Thursday, August 06, 2015

Just Stick to Singing, Juan Diego!

It cannot be denied that Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez has the kind of voice that only comes once in a lifetime. His lyrical, leggero instrument may never serve him well in late Verdi or Puccini, but in the triumvirate of the major bel canto composers he has excelled like very few can in this delicate, difficult repertory.  He broke the long-standing custom of banning encores at the Metropolitan Opera when the uproarious ovation that he received for singing the 9 high C's in "A mes amis" from The Daughter of the Regiment forced him to reprise the aria in its entirety; a feat that not even the great Luciano Pavarotti was able to do. Encores had not been heard at the house since the Golden Age of Enrico Caruso. He owns the role of Count Almaviva, reviving some arias from that work that many tenors had skipped due to its difficulty, and he possesses a high frequency voice that easily spans two octaves up to a high E flat (which he proved in a live performance of Rossini's Zelmira in 2009).

At the Salzburg Festival this week he offered a recital of Italian and French art songs that clearly displayed his astounding vocal technique. Accompanied by Vincenzo Scalera, Flórez was in splendid voice, and the audience was enormously receptive of his choice of repertory. He offered as an encore "Fra poco a me ricovero" from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, which was heartbreaking, and wonderfully received.

Then he returned to the stage with a guitar.  This is when things started getting a little weird. He took off his bow tie and hurled it away (it landed inside the piano), and went on to sing "Besame mucho." Mr. Scalera returned to the piano, and accompanied him in a rousing rendition of Agustin Lara's  "Granada."  By this time Mr. Flórez had gotten way too playful with his audience. He started comically reaching for his throat, as if telling the audience that he was running out of gas.  Nothing doing, though: as a final encore he launched into the nine C's of the aforementioned "A mes amis" each high note beautifully placed.  However, by the end of the aria once again he started mugging for the audience, making a joke of the vocal gymnastics required to sing this piece. Let us just say that comedy is not Mr. Flórez's forte. I often feel that his comic timing lags behind the beat, and this was clearly evident at the stage of the Großes Festspielhaus this week.  He just wasn't as funny as he thought he was, and it took away from the beauty of his remarkable singing. Just stick to singing, Juan Diego!

Below is the concert in its entirety.

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