BBC Proms Concert, Royal Albert Hall, London, 25 July 2006
Night of sultry Spanish style, The Telegraph, 27 July 2006
Prom 15 BBC CO/Wordsworth, The Guardian, 27 July 2006
Prom 15: BBC CO/Wordsworth, Royal Albert Hall, London, The Independent, 27 July 2006
Proms: Juan Diego Flórez, The Times, 27 July 2006
The fine flowering of Flórez, The Evening Standard, 26 July 2006
A Peruvian National Treasure, BBC Music Magazine, forthcoming
Spanish send-off for Wordsworth
Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph, 26 July 2006

For his farewell concert as the Principal Conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra, Barry Wordsworth gave us a wonderfully entertaining programme which rang all the possible changes on the theme of Spain.

We had arias from Italian operettas on Spanish themes, we had a sultry tone-poem by a Spanish 19th century composer on paintings by Goya, we had nocturnal Spanish gardens, stamping Spanish folk dances in fancy orchestral dress, and to end with, an orchestral lollipop by a Frenchman pretending to be a Spaniard.

There were some Latin American pop songs from the 30s too, which might seem to be stretching the theme a bit; but then one of the pleasures of the concert was the way it revealed "Mediterranean'' cultural affinities running from Rossini all the way to the great master of tango song, Carlos Gardel.

The orchestra were determined to give their much-admired Principal Conductor a good send-off, and they played their hearts out for him.

Having said that, the evening wasn't unalloyed joy. The horns were so overpowering in de Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain that I felt I was listening to a concerto for four horns with accompanying piano, rather than the piano concerto I was expecting.

Another problem with this piece was the slack pacing, which revealed the music's longeurs. But elsewhere there was much to enjoy and admire - above all the stylistic nimbleness of the orchestra.

It can turn in a moment from a ''classical'' aloofness to a sentimental Mexican mariachi style, complete with tremulous trumpets redolent of hot afternoons in the bull-ring.

So given all that, the evening was bound to be fun. However, what lifted it into a different class was the presence of the young Chilean [sic] tenor Juan Diego Flórez.

Flórez can hit a top C unerringly any number of times, and toss off the most complicated roulades, as his arias from Rossini and Donizetti proved.

But it was the tender lyric grace in Donizetti's Una Furtiva lagrima and the Mexican pop song Júrame that reduced us all to rapt silence.

Prom 15 BBC CO / Wordsworth
Erica Jeal, The Guardian, 27 July 2006

This was Barry Wordsworth's farewell as chief of the BBC Concert Orchestra, a post he has held since 1989, and for him to share it with the Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez was either naively generous or very astute. Generous because Florez, in his Proms debut, was likely to upstage both conductor and orchestra; astute because this tenor's star quality ensured Wordsworth went out on a high.

In the first half, Florez offered a snapshot of his day job in the bel canto opera repertoire. The orchestra's poised performance of the overture to Rossini's Barber of Seville preceded an impressively athletic aria for the hero. In this, his sound could turn smallish and nasal higher up; but in Pour Mon Ame from Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment - a trailer for his Covent Garden dates next January - he hit the nine top Cs as if laserguided, his voice so clear, loud and focused you half suspected he'd cheated and banged the notes down on a piano instead.

It was probably a mistake to follow such a show-stopper with a protracted rearrangement of the stage and then Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain, despite the best efforts of Artur Pizarro with the solo piano part. Indeed, this and the other Florez-less items tended to come across as filler; but it was good to hear the full-bodied Intermezzo from Granados's opera Goyescas, and Chabrier's Espana brought things to a lively close.

Florez's second-half appearances were a shameless but successful advert for his new disc, Sentimiento Latino. Miked up against some soupy orchestral arrangements of Mexican, Cuban and Argentinian tearjerkers, he was in his element, singing with a slightly weightier, more relaxed tone. His sincere stylishness, on an evening balmy enough for any Costa Blanca crooner, pulled this music back from the brink of naff and made it irresistible.

Prom 15: BBC CO/Wordsworth, Royal Albert Hall, London
Lynne Walker, The Independent, 27 July 2006

Juan Diego Florez may never be "three tenor" material, but when you can hit nine top Cs with the ease he displayed in Donizetti's "Ah! Mes amis...", you don't need comrades-in-arms. The handsome Peruvian clearly has a huge and appreciative following, who adore his apparently effortless and well-focused sound. This aria, from La Fille du régiment, is not for the faint-hearted, and Florez delivered it to perfection with seeming insouciance. As he demonstrated in a beautiful account of another Donizetti aria, "Una furtiva lagrima" from L'elisir d'amore, the size of his voice is less important than its honeyed quality and agility.

However, it was in an earlier aria, from Rossini's The Barber of Seville, that Florez most dazzled. "Cessa di piu resistere", is a piece of vocal pyrotechnics. Its rippling scales and decorative coloratura passages demand knife-edge precision, and Florez didn't disappoint. His vocal energy and pace were electrifying.

