United States Various composers – Juan Diego Flórez (tenor): Vincenzo Scalera (piano), Carnegie Hall, New York, 18.11.2018. (RP)
Rossini – ‘Addio ai Viennesi’, ‘Mi lagnerò tacendo’ (‘Bolero’)
Donizetti – Waltz for Piano in C Major; ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ (L’elisir d’amore); ‘Tombe degli avi miei…Fra poco a me ricovero’ (Lucia di Lammermoor)
Verdi – ‘Ô toi que j’ai chérie’ (Les vêpres siciliennes); ‘La mia letizia infondere…Come poteva un angelo’ (I Lombardi)
Massenet – ‘Ouvre tes yeux bleus’ (Poème d’amour), No.3; ‘En fermant les yeux’, ‘Ah, fuyez douce image’ (Manon); Meditation (Thaïs); ‘Pourquoi me réveiller’ (Werther)
Gounod – ‘Salut! demeure chaste et pure’ (Faust)
Puccini – ‘Che gelida manina’ (La bohème)
As the final ‘Vincerò!’ of ‘Nessun dorma’ sounded in Carnegie Hall, the audience rose en masse cheering, just as they had a few minutes earlier after Juan Diego Flórez had popped out the nine high C’s in the tenor showstopper from Donizetti’s La fille du régiment. Most had risen to their feet for all of his prior encores too (there were seven in all): three Spanish songs that he sang while strumming the guitar, a soaring Granada and the dreamy Mario Lanza standard, ‘Be my love’. That was after singing show-stopping arias for close to two hours, any one of which might have served as an encore for many a tenor.
By now, some may be thinking ho-hum, just another tenor turning out arias instead of proper art songs, or be chagrined to think of Flórez, with his singularly beautiful lyric tenor, ruining it by singing heavy-hitter Puccini arias. (I admit that those thoughts crossed my mind.) My advice to them: go rain on someone else’s parade. Flórez was in magnificent voice, dispensing charm and high notes with equal ease, as well as displaying unbelievable stamina. It was if The Three Tenors had morphed into one with none of the folderol – simply voice, voice, voice and still more voice.
The recital began with a graceful Rossini song, ‘Addio ai Viennesi’, that displayed the clarity and warmth of his middle and lower ranges. The song is topped off with a sustained high note that he nailed; Flórez was throwing raw meat to the lions from the get-go. The first half was crafted carefully, each aria a vocal stepping stone to the heavier Verdi ones. After a lilting, plaintive ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ from L’elisir d’amore, his second Donizetti aria, ’Tombe degli avi miei…Fra poco a me ricovero’ from Lucia di Lammermoor, found him fully warmed up. His singing reaching near perfection in terms of vocal beauty and phrasing.
The Verdi arias, ‘Ô toi que j’ai chérie’ from Les vêpres siciliennes and ‘La mia letizia infondere…Come poteva un angelo’ from I Lombardi, didn’t show off his voice to its best advantage. To compensate for the lower tessitura and the meatier vocal lines, he concentrated his voice into a sinewy column of sound that felt manufactured. ‘Che gelida manina’ from La bohème was a totally different matter: Flórez was tender and passionate, at times almost playful, his sound molten and burnished. Who wasn’t thinking that in the right house with the right conductor, he would be the Rodolfo of one’s dreams?
The second half was devoted to Romantic French composers, the direction Flórez’s career is moving these days. As he had earlier, he began with a song, Massenet’s ‘Ouvre tes yeux bleus’. Lightness and elegance yielded to exquisite, long spun-out lines and rich, warm vocal color in ‘Salut! demeure chaste et pure’ from Gounod’s Faust. ‘Pourquoi me réveiller’ from Werther, a role that he has already performed on stage, provided the dramatic punch. He employed pretty much the same voice for Massenet’s tragic hero as he had for Puccini’s ardent young lover. Stunning in both instances.
There were two brief pauses for Flórez built into the program when Vincenzo Scalera played Donizetti’s Waltz for Piano in C Major and the Méditation from Massenet’s Thaïs. Beneath his perfect accompanist demeanor, Scalera is a bit of a showman as well. He can conjure up a full orchestra on the keyboard and never fails to grab the spotlight when accompaniments venture into the upper octaves of the piano, albeit when Flórez isn’t singing.
The short respites gave the audience’s hearts a chance to stop racing, as well as time for Flórez to shift vocal gears. The man’s breath control is phenomenal. His instrument may be the vocal equivalent of a Porsche, but physically he was going from first to seventh in a matter of minutes, at times mere seconds. He said it was work, laughingly admitting that he had contrived the challenge.
Totally relaxed, bantering with the audience alternately in Spanish and English and tossing red carnations (stems kept snapping on him) to ladies during the encores, Flórez was in rare form for this recital. I vividly recall him singing Count Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia at the Metropolitan Opera in 2002. He was as astoundingly agile vocally as he was physically back then. The thought that he might someday be ending recitals singing ‘Nessun dorma’ would never have crossed my mind. He was full of surprises then. He still is now.