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The Generous Prince of Bel Canto

Teatro alla Scala
12/18/2023 -  
Tommaso Giordani: Caro mio ben
Georg Friedrich Händel: Semele, HWV 58: “Wher’ever you walk”
Alessandro Scarlatti: Gìa il sole dal Gange
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni, K. 527: “Dalla sua pace” & “Il mio tesoro”
Gioacchino Rossini: Péchés de vieillesse (Volume X. Miscellanée pour piano): 4. “Une bagatelle” – Il Signor Bruschino: “Deh, tu m’assisti, amore” – Ermione: “Che sorda al mesto pianto... Ah, come nascondere”
Francesco Paolo Tosti: Malìa – Ideale – L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra
Gaetano Donizetti: Roberto Devereux: “Ed ancor la tremenda... Come uno spirito angelico... Bagnato il sen di lagrime”
Manuel Ponce: Intermezzo in E minor
Jules Massenet: Manon: “En fermant les yeux” & “Ah, fuyez, douce image”
Giuseppe Verdi: Valzer in fa maggiore – Luisa Miller: “Ah! Fede negar potesse... Quando le sere al placido... L’ara, o l’avello”

Juan Diego Flórez (tenor), Vincenzo Scalera (piano)

J. D. Flórez

Tenor Juan Diego Flórez opened La Scala’s acclaimed recital series for the 2023/2024 season with a memorably enchanting recital. It delighted the audience with its varied repertoire, the singer’s winning charisma, his superlative voice and its astoundingly generous duration.

In the past decade, most vocal recitals I’ve attended featured some eight vocal selections peppered with solo piano works or orchestral pieces. Not so in this case, which featured no less than sixteen main selections, followed by a further eight encores. Mr. Flórez loves lavishing his fans with his intoxicating artistry and they rewarded him with enthusiastic applause.

Born in Peru, Flórez began his studies there, culminating in intense training at the prestigious Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Soon after, his Italian career started, and his La Scala debut was in 1996, in Gluck’s Armide. Given his youthful good looks, many think today’s most accomplished Rossini tenor to be in his late thirties, but in fact he’s fifty.

Flórez has long been associated with Rossini. In 1996, he shot to fame internationally when the leading tenor in Rossini’s Matilde di Shabran (1821) took ill during the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro. Ever since, Flórez has been one of the most sought‑after Rossini and bel canto tenors.

Unlike many lyric tenors in recent years, Flórez has not strayed far from his Fach. Taking on heavier roles gradually has been a wise decision, effectively safeguarding his voice, and preserving his precious top register.

It’s understandable that singers with lighter voices yearn for more dramatic roles heavier than their Fach, the allure being that the heavier roles are dramatically stronger and thus more appealing. I’ve known sopranos who made their careers with Lucia, Rosina, Gilda and Amina but who dreamt of singing Tosca, Leonora and Aïda. In living their dream, they inevitably damaged their voices, with some developing an unpleasant wobble.

In today’s marketing-oriented opera world, a singer’s excellence in a specific repertoire can be limiting. Though he’s clearly partial to Rossini, Flórez might tire of him. Though this evening’s program included ample selections by Pesaro’s native son, as well as works by Donizetti, it did include other repertoire, perhaps by design or simply for the sheer fun of it.

The arie antiche by Giordani and Alessandro Scarlatti were ideal warm up exercises. The aria from Händel’s Semele was probably the least interesting of the evening, thanks to a lack of technical prowess and a limited expressiveness in the narration. Though fluent in English, it’s not a language in which Flórez often sings.

However, Don Ottavio’s demanding aria from Don Giovanni (1787) was an unexpected treat. Flórez easily met all technical challenges, showing great tenderness in the slow‑paced “Dalla sua pace,” and brilliant technique in “Il mio tesoro.” The first section of the recital ended with two Rossini arias: one from the early opera Il Signor Bruschino (1813), surprisingly moving for an early composition; and from my favourite, Ermione (1819). The latter is perhaps too heroic a role for Flórez, but he nonetheless sang flawlessly and expressively. It’s a good warm‑up for his role this Spring as Arnold, Rossini’s heaviest tenor role in Guillaume Tell (1829).

The second part of the recital opened with elegantly-interpreted Tosti songs. They were followed by extended arias from Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux (1838), a perfect fit for Flórez at this stage; and from Verdi’s Luisa Miller (1849), possibly the least well‑suited of the evening. Most enjoyable were the two arias from Massenet’s Manon (1882). Flórez impressed with his French diction and style. “En fermant les yeux” was appropriately dreamy, while “Ah, fuyez, douce image” was especially moving, despite the artist’s great poise.

Accompanist Vincenzo Scalera’s solo piano choices were stylistically appropriate, enhancing the overall ambience of the evening. Verdi’s Valzer in fa maggiore was a revelation, and one well worth hearing more frequently.

The plethora of encores was overwhelming, from the Neapolitan song “Core 'ngrato” to the Mexican song “Cucurrucucú paloma,” in addition to various Peruvian and Argentinian popular songs, self-accompanied on guitar. He finished with the demanding arias, “Ah! lève‑toi, soleil,” from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette (1867), to the last section of “Ah, mes amis quel jour de fête,” from Donizetti’s La Fille du regiment (1840) with its famous nine high Cs, all gloriously sung.

In all, an overwhelming feeling of gladness filled La Scala, the crowd exiting the historic venue satiated with a joy that perfectly matched the exuberance of the festive season. Buon Natale!

Ossama el Naggar



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