August - October 2005
Photo from Il Resto del Carlino, 7 August 2005

Lyric's 'Prince Charming' has own Cinderella tale, Chicago Sun-Times, 30 October 2005
Un tenor hispano en "Cenicienta", La Raza, 20 October 2005
At ease with his fame, his fans and his voice, Chicago Tribune, 2 October 2005
Cinderella and her Prince, Chicago Lyric Opera, September 2005
Florez: Pavarotti mi chiamò campione, AGI, 20 August 2005
Brilla una stella, è Juan Diego Florez, Il Messaggero, 19 August 2005


Lyric's 'Prince Charming' has own Cinderella tale
Laura Emerick, The Chicago Sun-Times, 30 October 2005

"There's a magic, some sweet enchantment, that has made him so exciting."

When mezzo soprano Vesselina Kasarova as Cinderella sings these words in the first act of Rossini's "La Cenerentola," she could be speaking of her co-star, rising young tenor Juan Diego Florez.

At 32, "the new Pavarotti," as the London Times, among others, has dubbed him, the Peruvian-born singer has become the toast of the opera world, with engagements at all the major houses, including La Scala, the Met and Covent Garden. At Lyric Opera, where he's making his long-awaited debut, Florez dashes off the florid coloratura passages of Don Ramiro, the prince of "La Cenerentola," with dazzling agility and brilliant tone. In the treacherous Act 2 aria "Si ritrovarla io guiro," he effortlessly nails the sustained high Cs.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this Prince Charming launched his career nearly a decade ago with his own Cinderella moment when he stepped in to replace an ailing tenor in the rarity "Matilde di Shabran" at the prestigious Rossini Festival in Pesaro, Italy.

"The artistic director came to me and said, 'You are the one, you could do it. Nobody knows the role, but if you can do two pages of the score, you could do the whole opera,'" recalled Florez. "It was so crazy; somehow I learned a difficult, unfamiliar opera in less than a week. Right after that, I went to La Scala and basically have never stopped since.

"But in all stages," he said with a smile, "my life is like that -- too fast, too soon."

Now a master of the bel canto repertoire, Florez started as a teenager singing rock and Peruvian folk music. "My favorites were the Rolling Stones and the Beatles," he said. "They're not from my time, but I still like them, of course."

This summer, he got to meet some of his childhood idols when he performed at Live 8 in Berlin. "Brian Wilson stopped by and said hello. It was just great to be there," he said. "I couldn't sing a rock song, it would have been [odd], so I sang 'You'll Never Walk Alone' instead."

But his heart remains in bel canto, not Broadway, even though 18th century Italian opera has a somewhat limited audience.

"I am used to the bias. It is easier to listen to Verdi, harder to be a listener of bel canto," he said. "If you don't have a really great singer, then bel canto can be a bore. You don't have the doubling of the orchestra over the vocal line in bel canto. The orchestra is very quiet, and the singer has the weight of melody.

"But they're great masters, I enjoy all three of them," he said, referring to the bel canto trinity of Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini. "Also, Mozart. I am adding roles gradually, one role a year. I recently added Arturo in 'I Puritani' and Nemorino in 'L'Elisir d'Amore.' And 'Cosi fan tutte,' 'Orfeo ed Euridice' and 'Rigoletto,' the only Verdi role in my repertoire right now. All these roles I will sing before 2011."

Florez belongs to a new generation of Latin-born tenors, along with Rolando Villazon, Ramon Vargas and Marcelo Alvarez. "Maybe it's due to zarzuela, the songs are very lyrical," said Florez, in explaining the recent wave of great native Spanish-speaking artists. "But we produce tenors especially, and I think the production of tenors from Italy has declined."

However, a Spanish tenor of the earlier era, the great Alfredo Kraus (1927-1999), serves as his muse. "My [interpretation in] 'Rigoletto' is inspired by him. We have a similar vocal quality, we are light lyric tenors. The difference between him and me is that he sang romantic roles, such as 'La traviata.' But I try to approach his elegance, the beauty of his phrasing. He sings right way. It's forward, full of brilliant, ringing tones. It's the Italian sound."

