La Cenerentola, New York Metropolitan Opera, September 2002

A Prince Charming More Than Charming, New York Times, 1 October 2002
Peruvian tenor thrills Met, Associated Press, 29 September 2002
Tenor peruano Juan Diego Florez triunfa en el Met, Associated Press, 30 September 2002  (This is a
  shorter Spanish language version of Peruvian tenor thrills Met)
Scene-stealing men at Metropolitan and New York City Opera, Gay City News, 18-24 October 2002
Golden Oldies, New York Magazine, 14 October 2002
In Review from around the world [extract from the online edition], Opera News, January 2003
Dress rehearsal photos (Florez and Corbelli,  Florez and Ganassi)
A Prince Charming More Than Charming
Anne Midgette, New York Times, 1 October 2002

When you go to see a performance of Cinderella, you don't expect Prince Charming to be the center of attention. But in "La Cenerentola," Rossini's version of the fairy tale, which returned to the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday night, Juan Diego Flórez, the 29-year-old Peruvian tenor, walked off with the show.

"Cenerentola" is a comedy with a dark streak; it calls for more than the simple effervescence of brilliant singing. Unlike Rosina, the saucy protagonist of "The Barber of Seville" (composed the preceding year), Angelina/Cenerentola is an innocent victim of her stepfather and stepsisters, the archetypal tragic heroine. And the Prince, Don Ramiro, is an earnest, ardent hero in the bel canto mold, as much serious as comic.

Small and boyishly attractive, Mr. Flórez is well suited to Rossini's adolescent roles, and brilliant singing is his calling card. Having had a storybook breakthrough at the Rossini Festival in Pesaro, Italy, in 1996, jumping in to replace an ailing colleague in a leading role at the age of 23, he has continued to sing quite happily and increasingly on Europe's major stages. He's also staying in the right repertory, the bel canto roles that fit his light firm voice (like the Rossini arias on his debut album from Decca), rather than forcing his way into the heavier territory of late 19th-century opera. He's asserting himself as one of the best tenors around.

At his impressive Met debut last season in "Barber," I remarked on a nasal quality that sometimes crept into his singing. It's one side of a voice that can be slightly monochromatic, but this seemed mere carping on Saturday, when with the even accuracy of his coloratura he outsparkled everyone else onstage. His is a cool, clear voice with hard edges that cut crisply through Rossini's vocal lines, and even flowered on Saturday into moments of brilliant color. In his showpiece aria in Act II, "Sì, ritrovarla io giuro," Mr. Flórez sent his voice up to shining, glorious high notes, which he then held on to, turning them like jewels to show off all of their facets.

It was the high point of an amusing but slightly flat evening. Despite the opera's serious side, this 1997 production emphasizes the superficial, even the cartoony. Cesare Lievi, the director, casts the figures in a surreal world between Magritte (a suited men's chorus with identical bowler hats) and Dalí (piles of clocks, all striking midnight, behind the doors of the Prince's palace). It's also a world without deep emotional resonance.

Cenerentola, as played by Sonia Ganassi, became a petulant child. Ms. Ganassi saved her resources for the tough bravura aria at the end of the opera: her best singing of the night, but a case of too little, too late. At the start of the evening, her darkened low notes seemed out of balance with the top of her voice; and her coloratura was generally approximate. The role didn't seem to fit her very well, although her final aria demonstrated that she had at least some of the goods.

The supporting cast were all perfectly fine. John Relyea, the popular Canadian bass-baritone, didn't quite spark in Alidoro's Act I aria, although he's an undeniable vocal presence. As Don Magnifico, the wicked stepfather, Simone Alaimo once again showed that he can make some wonderful individual sounds, but delivered a slightly overdone and undereffective performance. Alessandro Corbelli was an appealing Dandini. The conductor, Edoardo Müller, gave an adorable reading of the overture, with affectionate delight in the emphatic pianos; but in other places the playing became routine.

In any case, the night was Mr. Flórez's. At the end of the evening, rather than flooding into the aisles to escape after the curtain went down, the audience stayed in its seats, coming to its feet only for the tenor's curtain call.

