New York January - February 2004
Juan Diego Flórez, and  Olga Borodina rehearse L'italiana in Algeri
Photo by Sara Krulwich

Solo voce, Time Out New York, Issue 434: January 22-29, 2004
The Met's New Dream Team, New York Times, 13 February 2004
El Príncipe del Bel Canto, La República, 22 February 2004

Solo voce
Marion Lignana Rosenberg, Time Out New York, Issue 434: January 22-29, 2004

On the eve of his New York recital debut, tenor Juan Diego Flórez is coming off a two-week stretch that would leave most artists reeling. At the Met, he sang four performances of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia and did a star turn in the New Year's Eve gala of Léhar's Merry Widow, squeezing in a California recital between those Met dates. Afterward, it was off to Italy for performances of Rossini's La donna del lago, before returning for his Alice Tully Hall outing on Sunday 25. How does Flórez keep up this killing pace?

"I try to sleep a lot," the 31-year-old Peruvian says drowsily, explaining that he had postponed our early-afternoon telephone conversation so he could catch a few extra winks. Flórez seems unfazed by his jam-packed schedule as he shares the mundane secrets to his stratospheric success: "The most important thing is to be secure in your technique, because that's what's going to let you do all these engagements and not kill your voice. The rest is to eat well and not to panic, because then your mind is making you tired, no?"

If it were only that simple, the world of opera would be filled with staggeringly accomplished lyric tenors, and Flórez wouldn't need to be in several places at once. He titters when asked about his hobbies; these days, he mostly stays in, the health of his "cords" taking precedence. He'll certainly need his strength for his recital, which includes selections by Mozart, Gluck, Bellini and Rossini that require fireworks and finesse in equal measure. The program promises to be capped with the aria that has become Flórez's trademark: "Ah! mes amis" from Donizetti's La fille du régiment, with its (count 'em!) nine death-defying high Cs.

Flórez's single-mindedness may make for less than scintillating chatter, but it has borne glorious fruits in the opera house since 1996, when the then 23-year-old tenor burst onto the scene in a Pesaro, Italy, performance of Rossini's Matilde di Shabran. A specialist in that composer's florid roles, Flórez brings to these works a combination of elegance, tonal beauty, rhythmic vivacity and sheer electricity unsurpassed in the 50-plus years of the "Rossini Renaissance." (He has also performed several Bellini and Donizetti parts, with more soon to come.) Surprisingly, Flórez lists Luciano Pavarotti and the late Alfredo Kraus as his models, both of whom sang a heavier repertoire than he contemplates, but whose bright, penetrating tone he considers "modern" and analogous to his own.

Flórez's dark good looks also make him an unusually credible romantic lead. In the Met's Barbiere, he was onstage long before most Almavivas bother to make their entrances, darting among the shadows and straining to catch a glimpse of his beloved Rosina behind the shutters of her guardian's palazzo. Later, disguised as a drunken soldier, Flórez twirled like a monkey around columns and took a standing leap onto a desk, yet also lolled in an armchair with an aristocratic sense of entitlement fully befitting the fiery young count.

And his singing? The end of the Barbiere engagement found Flórez tired, his phrasing less elastic and expansive than usual. Still, he never sang an off-center note or an aspirated run, and he stopped the show with Almaviva's lavishly ornamented final aria, "Cessa di più resistere." The evening's nominal leading man, baritone Dwayne Croft, delightedly stepped back and "conducted" for Flórez, while the singers portraying Almaviva's defeated adversaries sat up ramrod straight, no less captivated than the roaring Met crowd by Flórez's virtuosity. (On a less auspicious note, Flórez spent far more time than in seasons past lingering at the footlights, and his high-and-mighty ways reportedly left some colleagues grumbling about "that Inca punk.")

What's next for this prodigiously gifted artist? In addition to his February and March dates in Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri at the Met, New Yorkers can look forward to his future bookings in Donizetti's Don Pasquale and La fille du régiment and Rossini's Semiramide. Upcoming recordings include recitals of arias and Latin American songs, but no complete operas. "They don't make money with them," Flórez notes ruefully. "We have to rescue this world [of opera]. Maybe if young people come and see someone younger onstage, that will be appealing to them." Flórez can be counted on to play his part, singing the most ornate, challenging music in the tenor repertoire with a brilliance and integrity almost unimagined before his arrival.

Juan Diego Flórez appears at Alice Tully Hall on Sunday 25.