Like Kraus, who chose his roles wisely and sang into his 70s, Florez plans to take a similarly deliberate approach. In tribute, he made his debuts in "L'Elisir" and "I Puritani" in Las Palmas, Kraus' home theater in the Canary Islands off Spain.

"One of my regrets is never meeting him in person. He spoke well of me. I feel that in that some way, he protects me."

Florez: At ease with his fame, his fans and his voice
John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, 2 October 2005

Now that the wheezing Three Tenors road show has long since run out of gas and the trio's famed linchpin, the 69-year-old Luciano Pavarotti, is limping through what is being billed as his "worldwide farewell celebration tour," inquiring minds want to know who the next Pavarotti is going to be.

The popular press has wasted little time crowning the Big Guy's heir apparent: Juan Diego Florez.

For good reason. In less that a decade, the darkly handsome Peruvian heartthrob, 32, has spun a sensational light lyric tenor, amazing vocal virtuosity and a charismatic stage presence into a major international career.

And he has done so singing the most florid and highest-flying music in the tenor repertory -- the early 19th Century Italian opera known as bel canto (Italian for "beautiful singing"), the light, agile style of vocalism expected by composers Rossini and Bellini.

Having touched off feeding frenzies at virtually all the leading opera houses, the bel canto poster hunk is about to make his long-awaited Lyric Opera debut as Don Ramiro, the Prince Charming role in Rossini's "La Cenerentola," singing opposite mezzo-soprano Vesselina Kasarova. Lyric's revival of its venerable Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production opens Wednesday at the Civic Opera House.

Not a Pavarotti clone

Irritated by journalists constantly pinning that "second Pavarotti" label on him, despite having been anointed his successor by none other than Pavarotti himself, Florez once silenced a persistent interviewer by declaring, "I want to be regarded as the first Juan Diego Florez!"

But when we spoke recently about his rapid rise and his approach to singing, he seemed less irritated than flattered by the comparisons with his tenoral idol.

"Of course I was honored when Pavarotti said that about me, because I think he is the greatest voice of the last century. But Luciano knows my repertory is different from his. He means somebody who has a nice voice and who can make a good career, not a Pavarotti clone," said Florez, lounging in the sunlit conference room of the State Street apartment complex where he's staying while in Chicago. In his black shirt, black blazer, designer jeans and boots, he looked more like a GQ cover model than an opera star.

Through Florez's lightly accented English a portrait emerged of a serious, modest and thoughtful artist who's too secure to cultivate the self-importance so many celebrity singers carry with them. He seems to have his feet entirely on the ground, knows who he is and what he wants from his life and a career so busy he hardly ever sees his home in Bergamo, Italy, though it's only 30 minutes from Milan's La Scala, where he's a mainstay.

That being the case, Florez can afford to be amused by the pop-style image peddling of his record company, Decca, whose album covers display him in Latin-lover poses. Although the tenor has been called opera's answer to Tom Cruise, it's hard to imagine Florez jumping up and down on Oprah's couch and proclaiming his love for the lady who shares his life (in his case, the beautiful German girlfriend who travels with him).

"Looks are perhaps more important to the marketing departments of the record labels than they are to me," Florez said, without a trace of sarcasm. Besides, he added, "being an opera singer is not like being a movie star. What we do isn't followed by the entire world. Ours is a very stressful life. You're traveling all the time, singing everywhere and using your voice so much. You have to know how to take care of it and yourself."

In the eight short years of his international career, Florez seems to be doing just that. The pre-eminent Rossini scholar Philip Gossett, of the University of Chicago, describes him as "a truly elegant singer, which is rare in any circumstances, but he also possesses physical as well as vocal nobility, and he's absolutely right for Rossini."

That being the case, Florez doesn't have to be in any hurry to grab Pavarotti's crown, and he's not. The vast majority of engagements he will fill in the immediate future (he's booked solid through 2011) will be in the Rossini and other bel canto repertory he feels most comfortable singing. Indeed, with his vocal gifts, superb sense of style, good looks and intelligence, he has everything needed to sell operas some contemporary audiences feel are faded relics from the early Romantic era.

"I am very sure of what my voice can and cannot do," Florez declared. "My voice is a light lyric tenor that is good for certain roles that lie high and require flexibility. And so there is no need to look very far beyond Rossini. Although I also sing Bellini and Donizetti, I am always returning to Rossini as my good-luck charm."

