Juan Diego Florez in discussion with Lynn Neary
Weekend Edition, National Public Radio, 12 May 2002
Luciano Pavarotti didn't show up last night for the performance that many
expected would be his last at New York's Metropolitan Opera House.
Pavarotti, who said he was too sick with the flu for the performance of
"Tosca," declined to even walk out on stage for a farewell bow. He has no
engagements scheduled for the Met next season, though he is expected to
perform in some arena concerts and recitals.
As the opera world prepares for the legendary tenor's retirement, fans can't
help looking for the next Pavarotti. The latest young singer whose career
may be both burdened and boosted by that designation is Peruvian tenor Juan
Diego Florez. He made his debut last winter at the Met, singing the role of
Almaviva in "The Barber of Seville." His comic timing, combined with his
vocal mastery of the role, including the difficult final aria, brought down
His debut CD with Decca features Rossini arias because, Florez says, he is
most at home with Rossini.
Mr. JUAN DIEGO FLOREZ (Opera Singer): My voice fits in a way that music. I
think it's the repertoire I can do better than another because of the many
acrobatics, let's say. You have a lot of high notes, runs and jumps with
voice and very fast rhythm. So that's why a Rossini is for me, my home.
NEARY: You made your debut this year at the Metropolitan Opera in "The
Barber of Seville." And on this CD, you include an aria from that opera that
I read is often dropped from productions because it' s such a difficult
aria. Why did you choose to include that?
Mr. FLOREZ: First of all, I used to sing it before I did it in the complete
opera. And I always liked the aria, and I thought it was a very impressive
aria and a very beautiful aria because it has also romantic parts, slow,
very slow part.
So actually, the opera was meant to be the opera for the tenor. And that
explains the last aria. So the successes the tenor gets, if you can handle
the aria, is much different. I remember hearing this phrase from old singers
tenor: `You can eat, singing "Barber of Seville." You can have a lot of
work, you can just sing that opera and pay your bills,' right? Because
it--actually, in the past, it was sung without the aria, and the first aria
was cut and the difficult parts were cut. So the role was really, really
Mr. FLOREZ: Very easy. But now, with the first aria complete and all the
parts intact and then the last aria intact, so it becomes a very, very
difficult opera. So you might want to have three days to rest between one
performance and the other.
NEARY: Well, reviews of your performance mentioned not only your singing,
but also your acting. How important is the acting to you in the performance
of an opera? Not all great opera stars have also been great actors.
Mr. FLOREZ: I think it is very important because you give to the public
another percentage of a package, let's say. When you sing good and you make
everything good vocally, you give, let's say, a 60 percent. And if you can
act also well, then you can give also 40 percent and you give the whole
package. I think to act and to feel the role in a way helps also the
listener to get the music, the singing, because they get something from you,
from your acting that helps to understand the music also.
NEARY: You spoke earlier about the fact that singing Rossini sort of
requires a kind of acrobatic of the voice. And I read where you talk about
training for singing, comparing it almost to an athletic training.
Mr. FLOREZ: Yes.
NEARY: How so?
Mr. FLOREZ: We have to maybe begin saying that singing is about-- is a
sport, really. It's a sport that involves the muscles of the voice, the
larynge and, you know, also the muscles of the diaphragm. So it's a lot of
muscular activity. To sing Rossini, which differs from Bellini in the--for
example, Bellini uses more the legato part of el canto. He doesn't use runs
anymore and so many acrobatic features. He's using more the legato and the
big phrases. In Rossini, he uses both. He uses the legato, the big phrases
and also the pyrotechnic stuff.
In Rossini, it's like a soccer player, let's say, because they play until 35
years old, maybe until 40 years old. In Rossini, it's almost the same
because for Rossini, you need young muscles. And you need a lot of stamina
to sing that. So I know that at a certain point of my career, it would be
very difficult to sing a complete "Barber of Seville" with the final aria
and the whole (foreign language spoken) because you arrive at a point that
it's difficult for you. But it is completely normal because you grow a
little bit older and your muscles are not so youthful anymore.
NEARY: It is mentioned so frequently in articles about you, you're described
as the `heir to Pavarotti' or compared with Pavarotti, and maybe perhaps not
so much in your voice, but perhaps in your charisma or the way that you
relate to an audience. For of all, do you find that intimidating to be
compared to Pavarotti.
Mr. FLOREZ: Maybe a little bit. I think he's amazing. He's my idol,
completely my idol. If I want to hear some tenor arias, I put on Pavarotti.
There's no other way around. I wish I would have his voice, really, and if I
couldn't have his voice, then his charisma. But anyway, I think our voices
are quite different. You know, this comparison could be appealing for
general public, but when it comes to the real opera goers, then this
comparison is not so comfortable for them because they know we have
different voices. So they see it as a polemic thought in a way.
NEARY: Kind of hype.
Mr. FLOREZ: Yeah, something to talk about. `Oh, he's very good, but he's not
Pavarotti' or something like that.
Mr. FLOREZ: And that's true. That's true. We have quite different voices.
NEARY: As I mentioned, though, many people talk about the fact that you
really connect to an audience in the way--maybe in a slightly different
style, but in the same way that Pavarotti was always able to win over people
and win over audiences--that you have the quality as well.
Mr. FLOREZ: You know, I try to connect with the audience. That's one of my
goals also. I mean, you're performing for an audience and you are singing
for them, you want to move them, you want to make a change in them,
something different. You know, they come to see the opera, and I think they
have to leave the theater thinking different or feeling something different.
I try to sing not for inside myself. It's a little bit an image. But I try
to sing from my voice out for the public in a way sometimes.
NEARY: You want to touch people. You want to...
Mr. FLOREZ: Yeah, I want to--that they feel what I'm feeling, in a way. Of
course, sometimes, it's not always possible, really, because you can have a
cold or you can have stomach aches, and that's more difficult to communicate
in those points. But when you're feeling relaxed and comfortable, then you
are feeling the music, you're feeling what you're singing. And then you just
communicate. And that's the most beautiful moment because you feel--the
audience can feel what you're really feeling. And that's wonderful.
NEARY: Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez. His new CD on the Decca label is
"Rossini Arias."This is NPR's WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Lynn Neary..
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