The Met's New Dream Team
Anne Midgette, New York Times, 13 February 2004

It was one of the hottest things to hit the opera scene when it had its premiere. It had a trendy theme: hapless Westerners imprisoned by an Eastern potentate. It had an all-star cast. And it had a wonderful, lively score that helped carry its composer's fame throughout Europe.

But Rossini's opera "L'Italiana in Algeri" has hardly been news since. Today, 191 years after its premiere, its plot is less trendy than trite. While many operas of its generation languished forgotten from the late 19th century until the bel canto revival of the mid-20th, "L'Italiana" never needed to be "rediscovered": it had its Met premiere in 1919. It has stayed in repertory pretty constantly ever since, with productions sprinkled across the Western hemisphere  an inordinate number of them by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, the French director who died in 1988 but whose Rossini productions hang on.

So the Met's reviving its 1973 Ponnelle staging of "L'Italiana" tonight is not, in itself, noteworthy. The news is that the Met has reverted to another tradition by including some of today's biggest opera stars in the cast. As Lindoro there's Juan Diego Flórez, the Peruvian who has few rivals for the title of today's best light lyric tenor. And in the title role of Isabella there's the Russian mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina. James Levine conducts.

This is deluxe casting. It's also surprising casting. Not surprising in the case of Mr. Flórez, who, with his bright, brilliant and slightly driven sound, has made Lindoro his own; but very surprising in the case of Ms. Borodina. Endowed with a creamy, sensuous voice, suffused with a heavy languor, she is known for big dramatic roles: Dalilah in Saint-Saëns' "Samson et Dalilah," Marina in Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov," Carmen in Bizet's "Carmen." She hasn't done a Rossini part since she made her American debut in "La Cenerentola" at the San Francisco Opera in 1995. And this is the first time she's ever done a comic role. ("La Cenerentola" is a comic opera; but its heroine, Angelina, is a straight man  or, rather, straight woman  in the buffo crowd.)

"I'm worried for the moment," she said after her second day of rehearsals, sitting complacently on a sofa in a salon at the Metropolitan Opera and looking not at all worried. "I'm not a comical type by nature," she added, lapsing into Russian and relying on the translator at her side to get her meaning across. "I have to say it's a lot more difficult to do comic parts. It's very hard to be funny. Especially if your character in real life doesn't lend itself to being comical. There are people who are comical and like to tell jokes, by their very nature. But I'm not like that. I'm very domestic."

"Domestic" is not, in fact, the first word that springs to mind in connection with Ms. Borodina. Dramatic seems a more apt D description. (Supporting Ms. Borodina's assertion of domesticity, however, is the fact that she travels with her two younger children and her husband, Ildar Abdrazakov, a bass who will make his Met debut as Masetto in "Don Giovanni" on March 1 and appear as Mustafa in the final "Italiana" performance with Ms. Borodina on March 17.)

And dramatic singers today don't usually do Rossini. Because Rossini is, well, not serious.

Rossini is among the more popular opera composers  but he's mainly popular, in this country, for "Il Barbiere di Siviglia," which is probably performed more than his other operas combined. His serious operas  "Guillaume Tell," "La Donna del Lago"  are done relatively seldom. There's a resulting tendency to stereotype the composer's works as mere light entertainment. In the case of "L'Italiana," the frothy plot hardly belies this claim. (Isabella arrives shipwrecked on the shores of Algiers, having set sail in search of her beloved Lindoro, who has been imprisoned by Mustafa Bey, and so on and so forth.)

What's perhaps overlooked is that Rossini was writing for the major voices of his day, and what advances even his silly plots is dazzling and not very easy music. The first Isabella, Marietta Marcolini, was accounted a serious dramatic soprano (the line between mezzo and soprano was not a hard-and-fast one in Rossini's day), and her music reflects this. The part remains one of the meatiest roles for mezzo-soprano in the repertory.

The difficulty the music presents for a big dramatic voice is that, rather than loud, powerful sounds, it demands agility, flexibility and lightness. Even for a singer like Mr. Flórez, whose province is the lighter bel canto roles, returning to "L'Italiana" after, say, Donizetti's "Maria Stuarda" (which he recently sang in Barcelona) requires considerable adjustment.

"In Rossini, especially `L'Italiana,' you need to have a very high position of the voice," he said, sitting in the same Metropolitan Opera room that Ms. Borodina had graced the day before. "You have to sing thinking about the high notes, that you're going to do them like diamonds, very clear and very forward. In Bellini and Donizetti, you're singing full voice, and those high notes might not come so much like this. They have to be brilliant, but they are more wide. You have to be aware that there's a change when you pass to Rossini. You have to practice a lot. Because the voice is not so high anymore, the runs are not so perfect."