From piano bar to La Scala

So how did the son of a popular Peruvian singer (Ruben Florez) go from singing in Lima's piano bars as a teenager to starring at La Scala and the Metropolitan and all the other elite opera theaters?

Florez is as astonished as anyone by his rapid ascent.

He grew up listening to Latin American pop music with no thought of becoming an opera singer. After a few years of study at the Lima conservatory, he won a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where he got bitten by the operatic bug after closely studying recordings by the singers who soon became his tenoral idols, Alfredo Kraus and Pavarotti. He began studying with another Peruvian tenore di grazia (the Italian term meaning "tenor of grace"), Ernesto Palacio, who became his mentor and now serves as his manager too.

Florez credits Palacio with remaking his vocal production, pulling the sound from the back of the throat and allowing him to sing more forwardly and openly, with the bright ping that is so characteristic of Latin tenors. On his own he developed a scholarly interest in the problems presented by Rossini's music. In such operas as "The Barber of Seville" (which he is scheduled to sing at Lyric a couple of seasons down the line) he has reinstated arias long cut because they were considered too difficult to sing. He also tapes every rehearsal and spends a lot of time going over specific passages with his manager.

`This is bad!'

The tenor is nothing if not self-critical. "Soon after my debut in 1996, I listened to the tape of my performance," Florez said. "Everybody was satisfied with how I sang. But when I heard the tape, I thought, `This is bad!' My high notes were not firm; many times I was off pitch. I was 23, and it was my first real job. I have improved so much since then, little by little."

There he goes again: modest to a fault. Florez is just as self-effacing when he speaks of how he wound up on a Peruvian postage stamp.

"When they issued the stamp last year I thought it was a joke," he said. "People started sending me letters with my face on them!" He then explained the honor of being one of the few living operatic artists to appear on a stamp, anywhere. "They are very proud of me in Peru. When I go home, everybody recognizes me on the street. For them it's a good thing since the country has so many problems and crises. It doesn't matter that many of them have never heard me sing -- they are so happy that somebody puts the country's name out there in the world, in such a positive way."

Florez smiled. "So I guess you can be a prophet in your own land."

Cinderella and her Prince [excerpt]
Roger Pines, Chicago Lyric Opera, September 2005

[...] In the Financial Times, Andrew Clark described this young Peruvian artist as "the new tenor phenomenon. Here is a dream come true: a tenore di grazia who is musical, has a sweet, ringing tone, and holds the stage with aristocratic assurance....Time stops when Flórez sings  he's really that good." Flórez has sung Don Ramiro in La Cenerentola at the Met, Covent Garden, Pesaro's Rossini Opera Festival, San Francisco, Paris, Zürich, and Genoa. Don Ramiro is one of nine Rossini roles that Flórez has performed onstage.

Vocally the Rossini repertoire is very exciting for me, and of course, very challenging because it's difficult music. The satisfaction I get from it is incredible, though, not only on the vocal side, but because the music itself is so wonderful. It gives you a thrill  and of course, it was written for singers of the time who were simply the greatest. It's marvelous to be able to do the fireworks (which feel as if one were solving a challenge), and to have that success recognized in the audience's response.

If a Rossini role is written for the tenor Giovanni David [1790-1864], I know it's going to be right for me as well. It will have high notes, which I love doing, and it will be very florid, which also works for me. If it was written for Manuel García [1775-1832], then it all depends, since he varied from baritonal to tenor range. With David, though, I can be sure. I think I always had the ease for singing high notes, but of course I had to polish them. With some of my early recordings I say, "Well, it wasn't so good." But now it's much better because I've done my homework. In acting, too, I've worked a lot. Now I'm having so much fun acting! Regarding agility, when I started to work with my teacher in Lima my first arias were by Haydn and Bach, with a lot of coloratura. So from the beginning I got used to singing with that kind of flexibility. It gave me confidence from the start.

