The Charm of Juan Diego Flórez Wins Over at the End of an Uneven Recital

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Various composers – Rosenblatt Recital with Juan Diego Flórez (tenor): featuring Avi Avital (mandolin), Ksenija Sidorova (accordion), Ivan Gambini (percussion), Jean Gambini (double bass), Roberto Gargamelli, Luca Pecchia (guitar), Filarmonica Gioachino Rossini Orchestra / Christopher Franklin (conductor). Royal Albert Hall, London, 29.3.2016. (JPr)

Juan Diego Florez_Royal Albert Hall_2016 (c) Jonathan Rose
Juan Diego Flórez at the Royal Albert Hall
(c) Jonathan Rose

Mozart, Die Zauberflöte – Overture; Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön; La Betulia Liberata – D’ogni colpa, la colpa maggiore
Rossini, Il Barbiere di Siviglia – Overture; Cessa di più resistere
Verdi, Nabucco – Overture; Ernani – Mercé, diletti amici
Rascel, Arrivederci Roma
Di Lazzaro, Chitarra romana
Kreisler, Prelude and Allegro
Donizetti, Amor marinaro ‘Me voglio fa’ ‘na casa’ (Avital – Sidorova)
De Curtis, Torna a Surriento
Leoncavallo, Mattinata
Monti, Csárdás (Avital – Sidorova)
Tosti, L’alba sepàra dalla luce l’ombra
De Curtis, Non ti scordar di me

Rosenblatt Recitals are an admirable institution now in their sixteenth season as ‘London’s only world-class series of opera recitals’. I have only – for one reason or another – managed to get to one of these before which was a wonderful evening with Angel Blue (review). To their credit they have been able to get a leading tenor to actually sing. Opera and concert managements must be despairing how during recent years tenors seem to have become an ‘endangered species’ and are frequently read to have cancelled due to personal or health reasons.

When I last saw him give a recital in London in 2013 (review) I concluded by writing ‘Juan Diego Flórez seems a good man, he is undoubtedly an artist at the height of his considerable powers – as this memorable recital return to London proved’. The first part of this remains true for this popular Peruvian and indeed this was another memorable concert …but not entirely because of the singing.

This recital was beset with problems from the beginning. Whilst it is not always needed, amplification is not unusual for superstar tenor concerts in a huge arena such the Royal Albert Hall. However, for most of Part I of this concert everything was much too loud and horribly distorted what Juan Diego Flórez was singing especially if it required his trademark florid bel canto such as D’ogni colpa, la colpa maggiore from a very early Mozart opera and Rossini’s Cessa di più resistere which was originally cut from Il Barbiere di Siviglia. At these moments everything he sang was just tuneful noise. Obviously friends sitting in the first rows of the Arena must have been talking back to him because as the interval approached he stopped to request the microphones should be turned down.

Ernani’s Mercé, diletti amici then was the best of the first half although the great Verdi roles like Mozart’s Tamino – Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön was sung earlier – is repertory Flórez is yet to explore but surely has the voice for. His Verdi had all the qualities Flórez is famed for including open-hearted, open-throated vocalism, based on impeccable breath control and a deep appreciation of the words he is singing. Perhaps one item was a little bit too much like the next and a greater sense of character might have been possible even in the recital situation. The valiant Filarmonica Gioachino Rossini Orchestra plugged away under the encouraging baton of Christopher Franklin in three over-exposed programme fillers. They didn’t seem particularly comfortable with the Mozart or Verdi overtures (but that may have been what we heard because of the sound problem) but they did their namesake proud with a spirited rendition of the Overture from Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

After a very protracted interval that extended to nearly 40 minutes the ‘fun’ really began. It was planned to promote Flórez’s recent CD release Italia which features the orchestra he was performing with at the Royal Albert Hall. After a long wait for Part II to start, only a small ensemble of musicians (including mandolin, accordion and guitars, plus conductor) accompanied him in the first of two classic Italian songs that would be the focus of the rest of this concert. As Flórez crooned delightfully through Arrivederci Roma and Chitarra romana it seems part of a different – more intimate – evening that was totally at odds with the barn-like auditorium. The disarmingly charming Flórez obviously appreciated what it looked like and said ‘We are seriously planning to open a restaurant and we are going to be the band’. Later adding, ‘Everybody wants to be Italian … I want to be Italian, it’s cool.’

There had already been too much walking on and off stage in the first half but now it reached inexplicable heights as the stage seemed to require resetting between each piece of music. It is not important how well Avi Avital (mandolin) and Ksenija Sidorova (accordion) played their ‘solo’ contributions, Kreisler’s Prelude and Allegro and Monti’s Csárdás, as neither were important to this recital. The full orchestra returned for Torna a Surriento and Mattinata, however, since the featured instrumentalists were to be involved more rearranging of the platform was needed. Even Flórez himself seemed to get frustrated and at one point began to fill time with a longish anecdote about how he funded his first audition in New York and then busked in the subway playing the guitar and singing Italian songs. Flórez’s silky phrasing and the way he can smoothly caress the vocal lines of all the very popular Neapolitan and Italian songs he sang made the second – much less ‘serious’ half of this concert – very enjoyable. The concert ended ‘officially’ with my favourite of these songs Non ti scordar di me which I have fond memories of others including Carreras and Pavarotti singing. Flórez sang it consummately with a suitably idiomatic heart-on-the-sleeve approach.

Those who regularly attend Flórez’s concerts know that sometimes he leaves the best till last and on this occasion he seemed to be making up for the problems earlier in the evening with a slew of encores, six in total! They were Volare, Marecchiare, Bésame Mucho, Malagueña Salerosa, La donna è mobile and O sole mio. Some newspaper critics appear to have left before any of these and even I must admit I could not stay the distance because of worries about travelling back after an horrendous journey to the Royal Albert Hall involving rerouteing and delays. However memorable this concert was in very many ways(!), a highlight was as Juan Diego Flórez just sitting on a high stool playing his guitar, singing simply and beautifully – in the way few currently can – a couple of Mexican songs Bésame Mucho and Malagueña Salerosa. He seemed to take great pleasure in this informality and appeared more relaxed than before. A smaller venue next time will not of course allow so many to see him but might enable him – or his managment – to put on the type of concert he is best at.

Jim Pritchard

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1 thought on “The Charm of Juan Diego Flórez Wins Over at the End of an Uneven Recital”

  1. I have to agree: this concert was a great disappointment. The whole thing seemed under-rehearsed and even amateurish. Had I paid £75 for my seat I should have been hopping mad. Even as an unpaid attender I felt £7 for a programme with numerous typos was bad value.


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