This page was last updated on: December 19, 2006


Recital, Barbican Hall, London, 9 December 2006
Barbican photo courtesy of Stephen Cutler

Juan Diego Flórez, Barbican Hall, London, Financial Times, 12 December 2006
Concert: Juan Diego Flórez, The Times, 13  December 2006
Recital: Mozart, Rossini, Arias, Morales, Bellini, Donizetti, Seen & Heard, 13 December 2006 [excerpt]
Frills, trills and animal passion, The Observer, 17 December 2006 [excerpt]
Juan Diego Florez, Barbican, London, The Independent, 18 December 2006
Juan Diego Flórez, Barbican Hall, London
Richard Fairman,  Financial Times, 12 December 2006

Warning: this review may be painful for New Yorkers to read. The tenor and bel canto specialist Juan Diego Flórez was due to give a pair of solo recitals in New York and London last week, but a cold struck him down, forcing him to cancel his Carnegie Hall appearance at the eleventh hour (a new date has been announced for March 10 next year).

When the time arrived for the London recital on Saturday, Flórez was still not fully recovered, but he sang anyway. The only visible precaution was a small cup of tea on an improbably large table. Perhaps other bel canto tenors should enquire what was in that tea. They could probably do with some too.

Even at less than 100 per cent, Flórez is way out in front of his rivals. Although his voice sounded on the dry side when he sang quietly, there was no stopping him once he was into his stride. Top C's pealed forth, including a dozen or so in one verse of the famed tenor aria from Donizetti's La Fille du régiment, which he sang by public demand as an encore - compensation for those who do not have tickets to see him in the Royal Opera's forthcoming production. Maybe by that point of the evening singing the complete piece did seem incautious.

The problem is that recitals of bel canto arias with piano feel very limited in scope. Flórez was fortunate to have impeccably groomed accompaniments from Vincenzo Scalera and countered sameness as far as he could by leavening his Rossini and Donizetti with three Mozart arias and a handful of songs from his Peruvian homeland.

There was artistry in even the minor morsels, but for an example of what he can really do there was nothing better than Bellini's song "Per pietà, bell'idol mio", a reworking of material from the opera I Puritani which gives tenors a chance to get their hands on the heroine's main aria. Flórez phrased it so beautifully that it could have melted a heart of stone. Sopranos should count their lucky stars that Mr and Mrs Flórez had a boy.

Concert: Juan Diego Flórez
Geoff Brown, The Times, 13  December 2006

At Carnegie Hall, just one week before, he'd cancelled a similar recital with the pianist Vincenzo Scalera at a few hours' notice. Here in London a tell-tale cup of something soothing lay on a table beside him. But the Peruvian Adonis and tenor god Juan Diego Flórez wasn't to be defeated. Valiantly placing what remained of a heavy cold behind him, he instituted a few programme changes, then gave fans and groupies, even hard critics, a pretty good show.

No one would have guessed from his teasingly held final note in La donna è mobile, or the chameleon tones of Una furtiva lagrima, that the throat had ever been seriously under siege. Similarly with the laser-beam stabs in the advertisement for his Fille du Régiment, due at Covent Garden in January. But all those items were encores, when the voice had reached a peak of liquidity and warmth, not always scaled elsewhere. The opening Mozart selections, in particular, had sounded a fraction pinched, with the nasal note in his tenor blaze more than usually noticeable.

Perhaps Mozart himself, not Flórez's usual territory, was part of the problem there; though whatever he sang, the stage charisma remained undimmed. Standing alone or brushing elegantly against the piano, Flórez's command of communication and gesture was impeccable: the arms imploring, the hands cradling, the eyes searching us out. Even his legs were expressive. Placed alongside, Scalero's accompaniments emerged clean and crisp, but a bit too shy.

After the Mozart came Flórez's beloved Rossini. The heart throbbed through the sweet homesick song Qui sempre ride il cielo; the top notes peeled in the opera bites from Il turco in Italia and Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra. But it took the interval and the idiomatic songs from Peru for full Flórez lift-off. The Bellini songs thereafter, La ricordanza especially, were adorable; and the Linda di Chamounix aria gusted with such force that you wondered how Donizetti's hero Carlo would ever let his mother dictate his love life. Nothing wimpish about Flórez, as this recital proved. Throat gremlins and all, he still stood and delivered.  4/5 STARS