A singer can't really say, "OK, what do I like? Do I like Verdi? Puccini? What can I sing?" You have to have the voice to sing a certain repertoire. It's not so much what you choose, but what your voice is meant for. When I was at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, they did Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia and Il viaggio a Reims. I was lucky to have a school that was preparing those operas that were right for my voice. When you sing Rossini, you have to measure very well the weight you give your voice. You sing legato, then coloratura, and the voice has to be light enough to sing both. I sing Rossini in a very full way with a natural voice, although you do have to have a lightness in Rossini that you don't necessarily need for [Bellini's] I puritani or La sonnambula. Passing from Bellini or Donizetti to Rossini can be difficult; the muscles of the voice are used to moving in a certain way and then, when you change to Rossini, you have to sing lighter and the muscles don't want to work! That change is dramatic  you have to work hard at it.

Rossini's characters can often be rewarding to act. In Pesaro I've sung Corradino in Matilde di Shabran, where the character is incredibly complex  a neurotic man, a hypochondriac, who has a real metamorphosis in the middle of the opera. In Rossini's serious operas the roles can be more like statues, while in something like Barbiere the tenor has to be a real comic actor. I think I have a special talent to be funny onstage, more than being serious. In Cenerentola the tenor isn't really the comic figure  at least, not like Dandini, who really is a funny guy! Ramiro simply needs to be natural and aristocratic. Vocally, of course, you have to have agility and high Cs. The role sits very comfortably if you have the notes, because it's not excessive singing  it doesn't tire you very much. Ramiro's duet with Cenerentola is beautiful, and of course, there is his wonderful aria. He also has a phrase that I love in the first-act quintet, "Di quella voce il suono" ["That voice does not reach my heart unrecognized," when the veiled Cenerentola appears at the palace].

I write a lot of my ornamentation myself. I like sometimes to vary it in the performance; for example, in Madrid when I was oing Barbiere last January and February,in the later performances I just changed it without telling the conductor! Maybe he wasn't happy, but the music should have a freedom in Rossini  singers should be able to invent in the moment. I think the role of Cenerentola is perfect for Vesselina Kasarova. She's a very, very sweet girl, with innocence, and she gives that to the piece. Because she's like this in real life, it's great. Our voices go very well together. Of course, the performing team for Rossini has to be good vocally, but the music also has to flow. If the conductor interferes too much and already has a conception  well, in this music you shouldn't have a conception, because singers vary so much. The music simply has to flow naturally.

Florez: Pavarotti mi chiamò campione
Agenzia Giornalistica Italiana (AGI), 20 August 2005

C'e' molto Rossini nel futuro di Juan Diego Florez, che da Pesaro e con Rossini ha avviato una carriera di grandissimo spessore: dieci recite di Cenerentola a Chicago, poi Semiramide, in mezzo c'e' Donizetti con Don Pasquale. E al Rof tornera' tra due anni, per fare di nuovo Matilde di Shabran. Il tenore peruviano, che ha appena acquistato una casa sulle colline di Pesaro, vicina alla villa di Luciano Pavarotti: un modo per abbinare lavoro e vacanze, visto che sara' pronta per l'estate del 2007. "Con Pavarotti ho rapporti molto buoni - ha detto oggi, incontrando i giornalisti accreditati al Festival rossiniano -. Ci siamo conosciuti a Pesaro e poi lui mi ha invitato a cantare a New York in occasione di un omaggio per le sue ultime apparizioni come Cavaradossi. Al telefono mi ha detto: campione, ho scelto te e non voglio nessun altro". Gli ha fatto visita nei giorni scorsi?: "Per me e' un idolo fin da quando studiavo in Conservatorio e stargli vicino mi sembra un sogno", ha confessato. I suoi impegni sono scanditi con estrema cura: 60-70 recite all'anno. "Anche all'epoca di Caruso funzionava cosi' - ha spiegato Florez -, anzi forse si cantava anche piu' di oggi. Una media di una recita e mezzo a settimana, con due o tre giorni di riposo, credo che possa funzionare. Del resto il cantante capisce subito se esagera". Il cantante ha capito presto che voleva fare musica e si e' iscritto al Conservatorio di Lima, la citta' dove e' nato: li ha capito che poteva cantare bene. Dal Peru' agli States: una scelta obbligata ("Per guardarmi intorno mi sono trasferito a Philadelphia") per chi voleva a tutti i costi specializzarsi in canto. "Ho capito che cantare l'opera era l'unica cosa che volevo e potevo fare - ha ricordato oggi -. E una figura fondamentale per la mia carriera e' stata quella di Ernesto Palacio".

