Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Making The Most Of It

November 04, 2009

Juan Diego Flórez
Photo: Trevor Leighton 2009

Juan Diego Flórez may be the ideal tenor for our times. In an era of recession and environmental awareness, everyone is trying to make the most out of what they already have in a way that frowns on copious consumption and excessive waste. And, as if on cue, Flórez arrives with a voice that may seem meager and prosaic by comparison to others, but that he has used to amazing international star-making effect in spite of its limitations. On Tuesday, he appeared in a solo recital at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica for a brief California stop wedged between performances of La Fille du Regiment in San Francisco and Il Barbiere de Siviglia, which will open in Los Angeles later this month. It was a sold-out show and Flórez seemed relaxed and almost casual in a program that wasn’t organized around a specific PR campaign or marketing agenda. Instead it was filled with the carefully chosen and expertly developed material the tenor has made his name on. Flórez’ voice can be thin and lacking of a certain warmth and richness but the agility and control, not to mention spectacular high notes, he can produce effortlessly have rightly made him a hot commodity and an ideal bel canto tenor particularly in the works of Rossini.

Staying true to form, the first half of the Santa Monica program focused exclusively on Rossini, including three concert arias, as well as big ticket numbers from La Cenerentola and Semiramide. His vocal dexterity throughout all of this was impressive and more than a bit endearing. He’s a charming and handsome man to boot, which makes some of this material absolutely killer. But to be honest, it was when he took the smallest steps outside his comfort zone in the second half that things got really interesting. First up were two French arias, “Pourquoi me reveiller” from Massenet’s Werther and “Ah, leve-toi soleil” from Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette. This is territory more traveled by the likes of Ramon Vargas, Roberto Alagna, and Rolando Villazon on international stages in recent years, but Flórez managed these works well making a convincing argument for a passionate but more compact approach. Following this were three Zarzuela numbers, which proved that there is still truth to the old chestnut that vocalists sound best singing in their native language. Although Flórez’ French is quite good, hearing him sing in Spanish was like hearing a whole different performer who was suddenly unbound from the careful and methodical preparation behind the Italian repertory that has made him famous.

He concluded the main body of the evening with Donizetti’s "Ah mes amis", an aria that has become his calling card of late. While it may have been a bit obvious to put this in the prime spot in the show, it’s hard to blame him for giving the people what they want. If it gets you on the cover of the New York Times, you probably want to repeat it as often as you can. While the performance runs the risk of becoming a parlor trick, it’s one hell of a trick. The encores were what you’d expect – “La donna è mobile”, “Una Furtiva Lacrima”, and “Ah, più lieto”. All were done with real care and sounded wonderful. So, say what you will about the innate quality of his voice, he is an exciting performer who, like the best vocalists, is able to thoughtfully assess his strengths and limitations and build a magnificent career around them.


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