Recital: Mozart, Rossini, Arias, Morales, Bellini, Donizetti
Melanie Eskenazi, Seen & Heard, 13 December 2006
[Excerpt - the complete review is available on Seen & Heard.]
[...] A Bellini group showed that even with a chest infection, this is the leading 'bel canto' singer of today  it was all there, from beauty of tone to exact phrasing and shiveringly lovely high notes, most obviously in the challenging 'La ricordanza' with its high Romanticism which still manages to retain some bite in the sentiments and cadences of the music; 'Ah! quant'era in quell'ora il morir caro!' (oh, how sweet it would have been to die in that hour!') was meltingly phrased and sent the audience into ecstasies, not for the first or last time in the evening. The scheduled programme ended with Donizetti's  'Linda!...Si ritirò' from Linda di Chamounix and gave further demonstration of the treat which New York had missed: this was singing of the most intense dramatic power, finesse in phrasing and sensitivity in language  anyone doubting this singer's prowess would only have to hear that wonderful diminuendo at 'la nostra Guerra avrà' (our battles will have an end) when it is so much easier to go for the 'big tenor bow-wow,' to know that this is a voice in a thousand.

Vincenzo Scalera was a collaborative, tasteful and sensitive accompanist - none of which epithets usually come to mind when considering the pianists in such recitals, and it was clear that he played a large part in ensuring that the less-than-100%-fit singer survived the evening. Not only did Flórez do so, but returned to give three superb encores, an 'Una furtiva lagrima' which displayed his wonderful taste, diction and phrasing, an 'Ah! mes Amis' (was he mad, I asked myself?) where his command of the high C and his excellent French were undiminished, and best of all a 'La Donna è Mobile' which Pavarotti in his prime could not have bettered, in its joyful bounce, its linguistic colour, its agility and above all that sense of the singer snapping at the heels of the words almost as if he wanted to consume them. Great singing, and appropriately rewarded by a standing ovation. [...]

Frills, trills and animal passion
Anthony Holden, The Observer, 17 December 2006

Carmen, Royal Opera House; Juan Diego Florez, Barbican

[...] Another charismatic tenor with the makings of a fine José is the Peruvian heart-throb Juan Diego Florez, who will instead appear at Covent Garden next month as Tonio in Donizetti's La fille du regiment. In the meantime, he brought to the Barbican an eclectic programme largely designed to muster a long queue for his subsequent CD signing. Having cancelled the same recital at New York's Carnegie Hall a few days earlier, Florez pleaded 'a bit of a cold' but disarmingly added that he 'did not want to disappoint you guys'. A cup of tea (or so he said) stood going cold beside him as he struggled a little in Mozart, a nasal dryness strangling his tone, before warming up in some of the lovely songs Rossini wrote in his old age, notably the haunting 'L'esule'.

Not until after the interval, when he launched into some bel canto ditties from his homeland, did Florez really find his comfort zone. By the time he reached Bellini and Donizetti, this consummate musician had really hit his coloratura stride, his expressive arms and eyes begging the packed house for a response to such ravishing music. Which, of course, he got and thoroughly deserved.

Juan Diego Florez, Barbican, London 
Edward Seckerson, The Independent, 18 December 2006

Juan Diego Florez is a rare breed. A tenor, yes, but a very particular kind of tenor. There are various terms for his voice type. The Italians might call him a tenore lirico-leggero(light tenor) or, more fittingly, a tenore di grazia (graceful tenor). But none of this gives you much indication of what makes him so special. It has partly to do with a technique so effortless it is barely apparent, but more significant is an evenness of tone that enables him to access the stratospheric upper register without any apparent break. Top Cs and Ds are almost casually negotiated; scales and arpeggios glide off the vocal chords.

He arrived at this Barbican recital with apologies for a cold, which had days earlier deprived a Carnegie Hall audience of the pleasure of his company. And it is a pleasure - not just on account of his boyish charm but because of the instinctive elegance and ardour of his musicianship. Presenting an opera star like this, on an empty stage with just a piano (Vincenzo Scalera was an engaging partner) exposes them in ways that none but the most accomplished can sustain.

With Florez there's an openness that touches and charms. To use an unfashionable word, there's a sincerity about his singing. He began with Tamino transfixed by Pamina's portrait in Die Zauberflöte. The phrasing was rapt but unfussy, the legato seamless. Turning to "Il mio tesoro" from Don Giovanni he made you wonder why the vengeful passage-work floors so many distinguished singers. Not only was it flawless, but it meant something.

And so it went on. Cold or no cold, the Rossinian fireworks (his speciality) were brilliantly forthcoming. The arpeggios sparkled, the scales cascaded with not so much as a single bumpy aspirate. But then he stilled the hall with a Bellini song "La ricordanza" and, in a clinching phrase of exquisite artistry, quietly brought the house down.

For encores he pulled out the stops, finally banishing the cold completely with the nine top Cs of Tonio's solo in La Fille du Régiment, in which he opens at Covent Garden next month. But please, let's hear no more of this nonsense that he is "the next Pavarotti". He is Juan Diego Florez, and special. 4/5 Stars