This page was last updated on: January 15, 2007


January 2007

Dos viejos amigos se juntan para cantar, El Comercio (Perú), 7 January 2007
I wouldn't have walked off stage, The Telegraph, 11 January 2007
Dream-Team Opera Stars Dessay, Florez Evoke Top Cs, Pet 'Polyp', Bloomberg News, 11 January 2007

Dos viejos amigos se juntan para cantar
El Comercio (Perú), 7 January 2007

Compartieron carpeta en el colegio y pronto ocuparán el mismo escenario. El tenor y el músico ofrecerán un concierto a beneficio de la institución Sembrando

"Dos viejos amigos han decidido divertirse juntos", así definió el maestro Ernesto Palacio el proyecto de su representado, el tenor Juan Diego Flórez, y el del cantante Gian Marco Zignago para compartir un multitudinario concierto juntos.

En una conferencia de prensa realizada en los salones del Centro Cultural Inca Garcilaso de la Cancillería, el tenor informó que el divo llegará a Lima el próximo junio, para presentarse el día 5 en un concierto de piano en el que Flórez se sumará a las celebraciones por el Centenario de la Sociedad Filarmónica. Su recital se realizará en el auditorio del Colegio Santa Úrsula.

Pero tres días antes, el tenor participará en una gala mucho más informal. Con Gian Marco, su viejo compañero de colegio, el día 2 de junio compartirá un programa muy variado, que incluye piezas del repertorio lírico, los temas más clásicos del pop y, cómo no, algunas canciones del compositor de "Canción de amor" y "Se me olvidó".

Luis Ponce, representante de Gian Marco, señaló que ambos artistas vienen conversando sobre este encuentro a lo largo de los tres últimos años, intercambiando numerosos correos electrónicos. Explicó que para el concierto, cuyo escenario aún no ha sido definido, se espera entre 15 mil y 20 mil personas, en que se mezclarán los amantes de la lírica con los fanáticos del pop. Por otra parte, las entradas se pondrán en venta a mitad de abril.

Asimismo, los organizadores explicaron que se espera que el 100 por ciento del dinero recaudado por concepto de taquilla se destine a la institución Sembrando, un programa del organismo no gubernamental privado Instituto Trabajo y Familia, cuyo objetivo es trabajar con los peruanos en pobreza extrema de las zonas altoandinas. Por ello, se confía en el apoyo de la empresa privada para costear el equipamiento del concierto.

Anuncian festival de ópera desde el 2008

Además de informar sobre el concierto de ambos celebrados intérpretes, Ernesto Palacio anunció en calidad de primicia la asociación de las instituciones "Amigos Peruanos de la Ópera" y "Romanza" para producir, desde el 2008, el Festival de Ópera "Alejandro Granda", una cita con la lírica mundial a realizarse en Lima cada año entre marzo a abril. Como primer espectáculo se anunció la presentación del "Rigoletto", de Verdi, en el 2008, con la participación de Juan Diego Flórez. El divo tiene previsto en su recargada agenda protagonizar "El barbero de Sevilla" y "Elisir d'Amore" en los años 2011 y 2012.

I wouldn't have walked off stage
Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph, 11 January 2007

Juan Diego Florez, opera's greatest vocal star, returns to Covent Garden tonight. He talks to Rupert Christiansen about the risks of fame - and what he thinks of Alagna

Inevitably, the first thing to be discussed with Juan Diego Florez is the much-publicised scandal surrounding his fellow tenor Roberto Alagna, who recently stormed off the sacred stage of La Scala, Milan, after being booed during a performance of Verdi's Aida, and never returned.

Florez expresses polite admiration for Alagna the artist, but it is clear that the 33-year-old Peruvian is a much cooler customer who would not have reacted in the same way. "I've never been booed, though I've been in productions where everyone else was, so I can imagine the pain. Perhaps one day it will happen to me, but so far I've had luck. I think it is something I could handle OK."