This kind of programme, made up of shortish pieces frequently interrupted by applause and stage business, can quickly turn into a series of bitty showpieces. But from the opening Barber of Seville Overture to an exuberant account of Chabrier's España, Barry Wordsworth, in his final concert as principal conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra, held the concert together with quiet aplomb. Under his idiomatic direction, players brought a swagger and a sexiness to three dances from Falla's The Three-Cornered Hat, and a refined sensuality to the tender intermezzo from Granados's Goyescas.

The programme brought out the best in both conductor and orchestra, even though the solo pianist, Artur Pizarro, seemed so intent on infusing Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain with poetry at the expense of drama, that even in the swirling last movement, the gardens never quite came into full bloom.

Out of a handful of Latin-American popular songs in the programme, "Mejico lindo", an unofficial Mexican national anthem, is a song to stir the passions. "El dia que me quieras", a tango featuring the haunting sound of the bandoneon, was delicately shaded and expressive, with Florez demonstrating that he has crooner potential, too.

Proms: Juan Diego Flórez
Geoff Brown, The Times, 27 July 2006

This Latin American fiesta may have been Barry Wordsworth's final concert after 17 fruitful years as the BBC Concert Orchestra's principal conductor. But the person the crowd packed the Albert Hall to see was someone else. Peruvian. Good looks. Tight dark curls. A voice like molten steel.

For many purchasers of his CDs, Juan Diego Flórez's Proms debut must have been their first chance to see this Adonis with golden tonsils for a reasonable sum. Less than Covent Garden prices, anyway. He wove in and out of the programme, dazzling as much with his fluid delivery and platform charisma as the laser-beam high Cs. Nine of them arrived in Ah! mes amis! from La Fille du régiment  popped into place as easily as the rest of us pop socks into a drawer.

There was Donizetti in plaintive mood, too (Una furtiva lagrima, with a characterful bassoon from an orchestra performing throughout beyond its top form). And Rossini, with Cessa di più resistere: often skipped from The Barber of Seville, but a luxuriant showcase for Flórez's athletic command of coloratura and complete lack of fear. Afterwards, the skilful pianist Artur Pizarro, arriving for Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain, had an uphill struggle keeping our attention. By that point we needed the interval, not Falla's nocturnal perfumes.

Refreshed, and unfortunately wired to a mike, Flórez bounced back with five selections from his newest CD, Sentimiento Latino, a collection of Latin American pops. A triumph of marketing synergy, this; though after the orchestra's subtlety in Falla, Granados, and company, the songs' arrangements  often tawdry, heavy with slush  fell on the ears like lead balloons. Here and before, Flórez himself wasn't beyond criticism. He has a headlamp voice, undeniably thrilling, but needs to use the dimmer switch more, for extra tenderness and vulnerability.

A class act, nonetheless. So is Barry Wordsworth and the Concert Orchestra, so enjoyably precise and ebullient in the Three-Cornered Hat dances and España. A happy future to them all.

The fine flowering of Flórez
Barry Millington, The Evening Standard, 26 July 2006

On Sunday night Richard Hickox parted company with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. And last night the BBC Concert Orchestra gave its last Prom under Barry Wordsworth, principal conductor for the last 17 years.
The players gave him the best possible send-off with impressively alert, disciplined playing. To the opening Barber of Seville Overture, as to the closing España of Chabrier, the orchestra brought a tautness of rhythm and a precision of execution that palpably enhanced the good humour of both pieces.

The Miller's Dance from de Falla's Three-Cornered Hat was an aptly strutting affair, while the final Jota evinced the exuberance laced with hauteur that is the essence of the style. Earlier, in the same composer's Nights in the Gardens of Spain, Wordsworth had drawn alternately feverish and languorous playing from the band, with Artur Pizarro an eloquent soloist.

Conductor and players were eclipsed, however, in the remaining items by the star quality of the Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez. He began with Rossini - the taxing (and thus often omitted) aria Cessa di più resistere from The Barber of Seville.

Both here and in Una Furtiva Lagrima from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amóre, Florez demonstrated the flexibility of line and expressive colouring that have taken him to the top. In the latter aria, too, the lachrymose tempo adopted allowed him to wring every last tear from the aria, furtive or otherwise.

For some soulful Latin-American popular songs he was amplified, but the multiple top Cs of Ah! Mes Amis from La Fille du régiment were thrown off effortlessly.

