started to drink and remember the names. And the next time I would go to a restaurant, [I would] ask to drink those wines. So [Ernesto] was why I sing bel canto and also why I like wine.

WS: Are Italian wines as thrilling as Italian operas?

JDF: Oh yes. It is great to live in Italy and be able to travel and know different wines. In my current house [in Bergamo], I don't have a cellar because it's a small house, but I have some Solaia, [including] one 1997 and a 2000 that are waiting for me. There's also some great Amarone and very nice Chianti Classico from Querciabella.

I like mostly the full-bodied reds, especially from Spain. There are so many great ones. I love Vega Sicilia 1990, Muga Rioja Torre Reserva 1995, Finca Allende Rioja Calvario 2000, Dominio de Pingus Ribera del Duero 1996, Palacios Priorat L'Ermita 1997 and Clos Figueres Priorat 2001.

WS: Will your new house in Pesaro have a wine cellar?

JDF: Of course! Actually, the house is on a hill, and there are vineyards along that hill and along the property. It's in a DOC near Pesaro, and I have some space to make my own vineyard. They have Sangiovese there, so let's see.

WS: How many hectares of vines will you have?

JDF: Four or five. Just enough for me. [Laughs.]

WS: Do you drink wine while you're on tour?

JDF: Some people ask, "Can you drink wine as a singer? It's not bad for your throat?" And I answer, "It's better." Sometimes when you're feeling not in great voice, to have a nice wine lifts you up. [And that] makes your voice sound better.

Juan Diego Flórez, Amics del Liceu, November 2005

For any bel canto singer, Semiramide is synonymous with elegance, majesty and grandeur. Though, dramatically speaking, the character of Idreno is not particularly well endowed, it gives me great satisfaction to play him because he has two very pleasing, though difficult, arias.

Semiramide represents the synthesis of Rossini's art and lays the foundations of the opera we are to hear from now on. It is the formal, musical basis for the future Romantic opera. We can hear, and sense, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and others. Though it might be argued that each of Rossini's operas has a style of its own, Semiramide emerges as the most Rossinian, along with Tancredi, Zelmira and La Donna del Lago.

The version of Idreno that will be seen in Barcelona, revised by Alberto Zedda and Philip Gosset, is the complete original version composed by Rossini, without the cuts introduced by tradition on account of the difficulty of performing it.

"Ah dov'é, dov'é il cimento", the first aria, is a grand, epic piece. The singer must play special attention to the line, because it contains phrases which are as endless as they are beautiful. The register is particularly high, with a D in the cadence and countless Cs, after the style of "A mes amis" from La Fille du Régiment. Though I recognize the difficulty of Donizetti's work, it is technically within my reach. On the other hand, when singing this first tenor aria in Semiramide, I have to concentrate especially hard on the technical aspects, which are remarkably challenging. It could in fact, in my view, be described as one of those "impossible" passages in the history of opera, from which few singers emerge with flying colours.

It could be said that we appreciate Idreno nowadays thanks to these two arias. In Semiramide, if the tenor were not there, there would still be an opera, but Rossini undoubtedly composed these two incredible arias at the request of the star singer of the day, who was not content solely to join in the ensembles. However, Idreno has all Rossini's qualities as an opera seria composer. He is very difficult, vocally speaking, more so indeed than the opera buffa roles. The fact is that, in his serious works, the composer from Pesaro was capable of pushing his singers to their utmost vocal limits.

Despite these enormous difficulties, the tenor in Semiramide has plenty of time to get ready for the arias. That is why I enjoy playing the part so much: you're rested and then you have to roll out the big guns. The pieces are pure spectacle, vocal fireworks.

Rossini is the composer who brings the best out of my voice. When I sing Rossini, I feel that my voice is as natural as it can be. In some ways it's different when I sing Bellini or Donizetti. Neither better nor worse. My voice works differently, I have to release it and let it go.

My singing is lighter when I sing Rossini, more controlled, with greater coloratura. I find it very satisfying to feel that my voice is in a lighter state after singing lyrical operas. When it loses this lightness, I'll no longer be able to sing operas by the composer from Pesaro.

I know Semiramide and the character of Idreno well, but Barcelona will be my stage debut in the role. I have sung it twice before: in the Konzerthaus in Vienna, alongside Edita Gruberova, and in Lima, where I made my debut, with Daniella Barcellona, under the baton of Ricardo Frizza. In the Catalan capital, I will be sharing the bill with the same team.