Peruvian tenor thrills Met with high notes worthy of the young Pavarotti
Verena Dobnik, Associated Press, 29 September 2002

NEW YORK -- Cinderella polishes a lineup of worn-out shoes. A donkey with wings lands on a belltower. Cooked spaghetti fly to the floor.

These are hardly the images of grand opera.

But on Saturday night, amid the buffoonery of Gioachino Rossini's "La Cenerentola," the Metropolitan Opera heard a new star: tenor Juan Diego Florez, who delivered a string of scintillating high notes worthy of the young Luciano Pavarotti.

The Peruvian-born singer won a roaring, standing ovation with a sound that also echoed the late Spanish tenor Alfredo Kraus.

Florez made his Met debut last year, as Count Almaviva in Mozart's [sic] "The Barber of Seville."

Saturday's cast was dominated by some of Italy's finest singers, whose vocal prowess was accompanied by goofy acting on par with the shenanigans of the Marx Brothers' "A Night at the Opera."

Cinderella was sung by Sonia Ganassi. Her mezzo voice tackled fiendish coloratura passages as well as the plaintive sorrow of the lonely Cinderella, toiling unnoticed.

Her stepfather, Don Magnifico, sung with humor by bass-baritone Simone Alaimo, is trying to marry off either of his two other daughters to a prince. He sings of his dream while the donkey, representing him as an old fool, soars across the stage and lands on the tower.

The dream, of course, becomes his nightmare when the humble Cinderella lands at the palace as the prince's guest of honor, leaving her scheming family in a mad mess around the banquet table, complete with the flying spaghetti.

Rossini's musical image has often been that of a frivolous composer. But he also produced scores of great religious depth, a quality not lost in this opera.

A kind of morality play threads through the comedy of "La Cenerentola," which is subtitled "The Triumph of Goodness."

While sweeping away ashes and shining others' shoes, Cinderella bonds with a visiting beggar in rags who sits on a three-legged sofa that keeps tipping over.

The visitor, announcing that "God on his unmistakable throne sent me to you," is transformed into her guardian angel of wisdom. He rips off his brown rags to reveal a white suit with gold wings.

Then, a huge chain with a hook drops a cage in front of Cinderella, revealing the magic ballgown in which her life is transformed.

This is the classic tale turned into an Italian farce, framed in stark, modern edges by set designer Maurizio Balo. At the end comes an absurdly giant white wedding cake, topped by Cinderella and her prince.

Tenor peruano Juan Diego Florez triunfa en el Met en Nueva York
Verena Dobnik, Associated Press, 30 September 2002

NUEVA YORK (AP) -- Con un floreo verbal digno del mejor Luciano Pavarotti de antaño, el tenor peruano Juan Diego Florez conquistó el sábado el auditorio de la Metropolitan Opera de Nueva York con su interpretación de la ópera bufa "La Cenicienta", de Rossini.

El público le tributó una ovación de pie como premio a su proeza vocálica.

Florez había debutado en el Met el año pasado, en el papel del conde Almaviva en "El barbero de Sevilla", de Mozart [sic].

El reparto del sábado estuvo dominado por algunos de los mejores cantantes italianos, que combinaron su calidad musical con sus dotes bufas histriónicas acordes con la pieza rosiniana.

El papel de la Cenicienta estuvo a cargo de la mezzosoprano Sonia Ganassi, que se lució con el malabarismo verbal que exige la coloratura de su personaje.

Su padrastro Don Magnífico, representado con humor por el bajo barítono Simone Alaimo, trata de casar una de sus otras dos hijas con un príncipe. Entona su sueño mientras un asno, que lo simboliza como un verdadero cuadrúpedo, atraviesa el escenario para aterrizar sobre la torre.

Por su puesto el sueño se torna en pesadilla cuando la humilde Cenicienta llega al palacio como invitada de honor del príncipe, para dejar en posición ridícula al resto de su familia. En la mejor tradición bufa, el banquete deviene un caos con sillas que caen y espaguetis que vuelan.

A menudo se ha achacado frivolidad a Rossini. Pero también ha compuesto piezas de gran profundidad religiosa, cualidad que no es completamente ajena a la ópera bufa del sábado.

