Carnegie Hall 2018-19 Review: Juan Diego Flórez Recital

New York Audiences Couldn’t Ask For a Better Return From the Peruvian Tenor

By Francisco Salazar

It’s been three years since Juan Diego Flórez stepped on a New York stage.

The last time was in 2015 and it was for the premiere of “La Donna del Lago” at the Metropolitan Opera. While the opera itself was a new addition to the Met repertory, it wasn’t a surprising choice for the tenor as the New York audiences had grown accustomed to seeing him as THE bel canto tenor at the big house.

But things have changed over the past three years.

The Peruvian artist has been performing more lyric and heavier roles by Massenet, Gounod, Verdi, and even Donizetti. So it was no surprise that for his return to New York at Carnegie Hall, audiences would be hearing something different.

And the result was a spellbinding afternoon with some of opera’s greatest arias and a surplus of encores.

The Italian

Flórez reacquainted New York audiences with his voice through familiar repertoire.

To begin the program Florez began with two Rossini songs “addio ai viennesi” and “Bolero.” The first showcased Florez’s legato line and his beautiful pianissimo that easily transitioned to a sturdy forte sound. Each line was caressed with exquisite phrasing and the climactic high note gleamed throughout the hall.

The second song, the Bolero, showcased Florez’s flare and vocal fireworks, giving audiences Flórez’s trademark coloratura. There were some rough patches in the interpretation and some inconsistencies in his tone, particularly as he shifted from the coloratura line to the sustained high notes. But it didn’t quite spoil the playfulness of the song.

He followed up the program with a selection of Donizetti arias. First his pianist Vincenzo Scalera played a Waltz by the composer giving a delightful interpretation if at times it seemed a bit mechanical. But it was a good prelude to Flórez’s “Una Furtiva Lagrima.” Here the tenor sang each line with tenderness and even took some freedoms with tempo, indulging and sustaining the legato line for great lengths. His final lines “si puo morir” were also given extra breathes and sustained pauses, almost as he wanted to remain on the lines forever.

But it was his “Tombe degli avi i miei” from “Lucia di Lammermoor” that really pushed the program into full tilt. Here Flórez sang with passionate ardor and really conveyed Edgardo’s suffering. He began the recitative forte, crescendoing with the lines and adding urgency to each phrase. But it was when he began the aria “Fra poco me ricovero” that Florez scaled back, beginning with a piano dynamic and eventually crescendoing to let out a burst of emotions to conclude the aria.

Next came two arias from Verdi. The first was “O toi que j’ai cherie” from “Les Vêspres Siciliennes.” Florez sang with more finesse, scaling back his voice and working immaculately with the text and mezzo piano phrasing.

Then came “La Mia letizia infondere” from “I Lombardi” and here the tenor sang with vigor emphasizing the rhythm and moving the tempo forward. But in the cabaletta “Come poteva un angelo,” Florez struggled to keep his tone consistent and at a moment towards the end, there seemed to be a lack of breath, cutting shorting the final high note.

The French

The second half of the program was dedicated to French music and here audiences got to see a completely different Flórez. This was a more charismatic one, who seemed to be more comfortable with the music as well.

He opened the half with “Ouvre tes yeux bleus” from “Poème d’amour” by Massenet with suave phrases. That would lead him into his second aria “En fermant les yeux” from “Manon.” The aria, which in which Des Grieux relates his dreams,  was delivered with delicacy, the sound never rising to full power. He always kept a smooth line with sotto voce quality.

The final Massenet aria was “Ah! Fuyez douce image” from “Manon” and here the full weight of the tenor’s voice was present. However, unlike some interpretations of this aria there was more control and in many ways, it was an introspective interpretation that never pushed of the limits of Florez’s slender sound. It was a good feel for what audiences can expect in Austria and France when he makes his role debut this season.

Scalera than walked on stage to perform the Meditation of “Thaïs” and like the previous waltz, it was performed with stellar technique. However, it lacked the introspectiveness of the piece, the phrasing rising and falling but never truly feeling unified into one emotional hall.

When Flórez returned to the stage he performed “Salut demeure chaste et pure” from “Faust” and the aria was pulled off with effortless phrasing and a gleaming High C that made audiences ecstatic.

Before his following aria, “Pourquoi me reveiller” from “Werther,” Flórez spoke to the audience about how difficult it was to change emotions from one piece to the other. Scalera even began the aria but Flórez interrupted him, saying he wasn’t ready. But once he began, he sang with such intensity releasing all of the character’s desperation. However, Flórez made sure that he built to the climactic B Flat by starting the aria with a hushed piano sound and building it all the way to a fortissimo. It was the showstopper.

To conclude the program was “Che Gelida Manina” from “La Bohème.” But beforehand Florez went for a drink of water and then told a story of how in Latin America he hurt his wrist and sang with a cast. The moment was also interrupted by a few audience members screaming songs they wanted to hear.

Like his “Furtiva Lagrima,” Florez indulged in each line, extending them and giving the well-known aria a rhapsodic feel. There was no apparent tempo as he continuously moved at his pace. But that pace still allowed to build to the High C that rang through the hall and which Florez sustained for a few moments before releasing and singing the final bars of the music. It was a climatic way to end the formal program.

The Encores

After his curtain calls Florez arrived with his guitar. He improvised many of the famed songs first starting with an exquisite “Besame Mucho” and followed by “La Flor de la Canela,” which he interrupted and asked the audience to chant “Viva Peru.” But he concluded the piece with an incredible high note that made it all the more satisfying. To end the Latin song cycle, he interpreted “Cucurrucucu Paloma.” Florez interacted with the audience holding out sustained notes for a lengthy period looking at all sides of the audience before moving to the next. He also used his falsetto voice and had audiences cheering him on as he continued to hold out notes for extended periods.

For his fourth encore, audiences cheered for “Ah mes amis” and Florez did just that. He sang the second verse and pulled off eight of the nine high Cs with ease and with the virtuosic power that he has been known for. But before his final High C, he had Scalera hold out chords making the audience anticipate it. And when he did he did hit the note, he held it out for great lengths that had audiences rousing for more.

The fifth encore was “Be my love” which the tenor delivered flirtatiously, followed by “Granada.” Florez used a bouquet of Flowers that an audience member had given him and began playing with flowers and throwing them at random audience members.

His final encore was “Nessun Dorma” and Florez conducted the audience to sing along with him before the climactic “Vincero,” which was full of excitement and which sent the audience into a frenzy well before Scalera could finish the piano line.


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