I have wonderful memories of the performances of Maria Stuarda in Barcelona and am greatly looking forward to making my stage debut at the Liceu and continuing my relationship with this theatre, with which I have already reached an agreement for La Cenerentola and La Fille du Régiment.

Juan Diego Flórez brilla en una 'Semiramide' de ciencia ficción
Elene Hevia, El Periódico, 21 November 2005

La obra de Rossini llega hoy al Liceu con una futurista puesta en escena

Quien vaya a ver Semiramide, de Rossini, que se estrena hoy en el Liceu después de una ausencia de 117 años y la excepción de una versión concertante en los 80, es mejor que se olvide de los jardines colgantes de Babilonia, donde sucede la acción. Lo que encontrará es una moderna escenografía (firmada por William Orlandi) con referencias multiétnicas que recuerda a películas como Teléfono rojo, ¿volamos hacia Moscú? o Star Trek.

La obra se estrenó originalmente en el Festival de Pésaro en el año 2003 con división de opiniones. Las principales críticas, procedentes de los sectores más conservadores, se dirigían contra la futurista puesta en escena de una obra que suele pecar de estatismo.


Pero ésta es la única libertad en la rigurosa versión dirigida musicalmente por Riccardo Frizza y escénicamente por Dieter Kaegi, con la interpretación del tenor peruano Juan Diego Flórez, estrella de un cartel encabezado por la soprano Daria Takova (Semiramide) y la contralto Daniella Barcellona (Arsace), que debutará por fin en el coliseo de las Rambles, en un papel masculino.

Hay en este montaje de cuatro horas de duración, descanso incluido, un gran afán de fidelidad a la partitura original. "Es una ópera de gran complejidad y perfección estructural", dice Frizza. El joven director es consciente de que la obra no se hubiera podido abordar en su integridad sin la participación de Flórez, ya que su papel, prescindible por lo que se refiere a la acción argumental, es el primero que desaparece a la hora de utilizar la tijera y especialmente "cuando no se tiene a un tenor de gran nivel para abordarlo", como aprecia Frizza.

"El rol de Idreno tiene una gran dificultad técnica y está lleno de insidias", reconoce Flórez con la satisfacción de haberlas conjurado todas. "Las largas arias de mi personaje se pueden hacer más cómodas, pero no se les puede añadir más complejidad porque, en ese sentido, han tocado techo". Lo que le lleva a bromear con la posibilidad de no volver a cantar el endiablado papel: "De momento, no lo tengo programado", ríe aliviado.
Semiramide, "la última obra maestra que Rossini escribió en Italia, antes de instalarse en Francia", según Frizza, se basa en una tragedia homónima de Voltaire y forma parte de la producción seria del compositor italiano, la que peor ha envejecido desde el punto de vista escénico en contraposición a sus hoy populares óperas bufas. La historia, muy del gusto de la época, tiene connotaciones avant la lettre de Hamlet, con un conato de incesto entre la reina Semiramis y su hijo perdido y la presencia del fantasma del rey asesinado.

Interview de Juan Diego Flórez
Teresa Pieschacón Raphael, Arte TV, 1 December 2005

On vous surnomme le «chevalier du contre-ut, ou mieux encore...»

(rire) Que répondre à cela ?

Que ressentez-vous quand vous chantez des aigus ? Etes-vous comme un sportif qui se prépare à sauter?

Je me sens assez sûr de moi. Je n'ai pas de difficulté dans les aigus. En revanche, cela peut devenir plus compliqué avec la musique de Bellini qui se situe déjà dans les aigus la plupart du temps ; en effet, quand il faut chanter encore plus aigu, je ressens une certaine tension. Quand j'y parviens, je me sens littéralement soulagé, libéré. Avec Donizetti, c'est différent. Je me prépare à sauter, j'adopte une posture du genre : « Maintenant, je vais susciter votre enthousiasme ». C'est excitant de chanter une note que le public attend.

Un magazine américain titrait un jour High notes are banknotes'.

Oui, c'est vrai. Les gens veulent entendre des aigus ; pour eux, c'est apparemment comme un petit orgasme.

Et ils veulent aussi entendre quelqu'un qui chante fort...

Oui, c'est vrai aussi. C'est plus facile pour moi que de chanter d'une voix suave. (rire)

Alfredo Kraus a dit un jour : «La scène forme la personnalité de l'artiste mais elle ruine sa voix.»