"The first time I did these things, I did not know what was happening to me," he added, and pantomimed his panic at the time. " `Ah! My voice! I cannot sing this! What is happening to me?' "

Nothing bad, evidently, because Rossini has remained Mr. Flórez's calling card since he was hired for his first-ever professional engagement, in 1996 in a bit part in the little-known "Matilde de Shabran" at the summer Rossini festival in Pesaro, Italy, and ended up learning the main part and jumping in for the ailing tenor lead at the last minute. A few months after his storybook success there, he was singing at the opening night of La Scala. He was 23. He's since sung Rossini around the world: at Covent Garden, Vienna, the Met. His first solo album for Decca, which came out in 2002, was called "Rossini Arias."

Talking to Mr. Flórez, it's clear he knows how to work for his success: his knowledge about singing is impressive. He tapes every rehearsal and spends hours going over specific passages with his manager, Ernesto Palacio, another Peruvian tenor who retired from his own career to manage Mr. Flórez's and is thus qualified to perform this eminently nonmanagerial function.

Mr. Flórez is expanding his repertory carefully and steadily: coming up in future seasons are his first "Puritani" (Bellini) and his first "Così Fan Tutte" (Mozart). But Rossini remains a kind of home base  and many people have been taking the composer a lot more seriously since Mr. Flórez has been around to sing it. "For the moment, he's the best singer for Rossini," Ms. Borodina noted admiringly.

Ms. Borodina, like Mr. Flórez, has a role model, though not one she works with directly: Marilyn Horne, whom she calls "the best in the world." Coincidentally, Ms. Horne and Mr. Palacio appeared together in this same Met production of "L'Italiana," an opera they also recorded together. You could call this a second-generation performance.

If lightening the voice for Rossini is difficult for Mr. Flórez, it's an even bigger step for Ms. Borodina, fresh from the rigors of Dalilah in Chicago, a role she said was "made for my voice and my character." Relocating her Rossini technique was proving to be hard work. "Many years ago, it was very easy for me, but now it's not so easy, and I am older now," said Ms. Borodina, who is 40. "Actually, for the muscles it's a great idea. Because if I have all the time heavy music, it's not so good for my voice."

Still the hardest thing about learning the role, for her, was mastering the recitatives. Since she does not speak Italian, she has had to memorize the comic dialogue phonetically.

One comic element is built in: the discrepancy in size between the sylphlike Mr. Flórez and the beautiful, statuesque Ms. Borodina. "Next to him, I feel myself to be a large woman," she observed wryly.

This may be an "Italiana" to take seriously. But as for funny  Ms. Borodina is already working on it.

El Príncipe del Bel Canto
Ángel Páez, La República, 22 February 2004

El respetado, temible y exquisito crítico del diario "The New York Times" , el pianista y maestro Anthony Tommasini, conocido tanto por la profundidad de sus conocimientos musicales como por la severidad de sus inapelables apreciaciones, sorprendió a sus habituales lectores con un torrente de elogios que parecían surgidos de un estado de frenesí. Hacía mucho tiempo que terminado un concierto no saltaba de su butaca para aplaudir con entusiasmo a un artista, hasta que en los primeros días de enero se dirigió al Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts para escuchar un programa de arias de Bellini, Gluck, Donizetti y Rossini, a cargo del tenor peruano Juan Diego Flórez. El desbordante entusiamo, el deslumbramiento que le produjo la voz, carisma y talante de Flórez impulsó a Tommasini a escribir que se trataba de "el nuevo príncipe del Bel Canto", "una genuina superestrella operística", "un artista de maravilloso atractivo", "expresivo, generoso y exuberante", entre otras frases contundentes. El temido crítico del poderoso periódico había caído rendido por la poderosa belleza del arte de Flórez.

"Aunque estoy excitado como cualquiera ante una presentación de Flórez, quien solamente tiene 31 años, voy a ofrecer algunos cuidadosos comentarios respecto a las canciones que interpretó. La buena noticia es que ya comprendió el tipo de su propia voz", excribió el pasado 30 de enero: "Es un clásico tenor di grazzia, un tenor lírico ligero con brillante sonido y una ágil técnica para desenvolver con comodidad las coloraturas".

