Recital, Oberlin College, 29 October 2006
Finney Chapel, Oberlin College
Brilliant next-generation tenor raises bar in bel canto repertoire
Donald Rosenberg, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 31 October 2006

There was a time when three famous tenors walked the earth, captivating the masses and pocketing enormous sums. Only one, Placido Domingo, is still active. The tenor of the moment comes from the next generation. He is Juan Diego Florez, and he may be unparalleled today in bel canto repertoire.

So, hail Oberlin College's Artist Recital Series for nabbing the brilliant Peruvian tenor for one of his only recitals of the season Sunday at Finney Chapel. The audience couldn't get enough of the 33-year-old Florez, including legendary mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, who was on campus to hold a master class Sunday night.

Florez didn't disappoint. His voice is the ideal instrument for bel canto, the style of "beautiful singing" that requires utmost evenness of line, expressive gradation and ability to negotiate florid passages of eye-crossing difficulty. Florez possesses a slender, compact tenor that rings on high and applies elegant shading most notably to Rossini and Donizetti, the bel canto composers who shared a varied program with distinguished colleagues Sunday.

Unlike some singers who devote themselves largely to opera, Florez didn't concentrate his recital program on art songs, though he touched upon this intimate literature with the same dramatic intensity he brings to stage fare. He couldn't have been more refined or charming in songs by Rossini, Faure, Massenet, Bizet and Peruvian composer Rosa Mercedes Ayarza de Morales.

But Florez, aided by the astute and sensitive pianism of Vincenzo Scalera, truly raised goosebumps in the operatic pieces, in which he became each character in voice and body. Three Mozart arias were models of refined vibrancy, especially Ottavio's "Il mio tesoro" from "Don Giovanni."

Arias from Rossini's "Il Turco in Italia" and "Elisabetta, Regina D'Inghilterra" revealed Florez's command of every aspect of the bel canto art: melting lyricism, fiery and precise coloratura, vivid enunciation. And "Linda si ritoro" from Donizetti's "Linda di Chamounix" triumphantly blended emotional anguish with vocal dexterity.

Florez wasn't finished -- hardly -- after the printed program was done. For his first encore, he flew through the nine high Cs in Tonio's "Pour mon ame" from Donizetti's "La fille du regiment" with an incisive athleticism and clarion penetration not heard since Luciano Pavarotti owned this aria three decades ago.

The Duke's "La donna e mobile" from "Rigoletto," sung with dashing tenorial mobility, suggested he might excel in early and select middle Verdi repertoire. And while he and Scalera had to run to catch a plane, Florez didn't depart until he offered a Latin American song that showcased his disarming passion in a more popular realm.

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