He certainly seems to handle everything else OK. Since the summer of 1996, when he made a sensational debut in Rossini's Matilde di Shabran at the Pesaro Festival, he has enjoyed the virtually unanimous and often hysterical acclaim of audiences in all the major opera houses of the world (not least the supremely exigent La Scala).

The bravos will doubtless ring out again when he returns to Covent Garden tonight to sing the show-stopping role of the naive recruit Tonio  last sung here by Pavarotti more than 40 years ago  in Donizetti's deliciously silly comedy La Fille du regiment, with Natalie Dessay as his beloved Marie.

Florez currently ranks as opera's greatest vocal phenomenon. For sheer technical virtuosity  acrobatic flexibility, speed and clarity, stunning top Cs, security of pitch and breath control, there isn't a tenor like him on record, and the history books will surely rank him alongside Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne and Cecilia Bartoli as one of the legendary exponents of the Italian bel canto style. For an industry hungry for more vulgar levels of publicity, he presents other significant qualities, too, his slim and handsome appearance providing the heart-throb factor that can fill big concert halls and send CD sales rocketing.

His fame  which in some European countries reaches rock-star proportions  has not yet floored him: Florez seems very self-aware, self-contained and emotionally balanced. At home in Pesaro, close to Rossini's birthplace and the mansion of his friend and admirer Pavarotti, he chills out, listening to Latin American music, playing a bit of football, catching up with email and spending time with his girlfriend, a German-Australian who has given up her own operatic career to travel with him.

He has little time for anything else, he says, though he does enjoy composition  he writes all his own ornaments for florid arias, and this Christmas, his first choral and orchestral composition was given its première in Vienna.

He doesn't have the easy warmth or charm of the other new tenor marvel Rolando Villazon, but he gives a pleasant, polished interview, leaving one feeling that he is someone determined to make a success of his big chance, bolstered by the good sense not to turn himself into a monster of ego.

"Red lights flash sometimes," he admits, when asked how success has changed him. "There are moments of stress when you think, 'Oh my God, I could become this horrible person.' I am lucky to have people around me whom I trust, people who keep my feet on the ground." Foremost among his court is Ernesto Palacio, his guide and mentor as well as his agent, with whom he has an unusually close professional relationship.

What makes Palacio so valuable to Florez is that he too was a bel canto tenor  one with a considerable reputation in the '70s and '80s. He can therefore not only make bookings and negotiate fees, but also advise sensitively on vocal and artistic matters.

Palacio's counsel seems very wise. One common tenor disease is the vain longing to push the voice beyond its natural capacity in order to sing more dramatic and romantic roles. This is at the heart of Alagna's problems with Aida. But Florez seems very content to continue singing what he is naturally good at  Donizetti, Bellini and, in particular, Rossini.

Others might get bored with their rather two-dimensional characterisations, frequent resort to cliché and tendency to give the prima donna the best tunes, but Florez knows that their music shows his vocal endowment to its best advantage, and he's in no hurry to move on to the richer musical pastures of Verdi and Puccini, Gounod and Massenet.

The irony is that for someone whose singing seems so fabulously daring, Florez is actually very cautious and calculating about displaying it.

"It's not as though I am singing these operas the whole time," he explains. "I space them out with concerts and recitals, and I take on one new role each year: next come Les Pecheurs de Perles, Così fan tutte and Orfeo e Euridice. But my voice is not changing yet, it is not getting darker or heavier. So, while I have the high notes and flexibility, I want to use them, and operas like Il Barbiere di Siviglia, La Sonnambula and La Fille du regiment are the best way to do that.

"Bellini's melodies give me spiritual pleasure, they're so beautiful that they make the hairs on my arm stand up; Rossini is more physical  singing his music makes me feel like a sports guy going for the gold medal.

"So why should I worry? I am still at the beginning of my career, and I am booked up until 2012. I am lucky, I am not forced to do things just to make money.

