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Recital, Carnegie Hall, 10 March 2007
Photo by Lucas Jackson, 10 March 2006
King of the Tenors
Jay Nordlinger, The New York Sun, 12 March 2007

He is the king of the Rossini tenors, king of the Donizetti tenors, king of the Bellini tenors  let's just say he is the reigning bel canto tenor in the world at the moment. On Saturday night, however, he was not on an operatic stage, but on a recital stage  Carnegie Hall's.

Still, Juan Diego Flórez, the Peruvian sensation, sang plenty of opera arias. When he entered the hall, the audience went nuts, as though Mr. Flórez had already delivered a brilliant performance. He smiled appreciatively, looking about 12. Then he launched into a Mozart aria, "Dies Bildnis," from "The Magic Flute."

We heard the letter D in the opening word "Dies" about a half an hour before the note actually sounded. That wasn't so slick. But Mr. Flórez sang the aria well, if slowly  slowness in Mozart arias is a curse. He also sang with great ease. A few nights before, in Zankel Hall, we had heard another tenor Michael Schade, sing with great ease Frankly, next to Mr. Schade, most everyone else has a titanic struggle.

Mr. Flórez soon presented several arias from bel canto opera  Rossini and Bellini. He was clean and stylish There was energy in the voice, but not tension. He phrased beautifully breathed beautifully. He also sang with incisiveness, showing a sense of rhythm  he was not just making pretty sounds His passagework is a marvel. (If he were a woman, we would refer to coloratura.) The high notes were typically thrilling and we heard less of the bleating that sometimes comes from Mr. Flórez.

In all, he simply put on a clinic of tenorial bel canto singing.

And his stage manner was charming. When he coughed a couple of times during one aria, he made an amusing apologetic gesture to the audience. But speaking of gestures: His arm movements, while he was singing, seemed something out of a Warner Bros. cartoon, or a Marx Bros. parody. But I guess that is part of this particular package. Also, flash pictures went off all evening long  Mr. Flórez never blinked.

After intermission, he went to his home language, and his home country  singing three songs of Rosa Mercedes Ayarza de Morales, a Peruvian composer who lived from 1881 to 1969. These songs are lightish and pleasant (if no threat to Guastavino's reputation). Mr. Flórez sang a beautiful Spanish, and he was lilting and graceful all through. He also summoned oomph, where needed.

Then he had a French set, beginning with the familiar and beloved "Après un rêve," by Fauré. In this song, you might have asked for a warmer, lusher sound. But Mr. Flórez used what he has. I should report, too, that he sang a couple of wrong notes  not off-pitch ones, but wrong ones. That's okay, in the course of a recital.

He ended his printed program with another bel canto aria, "Linda si ritirò," from Donizetti's "Linda di Chamounix." It so happened that the last three notes of the aria  descending high notes  were the worst notes of the evening: very, very shaky. This did not bode well for encores; I even wondered whether there would be any.

But Mr. Flórez sang another Donizetti aria: "Una furtiva lagrima." It was kind of tired, but nice. And he would continue with his encores: He sang the famous aria from Donizetti's "Daughter of the Regiment," the one with the nine high Cs. This is considered a great tenorial feat. But not for Mr. Flórez, really  his Cs are more

like a normal person's As. In any case, he sang the aria freshly, with wonderful bounce  the tiredness seemed to be gone altogether.

Then he gave the audience "La donna è mobile," by Verdi. I could not hear the beginning of the aria very well, because the man sitting next to me  a baritone, I believe  was singing along. Of course, that's what Verdi wanted, and hoped for. The man onstage, whom I could hear eventually, did splendidly. The final B, he held through many bravos and much applause.

By now, it was 10:15, but the house lights were still down. Mr. Flórez appeared again, and, before he sang, he stuck a rose in his teeth  it would be something Spanish. It was, indeed, "Granada," which Mr. Flórez sang the stuffing out of. He demonstrated an elegant smoky passion. Then he sent us all home, to turn our clocks forward.

The accompanist for the evening was Vincenzo Scalera, who performed very ably, especially in those operatic transcriptions, which can be hard to bring off. I had not seen Mr. Scalera for about 15 years, when he played for Carlo Bergonzi. So, he has accompanied (at least) one legend; now he is accompanying a legend-to-be.