Una veta moral subyace a la comedia "La Cenicienta", subtitutlada "El triunfo del bien".

Mientras barre las cenizas y lustra zapatos ajenos, Cenicienta entra en amistad con un mendigo harapiento.

El visitante, tras anunciar que "Dios en su trono inconfundible me envió a ti", se transforma en su ángel guardián de sabiduría. Se deshace de sus harapos para revelar un traje blanco impoluto con alas doradas.

Luego, una gruesa cadena rematada en un gancho descerraja una jaula frente a Cenicienta para revelarle el maravilloso atuendo de baile que simboliza su transformación.

Es el cuento clásico revestido de farsa italiana, encuadrado en elegantes toques modernos del diseñador de escena Maurizio Balo. El remate condigno es una ridículamente gigantesca torta de bodas, coronada por Cenicienta y su príncipe azul.

Scene-stealing men at Metropolitan and New York City Opera
James Jorden, Gay City News,  18-24 October 2002

If early season performances here in New York are any indication, the
feared post Three Tenor drought may turn out to be a false alarm. In
fact, the leading tenors featured in La Cenerentola, Salome and Turandot
in past weeks turned in the most accomplished and attractive
performances in their respective casts.

These days, just about any teeny little voice that can squawk high C's
and gargle out approximate coloratura gets called "tenore di grazia,"
but Juan Diego Flórez (Ramiro in La Cenerentola at the Met, October 3)
restores this noble title to its rightful meaning. Everything this young
tenor does is graceful and elegant. The voice, though not large, is
perfectly even through two octaves, with a particular sweetness at the
top of the staff and a thrilling bloom on the money notes around high C,
which in this performance were always full, brilliant and easy,
perfectly tuned and without a trace of hardness or undue pressure.
Flórez has the excellent musical manners to move on past these succulent
acuti once they have made their optimum musical effect-even though he
obviously has both the breath control and the vocal security to stay up
in the stratosphere far longer.

Flórez handles the brilliant passage work in the part adeptly, the
little notes all clear and defined, but always within the framework of a
legato line, an effect that emphasizes the aristocratic nature and
unforced self-confidence of the character. His acting performance
demonstrates a parallel elegance. Flórez moves with an un-self-conscious
grace and his face radiates charm, especially when he's listening to the
other performers on stage.

And did I mention how cute he is? He's quite slim, of medium height,
with big expressive dark eyes and a tangle of black curly hair, an ideal
juvenile type visually. These days we operagoers think ourselves lucky
to find an artist who can either sing the part or look the part, and
very often we have to settle for someone who can't do either. Flórez may
well turn out to be the first superstar of the 21st century, but for
now, he certainly is the Boy of the Moment.

Ramiro is (obviously) not the protagonist of La Cenerentola, which is,
in this case, a bit of a pity, because the star quality of Mr. Flórez
threw the balance off for the rest of the cast. Sonia Ganassi's smoky
timbre was beautifully suited to the heroine's wistful hearthside
reflections ("Una volta c'era un re"), but she lacked fluent
articulation or a brilliant tone color for the rondo-finale. She fit
uneasily into the manic shtick devised by director Cesare Lievi for
Cecilia Bartoli. Mr. Corbelli and Simone Alaimo (Don Magnifico) are
self-starters of the old Italian school; their mugging was welcome and
funny, even if discordant with the dreary physical production. [...]

Golden Oldies
Peter G. Davis, New York Magazine, 14 October 2002

[...] Although she's on one of her rare visits to America, Cecilia Bartoli has
apparently removed the Met from her itinerary for the time being, so the
current revival of Rossini's La Cenerentola, originally staged for
Bartoli five years ago, must make do without her. Sonia Ganassi now
takes the Cinderella role, with Juan Diego Flórez as her Prince
Charming, and those who have seen this couple perform the opera at the
Rossini festival in the composer's hometown of Pesaro or have heard the
live recording are unlikely to be disappointed.