Cela dépend évidemment de la configuration de la scène et de l'acoustique. Si la scène est petite, le chanteur ne doit pas trop s'exposer. On a vraiment parfois l'impression que tout se ligue contre lui : le théâtre est poussiéreux, l'air très sec, la scène ouverte de tous les côtés, ce qui fait que la voix ne porte pas seulement vers le public. Au Met, ils humidifient au moins le sol. Mais à Vienne, tout est tellement sec. On est parfois engoncé dans son costume, et le col trop serré empêche de respirer ; on est obligé de chanter dans des conditions absurdes et impossibles, uniquement parce que le metteur en scène le demande.

Comment gérez-vous tout cela?

En buvant du thé et encore du thé, et aussi de l'eau. Dans le passé, les chanteurs se tenaient sur le devant de la scène à cause des bougies qui étaient placées là. Il n'y avait pas de bougies à l'arrière de la scène. Avec les systèmes d'éclairage modernes, le metteur en scène peut prendre toutes les libertés, il peut placer le chanteur à sa guise. Sauf que ce dernier a ensuite des difficultés à se faire entendre jusque dans les derniers rangs de l'orchestre. On m'a déjà dit de me placer aux endroits les plus bizarres. Aujourd'hui, je n'accepte plus ce genre de choses.

Vous avez l'air si paisible...

J'ai souvent l'air absent, parfois rêveur, mais en fait, je sais toujours ce qui se passe autour de moi. Surtout quand les metteurs en scène sont injustes. Ce qui est étonnant, c'est qu'ils viennent tous me dire : « Je ne me serais jamais attendu à cette réaction de ta part ». Il m'arrive de me mettre en colère. C'est un risque qu'il faut parfois courir. Beaucoup de metteurs en scène n'ont aucune notion de la musique et raccourcissent purement et simplement des morceaux. C'est faire preuve d'ignorance, c'est un manque de respect envers le compositeur et la partition. Bien sûr, il faut tâter le terrain pour voir s'il est préférable de faire une remarque ou de s'en s'abstenir. J'ai appris à être un peu plus diplomate (soupir). J'ai déjà voulu quitter une production mais ils ne m'ont pas laissé partir (rire). Parfois, il n'est pas bon de rester, car si quelque chose cloche, la collaboration n'a plus aucune chance de fonctionner.

Vous donnez l'impression que tout vous réussit.

J'ai eu énormément de chance dans la vie, à tous points de vue. J'ai grandi à Lima avec deux surs et une mère qui faisaient tout pour moi. Mon père chantait volontiers le folklore péruvien, en s'accompagnant à la guitare. C'est pourquoi j'ai appris à jouer de la guitare à l'âge de dix ans, mais je me cantonnais à la musique pop et aux tubes. Au début, l'opéra ne m'intéressait pas tellement. J'ai participé à des festivals pop, j'aurais pu devenir un chanteur de pop. Mais ça ne me suffisait pas. Je voulais savoir comment la musique est structurée, je voulais en connaître toujours davantage. Je suis donc allé au Conservatoire où on m'a enseigné le chant classique.

C'était aussi le cas au Curtis Institute de Philadelphie. Avez-vous dû vous adapter?

Ce n'était pas facile parce que j'avais à peine vingt ans. D'un seul coup, j'habitais seul, je devais faire le ménage et les courses, payer la facture de gaz mais aussi apprendre la ponctualité. Je ne serai jamais ponctuel. J'essaie toujours mais je n'y arrive pas.  Mais je vous rassure, j'arrive à l'heure pour mes concerts (rire). Il n'y a pas très longtemps, à Vienne, un confrère est venu à un dîner en disant : « Je vais enfin pouvoir prendre un vrai petit déjeuner ». Cela m'a beaucoup amusé.

Vous souvenez-vous de votre premier spectacle?

Oui, j'avais le trac tout en ayant l'impression de maîtriser la situation. Si c'est une chose de monter sur scène et de fournir une bonne prestation, c'en est une autre de gagner le public. J'ai senti que j'étais capable de faire les deux choses à la fois. Sur scène, j'ai souvent l'impression de me dépasser. Dans la vraie vie, je ne suis même pas capable de raconter une bonne blague. Mais quand je donne un spectacle, je me découvre tout à coup des talents de comique.

C'est un don dont vous pouvez vous servir pour votre répertoire qui se compose en grande partie d'uvres de Rossini.

Absolument. C'est le cas dans le Barbier de Séville' ou Le Comte Ory' qui sont des opéras très joyeux. Il faut faire vivre Rossini.

Où vous voyez-vous dans dix ans?

J'aimerais composer davantage. J'ai déjà orchestré et arrangé des lieder, mais cela prend énormément de temps. Comme je suis toujours par monts et par vaux, je ne peux pas m'y consacrer. J'y arriverai peut-être dans une autre vie.