A Peruvian National Treasure - Juan Diego Flórez's Début at the Proms
Margarida Mota-Bull, (forthcoming - published in part on the BBC Proms web site)

The Latin American Community in general and Peruvians in particular have one more reason to be proud. Last Tuesday, 25th July, Peruvian tenor, Juan Diego Flórez, had his BBC Proms début and I was fortunate enough to see and hear him live for the second time. He performed a mixed programme of Rossini, Donizetti and Latin-American songs to great success in spite of the sauna type heat that dominated the Auditorium of the Royal Albert Hall.
Juan Diego's opera presentation was a choice of three very popular arias from the composers mentioned above. His voice suits the bel canto composers of the first half of the 19th century, meaning Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini. To sing bel canto one needs a voice with coloratura , easy high notes but also expression and technical brilliance. Juan Diego possesses all this. From Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia, he sang count Almaviva's aria Cessa di più resistere, which appears at the end of the opera, once the count is able to free Rosina (the woman he loves) from the hands of her cruel guardian. This gruelling piece lasts nearly eight minutes; it is acrobatic singing, with sparkling, colourful vocal fireworks. Juan Diego's rendition is perfect to say the least, virtuosic and beautiful at the same time; liquid, crystalline and pure, giving the audience a continuous feeling of fresh, clear water. He then moved to Donizetti with Una Furtiva Lagrima from L'elisir d'amore, and Ah! Mes Amis Pour Mon Âme from La Fille du Régiment. The first is a love song that Nemorino, the character in the opera, sings to his beloved. Juan Diego performs it with sentiment; his legato  is wonderful. His voice fills the sweaty auditorium with freshness, in a clear harmony of notes, flowing softly towards the audience, and a liquidity and purity of sound that touch the heart, making one sigh. The aria from La Fille du Régiment, on the other hand, is again a spectacular display of vocal fireworks. It is a famous aria from a little known opera, the reason being that there are few tenors, who can sing it, as it has nine consecutive high Cs. To Juan Diego the aria comes out naturally, his high notes easily ringing across the auditorium, cutting through people's souls and making one's skin gain goose bumps. The audience hold their breath in anticipation of the high notes to come and when he approaches the final high C, the old man sitting next to me whispers between his teeth, 'Go for it, Juan Diego'. As if on cue, he really goes for it and holds the last note up in the air for several breathtaking seconds, before throwing it at the audience with a luminous clear sound, leaving everybody stunned. As the final echo of his voice melts and fades in the hot air of the Royal Albert Hall, the public erupts in a roaring wave of bravos, applause and stomping feet. He is forced to return to the stage several times, always thanking people with a radiant smile, genuinely touched and grateful for their enthusiasm.
For the second part of the concert, Juan Diego chose a more popular repertoire of four Latin-American songs, which are dear to his heart, as he grew up with them. His father was a professional singer who sang those songs, and at home, his mother used to sing them as well. The audience was taken from the start with his rendition of the above arias but it was with his interpretation of these Latin-American songs that he completely swept them off their feet. He sings them with the same technical brilliance and vocal virtuosity that he displays in his bel canto repertoire, enhanced by his natural Latino charm and the obvious enjoyment he gets out of singing them. The right level of feeling and sentiment goes into his expressive rendition and it is nearly impossible not to surrender your heart when he sings El día que me quieras or most particularly Júrame, which he performs as if it was a radiant aria from a famous opera. The songs he chose are all part of his latest CD Sentimiento Latino, including the encore, the most amazing rendition of Granada you will ever hear. This album is an accomplished, extremely pleasurable work, a colourful journey through the music of Latin-America, excluding Brazil for the language and an altogether different type of music. It is a CD that will please anybody who likes Flórez as an opera singer but also people who do not care much for opera but love a great tenor's voice.
At this stage, I should not forget to mention that this Prom 15 was not entirely a Juan Diego Flórez affair. Though he was undoubtedly its superstar, credit should be given where it is due. The BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted for the last time by Barry Wordsworth, offered a wonderful performance both on the orchestra pieces and as an immaculate accompaniment to Flórez's sublime voice. Portuguese pianist, Artur Pizarro, rounded up the first half of the evening with a lovely performance of Manuel de Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain. The audience, though mostly present to hear and watch Flórez, gave a warm welcome to all artists and enthusiastically applauded, roaring for more, Pizarro, Wordsworth and the orchestra, acknowledging an outstanding night of music dedicated to love and dance with a Spanish flavour.
After the performance, however, at the stage door, it was overwhelmingly obvious that Juan Diego was the artist they all came to see. A horde of fans is waiting for him to show him their love and admiration. They literally fall over him like an unstoppable giant wave, as he comes out, and he floats among them trying not to drown. He signs the interminable queue of programmes, tickets, CD covers and even accessories, like belts and a fan. A Peruvian girl wants a photograph with him. Patiently he poses with her. A Spanish man hugs and congratulates him while he signs a picture of himself. Another man repeats insistently that the autograph is for Emma and asks him for a dedication to whoever Emma is. To all his frantic, adoring admirers he has a kind smile and a word of thanks. I watch from a distance and as ever feel rather impressed with his unassuming attitude.
I have been privileged not only to have seen him perform live twice but to have met him personally a few months ago. Juan Diego is a talented, brilliant musician and singer but also a kind, pleasant personality. He does not take his success for granted and behaves in a simple manner; a regular, friendly next door kind of guy, no arrogance or conceit for his superstar status in the world of opera, able to demonstrate his pride and joy at his work but also his gratitude for the public's recognition.
To conclude, I just want to say that besides the amazing geology of the Andes and the incredible Inca heritage, Peru now has one more reason to feel proud and that is Juan Diego Flórez.

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