Nonostante i complimenti e le coccole di "Big Luciano", un carnet di impegni "tutto esaurito" e le strepitose critiche che si guadagna nel mondo, Juan Diego Florez non si sente un divo. "Perche' dovrei esserlo? - si e' chiesto il tenore peruviano -. Sono una persona come tutte le altre e in questo modo mi propongo agli altri. Il divismo e' anche una questione di moda e nel repertorio rossiniano non ci sono divi. La DiDonato, ad esempio, non avra' mai atteggiamenti da diva e vale lo stesso per Daniela Barcellona". "Fra i grandissimi tenori, penso a Placido Domingo, che conosco piuttosto bene - ha aggiunto -. E' la persona piu' semplice che si possa immaginare, si ricorda i nomi di tutti quelli che lavorano con lui, compresi i sarti, i tecnici; trova il tempo di parlare con tutti ed e' sempre molto disponibile". Cantare e' una gratificazione? "Dipende molto anche da come stai con la voce - ha ammesso Florez -. Se hai qualche problema, anche se il pubblico non se ne accorge, tu fai fatica e di certo non ti diverti. In genere sono veramente felice quando lavoro e molto dipende anche dal cast: se hai un partner flessibile, che sa stare al gioco - magari un gioco di sguardi - allora e' molto bello improvvisare, sentirsi libero. E' quello che succede con Joyce (DiDonato, Rosina nel Barbiere): ti segue subito sia vocalmente che dal punto di vista scenico". Sono diversi gli aspetti che Juan Diego Florez considera al momento di scegliere un personaggio. "Alcuni personaggi mi affascinano per la loro vocalita' o per la recitazione o per tutte e due le cose", ha spiegato il cantante che oggi ha regalato anche un'anticipazione: "Un ruolo molto bello e' quello di Arnoldo nel Guglielmo Tel": so che lo faro' ma non ho ancora deciso quando. E' un ruolo difficile, che sembra scritto per due tenori con caratteristiche vocali diverse".

"Il Barbiere di Siviglia" (l'ultima recita del 22 agosto sigillera' la XXVI edizione del ROF) e' stato un successo soprattutto personale per Juan Diego Florez. Il suo rapporto con Ronconi e' di lunga data: al Festival rossiniano ha lavorato con il regista ne Il Viaggio a Reims, La Cenerentola, La donna del lago. "Nel Barbiere ci e' stato chiesto di recitare in maniera diversa dal solito - ha spiegato -. Mi sono divertito e sono convinto che alla fine l'opera funzioni bene". Per il tenore, "si tratta di un Barbiere surreale, con un melange" di idee: penso che il pubblico si diverta molto". Con Ronconi ha parlato molto per capire bene quello il regista che aveva in mente. "Mi piace intervenire, fare alcune proposte, insomma mi devo sentire libero - ha chiarito -. E' successo anche in questo Barbiere, ad esempio nella scena in cui il Conte si traveste da Don Alonso, falso prete e maestro di musica di Rosina. Che poi la regia ad alcuni possa non piacere e' normale che succeda. Ovviamente sono felice che il pubblico abbia applaudito la mia prova. Dietro c'e' tanto impegno, studio e lavoro per curare tutti gli aspetti della vocalita', dalle colorature agli acuti. Al Rof poi si crea un clima particolare, sento questa "comunicazione" con il pubblico, avverto un grande calore". E il rapporto con l'orchestra? Florez non ha dubbi: "Gatti ha fatto un lavoro stupendo. Eravamo trascinati dalla sua energia, contagiati dalle sue idee. Ha saputo dare all'orchestra quella leggerezza e quella trasparenza che sono proprie di Rossini. E questo nonostante le prove siano state veramente poche: credo che sia uno dei piu' grandi direttori al mondo"

Brilla una stella, è Juan Diego Florez
Claudio Salvi, Il Messaggero, 19 August 2005

Il cantante peruviano è l'interprete principale nel "Barbiere di Siviglia"