Interview with Juan Diego Flórez [English translation by Jean Peccei]
Teresa Pieschacón Raphael, Arte TV, 1 December 2005

You are called the "Cavalier of the High C, or better still..."

(laughs) How does one respond to that?

What do you feel when you sing the high notes? Are you like an athlete preparing to jump?

I feel quite sure of myself. I don't have difficulty with the high notes. On the other hand, it can become more complicated with Bellini's music which is already high most of the time. So I do feel a certain tension when I have to go even higher. When I get there, I literally feel relief, a sense of release. It's different with Donizetti. I prepare myself to leap. I adopt this kind of attitude: "Now, I'll arouse your enthusiasm". It's exciting to sing a note that the audience is waiting for.

An American magazine once said 'The high notes are the banknotes'.

Yes, it's true. People want to hear the high notes. Apparently, it's like a little orgasm for them.

And they also want to hear someone who sings 'forte'.

Yes, that's true too. It's easier for me to sing like that rather than with a soft voice. (laughs)

Alfredo Kraus once said: "The stage forms the personality of the artist but it ruins his voice."

Obviously, that depends on the configuration of the stage and the acoustics. If the stage is small, the singer doesn't have to put himself too much at risk. But at times, you really have the impression that everything is conspiring against you: the dusty theatre; the very dry air; the stage open on the sides, with the result that the voice does not carry out  towards the audience. At the Met at least they humidify the floor. But in Vienna, everything is so dry. You're sometimes all bundled up in a costume; the collar is too tight and prevents you from breathing; you're obliged to sing under absurd and impossible conditions, only because the director demands it.

How do you cope with all that?

By drinking tea and yet more tea, and also water. In the past, the singers were kept at the front of the stage because the lights were placed there. There were no lights at the back of the stage. With modern lighting systems, the director has complete freedom.  He can place the singer wherever he wants to. Except that this causes difficulties in making yourself heard, even in the last rows of the orchestra. They have put me in some of the oddest places. Today, I no longer accept this kind of thing.

You have such peaceful air about you.

I often have an 'absent' air, like a dreamer sometimes, but in fact, I always know what's happening around me. Especially when the directors are unjust. What is astonishing is that they all start saying to me: "I would never have expected this reaction on your part". It can make me angry, but it's a risk you have to take. Many directors do not have any notion of the music and purely and simply shorten pieces. It shows ignorance, and is a lack of respect to the composer and the score. Of course, you have to see how the land lies to decide whether it is preferable to say something or keep quiet. I've learned how to be a little more diplomatic (sighs). Already once before, I wanted to leave a production but they didn't let me (laughs). Sometimes, it's not wise to stay, because if something goes wrong, the collaboration is not going to work any more.

You give the impression that everything has been a success for you.

I have been enormously fortunate in my life, from every point of view. I grew up in Lima with two sisters and a mother who did everything for me. My father was always singing Peruvian folk music, accompanying himself on the guitar. This is why I learned to play the guitar by the time I was ten years old, but I confined myself to pop music and hit tunes. In the beginning, opera didn't interest me so much. I took part in pop festivals, I could have become a pop singer. But that wasn't enough for me. I wanted to know how the music was structured, I always wanted to know something more. So, I went to the Conservatory [in Lima] where I was taught classical singing.

This was also the case in the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Did you have to adjust?

It wasn't easy because I was barely twenty years old. All of a sudden I was living alone. I not only had to manage the housework and my courses and to pay the gas bill but also to learn punctuality. I will be never be punctual. I always try, but I don't succeed. But I can reassure you, I arrive on time for my concerts (laughs). In Vienna recently, a colleague came to a dinner saying, "I'll finally be able to have a real breakfast." I found that really funny.

Do you remember your first performance?

Yes, I was nervous while giving the impression of being in control of the situation. It is one thing to go up on stage and do a good job, it is another to win over the audience. I felt that I was able to make both things happen at the same time. On stage, I often have the impression that I am exceeding myself. In real life, I'm not even able to tell a good joke. But when I perform, I suddenly discover my comic talent.

It is a gift that can be useful to you in your repertoire, which consists mainly of works by Rossini.

Absolutely. It is the case in the 'Barber of Seville' or 'Count Ory' which are very funny operas. It's necessary to make Rossini come alive.

Where do you see yourself in ten years time?

I would like to compose more. I've already orchestrated and arranged art songs, but that takes an enormous amount of time. Since I am always travelling all over the place, I cannot really devote myself to it. Perhaps I will manage it in another life.