"My big ambition is to sing as well as I do in my ideal. I come off stage every night, and compared with the way I sang the aria inside my head, I give myself low marks. People say I am too hard, but I know it could always have been better."

Dream-Team Opera Stars Dessay, Florez Evoke Top Cs, Pet 'Polyp'
Warwick Thompson, Bloomberg News, 11 January 2007

From the outside, it looks like a dream team. ``It looks like one from the inside too,'' says Natalie Dessay.

She should know. The team in question comprises the most exciting coloratura soprano -- Dessay -- with the top bel canto tenor, Juan Diego Florez. They've only appeared together a handful of times before, and now they're about to star in a new production of Donizetti's 1840 comedy ``La Fille du Regiment'' (The Daughter of the Regiment) at the Royal Opera House in London.

The opera is hard to cast and hasn't been heard at Covent Garden since Pavarotti and Joan Sutherland sang it 40 years ago. Laurent Pelly's staging is special for another reason, too. It marks Dessay's debut in the role of Marie, a young tomboy who has been brought up among soldiers and who retains her military manners even when she becomes an heiress in polite society.

I caught up with Dessay, 41, and Florez, 33, separately at the Royal Opera to talk about the dream-team casting, Pelly's production, and why Dessay called her cat ``Polyp.''

Thompson: The opera is most famous for the tenor aria ``Ah, mes amis'' with its nine top Cs. It seems to me more like an Olympic event than an aria. Do you get nervous, Juan Diego?

Florez: No, I've sung it a lot and I'm very comfortable with it. Sometimes in Italy when the audience won't let the opera continue without an immediate encore, I even have do it twice -- and it's still not a problem. It's written well, and comes at a point in the opera when I'm not too tired. The slow Act 2 aria, ``Pour me rapprocher,'' is much more difficult. You have to sing it with great delicacy of phrasing, placing every note and vowel correctly, and find a true legato.

Regimental Voice

Thompson: Are there any problems like that for you, Natalie?

Dessay: The role of Marie is really two roles in one. I do all the French dialogue in a low, gruff, military voice and then I sing in a much higher, bel canto fashion, and switching between the two is horribly difficult. But to help with the dialogue, I'm basing the character on the French actress Arletty (who had a famously low, penetrating voice) in the 1941 film ``Madame Sans- Gene.'' She played a washerwoman who became a duchess, but her manners were still rough and blunt, and she was very funny.

Thompson: Is there a reason you've waited so long to tackle this role?

Dessay: It's written a little lower than the high coloratura roles I was doing previously. My voice has changed recently, and now I have the low notes, I feel ready to sing it.

Amazing Notes

Thompson: How has it been working with Juan Diego?

Dessay: Wonderful. He's excellent at being the ``straight guy'' to all my comedy antics. His voice is so flexible and easy and has those amazing top notes -- I could listen to it forever.

Thompson: Juan Diego, can I ask you the same question about Natalie?

Florez: She's an extraordinary performer. When I see her in this role, I feel as if I'm seeing it for the first time. Everything she does is so fresh, and she makes it all credible. She also has been generous in helping me with the French dialogue.

Thompson: Natalie, could you tell me something about Pelly's production?

Dessay: He has updated the opera to a stylized, dream-like version of World War I, and the set is made up of hills and mountains created out of old military maps. He's good at creating comedy and he really encourages us to use the music to time our gestures properly. Although the plot is very silly -- even by operatic standards -- he makes poetry out of it.

Feline Trio

Thompson: You mentioned that your voice has changed recently. I've also seen that you've been open about the surgery you needed to cope with nodules on your vocal cords. Is everything OK now?

Dessay: I hope so. I wanted to be open about this problem because there's a culture of shame around these things among singers, as if it's taboo. My technique wasn't faulty, I didn't do anything wrong, but I still got nodules. In France, we use the expression ``to have a cat in your throat'' when your voice is sore. So after my surgery, I named my cats ``Polyp,'' ``Nodule'' and ``Cyst'' because I was so glad they were outside.