"'Flórez recibió ardientes ovaciones", apuntó Tommasini, quien hace dos años, cuando el tenor peruano hizo su debut en la Metropolitan Opera de Nueva York, anunció que pronto se ubicaría entre los grandes. Antes que lo dijera el mismísimo Luciano Pavarotti. "Incluso no tiene apuro en acometer las notas más altas", precisó el crítico, desbordado por la calidad del artista.

Aunque estimó que a veces Juan Diego Flórez parecía esforzarse demasiado -se apoyaba sobre el piano de Vincenzo Scalera, "como si estuviera haciendo un dueto amoroso con una soprano"-, adelantó que otra cosa sería su retorno al Metropolitan de Nueva York con la ópera de Rossini "L'Italiana in Algeri". Incluso el propio Tommasini quedó corto con su pronóstico.


El 16 de febrero, "The New York Times" abrió su sección de Arte con la crítica de Tommasini sobre la presentación de Juan Diego Flórez con la mezzo-soprano rusa Olga Borodina y el barítono estadounidense Earle Patriarco. "Había una pequeña duda sobre el tenor Juan Diego Flórez, el nuevo príncipe del Bel Canto, si sobresaldría en el papel de Lindoro", escribió Tommasini: "Cantó con más seguridad técnica que en su anterior presentación en Nueva York", decretó, rendido: "Con su luminoso y vibrante estilo lírico de tenor, ofreció encantadoras frases y alcanzó con apasionamiento las más altas notas. Y como siempre, desplegó la exuberancia de su canto con toda la energía de su cuerpo".

Tremendo entusiasmo no dedicó a Borodina o Patriarco, los colegas de Flórez, y aunque resaltó la calidad del director de la ópera, David Kneuss, Tommasini prefirió dedicar sus mejores elogios al peruano. Ningún otro lo había conseguido.
Luego de la actuación, otra crítica destacada del mismo diario "The New York Times", Anne Midgette, atrapada por la voz de Flórez, compartó las conclusiones de Tommasini y fue más lejos todavía. Escribió que el tenor nacional ya era parte del "Equipo del Ensueño" del Metropolitan Opera de Nueva York, "porque se trata de una de las más grandes estrellas de la ópera en funciones".


Midgette tampoco se reservó elogios: "Flórez tiene pocos rivales que le disputen el título de mejor tenor lírico ligero en la actualidad", escribió. Y respecto a su reciente papel, indicó: "Una vez más ha sorprendido porque es conocida su brillante, talentosa y bella forma de manejar el sonido como ningún otro Lindoro lo ha hecho", refiriéndose al papel que le correspondió interpretar.
En una reciente entrevista ofrecida a la revista especializada "Classic Today", el director David Hurwitz, aleccionado por la curiosidad respecto a los orígenes de Juan Diego Flórez, le preguntó:

"Tú no naciste diciendo que serías cantante de ópera, ¿no es cierto?

"Por supuesto que no. Solo creí que mi voz era buena y empecé a estudiar. Simplemente adoro cantar esta maravillosa música", explicó. Aunque tiene el camino empredado de elogios, y a donde le brindan aplausos antes de acometer una sola nota, Juan Diego Flórez mantiene una modestia a prueba de engreimientos y excentricidades. Nos cayó del cielo.

Sólo para coleccionistas
Hasta el momento sólo dos discos en solitario tiene Juan Diego Flórez: "Rossini Arias" (2002) y "Una furtiva lágrima".  Pero nuestro tenor ha tenido una notoria participación en otros 15 discos desde 1995, en colecciones de arias y canciones, o en importantes óperas para discográficas de prestigio mundial. Seguidamente, una exhaustiva muestra.

Rossini Arias ("Le nozze di Teti, e di Peleo" e "Il pianto d'Armonia sulla morte di Orfeo"). Publicación: 01 de enero del 2002. Disquera: Decca. Con la Orquesta Sinfónica y el Coro de Milán Giuseppe Verdi, dirigida por Riccardo Chailly. Es el primer disco en solitario de Flórez. Con Cecilia Bartoli, Daniela Barcellona, Luigi Petroni y Elisabetta Scano.

Una furtiva lágrima, arias de Vincenzo Bellini y Gaetano Donizetti. Publicación: 4 de abril del 2003. Disquera: Decca. Con la Orquesta Sinfónica y el Coro de Milán Giuseppe Verdi, bajo la dirección de Riccardo Frizza. 


This page was last updated on: March 14, 2004