Juan Diego Flórez, where have you been all our lives?
The Peruvian tenor is finally performing in Australia, 27 years after he became an overnight sensation at the age of 23, and proceeded to conquer the opera world from La Scala to The Met. It’s a classic case of worth the wait.
Flórez’s Melbourne recital, the first of three on these shores, was an unforgettable display of technique, artistry and talent, combined with a warm personality that sealed his conquest of the audience.
Accompanied by French pianist Cécile Restier, Flórez performs a program representative of his career on this tour. The first half is all bel canto, the early 19th century Italian opera style with which he established his career. After interval, there’s a little French repertoire, a generous serve of Verdi and finally a Puccini showstopper.
It’s difficult to pick out highlights from Flórez’s performance at Hamer Hall, as it was all so sublime. Wearing a dark-grey double-breasted suit and white shirt open at the collar, he revealed a strong, supple high tenor that has a lovely light quality that makes me think of spun gold.
His phrasing is elegant and evocative, and diction excellent. Dynamics are both well considered and exquisitely controlled. He has seamless legato, and the ability to sustain notes with apparent ease, whether firing off climactic (but never bombastic) High Cs or softly caressing a note so that it seems to float in the air – as in this concert’s Ah! Lève-toi, soleil from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette.
Purely personal favourite moments include a bracket of Donizetti arias, which begins with Una furtiva lagrima from L’elisir d’amore. Flórez conveyed the hope of ardent love finally being returned with melting vocal beauty, then the heartbreak of love lost in Lucia di Lammermoor’s final scene. There was just the right rakish playfulness about his Questa o quella from Verdi’s Rigoletto, and I have never heard a more perfect, romantic Che gelida manina from Puccini’s La bohème.
Dressed in a slim black satin gown, Restier provided sensitive, simpatico accompaniment. Despite playing without a page-turner, she always seemed unhurried and at ease – even during the flourishes of Bizet’s Nocturne in D major, one of four short piano solos that allowed Flórez to pause off-stage. Her final, languid notes for Respighi’s Intermezzo from Re Enzo were breathtaking.
The appreciation of the audience, which included some proud Peruvians, grew warmer and warmer with each Flórez aria. He often responded by hugging himself, perhaps showing that he could feel the love, while his smile conveyed how much he appreciated it.
When Flórez returned to the stage with his guitar for an encore, the audience roared with delight. He sang three Spanish songs with feeling and a little fun, and spoke his only words of the concert between them. By this stage, anyone who wasn’t in the palm of his hand surely tumbled right in. The audience wanted more, and the man of the moment obliged, returning four times with Restier for some operatic gems, then two more times to take a bow.
Anyone who loves opera, or any kind of beautiful music, do whatever you can to get a ticket for Flórez’s remaining tour concerts. It could be a long if not eternal wait for this extraordinary artist’s return because, as the tenor told Limelight, he doesn’t travel so much these days.
Juan Diego Flórez, please come back to Australia.
Juan Diego Flórez performs in Sydney on 5 November and Canberra on 7 November.