Ganassi may lack Bartoli's fizzy vocal virtuosity and neon-lit stage
personality, but her Angelina conveys its own quiet charm, and Rossini's
florid coloratura writing never fazes her. Flórez is, if anything, even
more remarkable than he was last season in his Met debut as Count
Almaviva in The Barber of Seville: an impeccable technician, musical to
his fingertips, and a disarmingly natural actor. The three buffo roles
are in the expert hands of Simone Alaimo (Don Magnifico), Alessandro
Corbelli (Dandini), and John Relyea (Alidoro) with Edoardo Müller and
the orchestra providing singer-friendly if rather soggy accompaniments.

Cesare Lievi's production, as rehearsed by Sharon Thomas, continues to
be a marvel, full of intelligent wit and wry humor but always with an
edge that suggests the opera's darker implications. This is, after all,
no fairy story as Rossini tells it, but a domestic tale of an unpleasant
household in which Angelina-Cinderella barely survives her stepfather's
grasping venality and her stepsisters' abusive behavior. Lievi avoids
irritating slapstick and focuses instead on those uneasy relationships
that give the action its comic energy and human warmth. It's a wonderful
show, and the present cast conveys its vocal and dramatic spirit with
barrels of skill and charm.

In Review from around the world [extract from the online edition]
M. Lignana Rosenberg, Opera News, January 2003

[...] For years, critics and fans have debated who deserves to be known as the "fourth" tenor. In light of Juan Diego Flórez's performance in the Met revival of Rossini's La Cenerentola, opera-lovers might do well to rephrase the question, asking instead who the second tenor is.

Flórez was simply dazzling as Prince Ramiro, his lengthy, ornate Act II aria winning one of the longest and loudest ovations I have heard in years -- and this in a theater that has largely (and inexplicably) opted out of the "Rossini Renaissance." The Peruvian tenor is in radiant vocal health, his tone compact, penetrating and evenly produced from bottom to top (and sounding much less reedy in the house than on disc). His enunciation is flawless, his runs and gruppetti crackle with energy, and he cuts a natty figure onstage. Quibbles? Comparing him with his predecessors in this production, one must admit that Flórez's "Pegno adorato e caro" wasn't quite the thing of gossamer and sighs that Raúl Giménez made of it, and the thrillingly full-bodied ring that Ramón Vargas brought to the scena's dizzying leaps is not within his vocal means. (The Met has done very well by Cenerentola since its company premiere in 1997.) Still, Flórez worked his own magic with the role. The care he lavished on every detail (the verbal caress on "una grazia" in the Act I duet with Angelina, the feather-light arpeggio on "su quel viso") drew murmurs of wonder from an audience whose uproarious response seemed to herald the arrival of a new hero in today's operatic pantheon.

The cast included another youthful marvel: bass John Relyea as Ramiro's tutor, Alidoro. Relyea doesn't have Flórez's flair for florid music: he smudged a few of the arduous, cascading lines in "Là del ciel" and seemed uncomfortable in the highest reaches of the role. What a joy, though, to revel in his luscious, ebony sound -- surely one of the most beautiful voices to be heard today -- and to witness his easy command of the stage and telling way with a sweep of the hand or a tilt of the head.

Other roles were capably sung. As Angelina, the winsome Sonia Ganassi rightly emphasized her character's pathos and seria dimensions, but she seemed out of sorts vocally, sharp (and occasionally inaudible) in the lower register, her fioritura "correct" but lacking sparkle and bounce. Simone Alaimo's familiar Don Magnifico was played a tad less broadly this time: his brush-off of Angelina in Act I was crueler and more menacing, with their reconciliation in the final scene all the more poignant for that. In between, he was as manic as ever, and his bass voice, while hardly glamorous, sounded bright and healthy throughout this grueling assignment. The wonderful Alessandro Corbelli reprised his deft, witty Dandini, his voice somewhat dryer than in years past, but his overall performance no less winning and masterful. Joyce Guyer and Patricia Risley were suitably irksome as Angelina's stepsisters.

Cesare Lievi's Magritte-inspired production has held up well -- indeed, in some respects has improved, lighter on the slapstick than in its initial runs. The only real disappointment came, surprisingly, from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, under Edoardo Müller, who turned in a flabby, uninspired performance, with sloppy playing from the winds and none of the effervescence or razor-sharp timing this Rossinian masterpiece demands [...]


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