Singers Chosen by the Gods

ItalyItaly Rossini Opera Festival (2):  Filarmonica Gioachino Rossini, Chorus of Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Chorus Master, Andrea Faidutti;  Conductor, Donato Renzetti.   Jessica Pratt (soprano),  Viktoria Yarovaya (mezzosoprano),  Juan Diego Florez (tenor),  Dempsey Rivera (tenor), Mirco Palazzi (bass).  Adriatic Arena, Pesaro.  15.8.2015 (JB)

Rossini: Messa di Gloria
Il Piano d’Armonia sulla morte d’Orfeo
La morte di Didone

It happens –maybe once in a lifetime- that a singer appears on the scene that sounds as though they have found direct rapport with the gods –the font of music’s life force and creativity.  Caruso and Chaliapin must have been such singers.  I’m not old enough to have heard either live, but their recordings make clear their plug-ins to the Universal Power.  Listening to Juan Diego Florez last night it dawned on me that I have got this the wrong way round.  It’s not that these singers are choosing the gods, it’s the gods who are audibly and actively choosing them.  Florez is a wondrous servant of these powers.  His boyish good looks increase  his youth every time I see him.  He remains ever slender and athletic.  And that goes for his voice too. He recently moved his family to the virgin countryside in the hills above Pesaro, a small market town with bustling activity along the Adriatic coast.  I’m writing these notes in a tranquil garden of a Bed and Breakfast up there, which I enjoy every year.  

Rossini’s Messa di Gloria (1820) was written on commission of the Confraternity of Neapolitan Nobles of San Luigi and like every other Rossini work it was pure opera.  Among the most outstanding of the maestro’s final works was the Petite Messe Solennelle which was neither petite nor a Messa and certainly not Solennelle: allegro Christiano  says the opening Kyrie, so the irony is out in the open.  

The Messa di Gloria (forty minutes in two movements) is for chorus, small orchestra with two tenors, the second, Dempsey Rivera, shadowing the first (Florez) in the second Kyrie, soprano (Jessica Pratt) mezzosoprano (Viktoria Yaravaya) and bass (Mirco Palazzi).

The reason this Mass remains so rarely performed is the virtuoso requirements of the leading tenor in the Gloria.  But Juan Diego Florez’s virtuosity never sounds like virtuosity; it sounds like an ever-increasing youthful voice parting the clouds as it praises its Maker.  That is an operatic experience to be sure, but one of a very rare order.  Should you not be a believer in the gods of creation you would find yourself abandoning your disbelief.  Abandonment is a key part of the Florez delivery.  And this kind of generosity is infectious.  I would not have wanted to be Mirco Palazzi, who had to follow this act, but the bass acquitted himself rather well in the Mass’s final part.  

The concert’s second part had more Florez pleasure awaiting us in Rossini’s 1810 cantata, The Death of Dido for tenor, orchestra and chorus.  Of course, the tenor is recounting the death of Dido, not being her, but in the final cabaletta he wrecks vengeance on Aneas with some very florid singing.  Florez perfected this technique with longtime studies with Ernesto Palacio (also Peruvian)  in Milan.  It seems an extraordinary coincidence that two of the greatest teachers of the Spanish tradition of singing ended their ongoing teaching careers in Milan.  

The other was Mercedes Llopart (1895 – 1970) who counted among her pupils Alfredo Kraus (the nearest voice we had to Florez before Juan Diego appeared on the scene), Fiorenza Cossotto and Renata Scotto.  It was a great pleasure to hear that La Scotto has been able to pass on this vital technique to Jessica Pratt.  Renata Scotto can be agnostic about how she acquired this schooling.  Don’t ask me about technique, she is on record saying, Madame Llopart would demonstrate and we had to imitate her.  What was clearly audible in Jessica Pratt’s  Il pianto d’Armonia sulla morte d’Orfeo  is that that tradition has indeed been passed on.  Every i was dotted and every t crossed with not just glittering accuracy but meaningful expression in every note and phrase.  That seems to suggest that even the gods have need of their archangels right here on earth.  

Jack Buckley

4 thoughts on “Singers Chosen by the Gods”

  1. Wonderful review, a pleasure to read. However it was Jessica Pratt who sang “La morte di Didone” and Juan Diego Florez who sang “Il pianto d’Armonia sulla morte d’Orfeo”! Regards, PD

    • Jack Buckley replies:
      Many thanks for your kind words. Thanks too for drawing my attention to my inadvertently transposing the titles of the Pratt and Florez contributions to our memorable evening. If I may say so, that’s a very Rossinian mistake wouldn’t you say? : swap the titles of the pieces but the critical appreciation remains the same. I can almost hear the old boy’s chortle. And I hadn’t been drinking!

  2. Thank you for this review! Your review of Guillaume Tell also remains my favorite. I would never be able to phrase it as eloquently as you, but I also feel that beauty, expressiveness, musical intelligence and sheer energy that Florez brings to every single one of his performances are out of this world. Each time I see him live he exceeds my ever increasing expectations. Sometimes I was coming over tired and worried, and was leaving on such high, feeling 10 years younger, stronger and happier, like patina and bitterness of everyday life was washed off me by the pure magic that this incredible artist created on stage that night.


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