Anche se ha impegni fino al 2011, con una media di recite da far impallidire chiunque, cachèt che solo i grandi teatri possono permettersi e una serie indefinita di progetti discografici, Juan Diego Florez star di questa XXVI edizione del Rossini Festival , non ha perso la semplicità di sempre. Alla conferenza stampa organizzata dal Rof è arrivato puntualissimo anticipando persino i cronisti. Ormai cittadino pesarese (ha acquistato una casa sul colle San Bartolo sopra la villa di Pavarotti), Florez è ancora impegnato nelle ultime recite del Barbiere di Siviglia nella discussa regia di Luca Ronconi . E proprio da questa comincia: «Mi sono trovato bene in questo Barbiere un po' surreale che è andato contro le tradizioni. Io e Ronconi abbiamo parlato molto: ho capito quello che lui voleva e dopo tutto è stato naturale. Devo dire che mi sono anche divertito». Florez è entusiasta dell'accoglienza di quest'opera: «sono contento che il pubblico abbia apprezzato e non solo per il successo personale». Anche la direzione musicale di Daniele Gatti ha aiutato un cast di altissimo livello: «Ti senti trascinato da lui, con questa energia che infonde tutto acquista effervescenza, vigore. Gatti sa dare questo alla musica. E dire che abbiamo fatto solo pochissime prove ma lui è uno dei più grandi direttori al mondo e perciò tutto si spiega». Sui suoi prossimi impegni conferma la sua presenza ad anni dispari al Rof anche se sarà qui spesso per motivi "logistici". «Servirà almeno un anno e mezzo - spiega - per i lavori di ristrutturazione della casa e dunque mi vedrete spesso a Pesaro». Sulla vicinanza di casa con Pavarotti dice: «Sono stato anche ieri a casa sua e gli ho presentato mio padre, ci sentiamo regolarmente da quando nel 2002 ci siamo conosciuti». Florez svela ai cronisti l'invito di Big Luciano a cantare ad una festa a New York. «Quando mi ha chiamato al telefono - racconta - mi ha detto: Campione! Ho scelto te e nessun altro per la mia festa». Anche se mancano due sole recite del Barbiere (stasera e lunedì) la testa del tenore peruviano è già ai prossimi impegni internazionali: un vero tour de force sapientemente dosato dal maestro e agente Ernesto Palacio . Ma nel 2007 Juan Diego sarà di nuovo al Rof per la Matilde di Shabran: «quasi sicuramente» puntualizza. Quanto ad un grande progetto del Rof (protagonista nel Guglielmo Tell l'impegnativa opera che nella storia ha falcidiato intere schiere di tenori), Florez prende tempo: «Preferisco aspettare, non c'è fretta».

Un tenor hispano en "Cenicienta"
La Raza, 20 October 2005

La versión que Gioachino Rossini escribió y fue llevado a la ópera presenta el debut del tenor peruano Juan Diego Flórez, que el San Francisco Chronicle calificó como "encantador de audiencias por sus altas notas y perfecta performance".

La obra que se presenta hasta el 4 de noviembre en Lyric Opera of Chicago ha merecido elogios del Chicago Sun Times, así como la actuación de Flórez que sorprende por la limpieza de su voz, representando al Príncipe Arturo [sic] con una fenomenal fuerza belcantista en esta producción cantada en italiano con subtítulos en inglés.

El cantante de 31 años, que se ha paseado por el mundo con su voz, dijo que "Rossini está en mis cuerdas", como una forma de agradecer al compositor que más gloria le ha dado, y que ha llevado al mundialmente famoso Lucciano Pavarotti a decir que él es la gran figura de la nueva generación.

Algo que Flórez se lo toma con tranquilidad y huye de las celebridades: "Quiero vivir tranquilo", aseguró la noche del homenaje que le dieron sus compatriotas en un club privado de Chicago, con quienes compartió anécdotas y disfrutó de un espectáculo de danzas peruanas.

"No todo es ópera y música clásica en mi vida. Yo amo la música criolla de mi país, pues mi padre fue un músico criollo y me crié entre valses, marineras y tonderos. Y no es verdad que soy el más grande tenor peruano, pues ese crédito le corresponde al maestro chalaco -del Callao- Alejandro Granda, quien cantó en la Scala de Milán", dijo humildemente en la reunión a la que asistió acompañado de sus padres y su novia. 


This page was last updated on: October 30, 2005