A historic occasion: the debut of near-superstar operatic tenor Juan Diego Flórez at the Royal Albert Hall, following in the footsteps of the ‘Three Tenors’ Domingo, Carreras and Pavarotti. A marriage of spectacular ‘bel canto’ fireworks and Victorian architectural magnificence, the programme boasted operatic rarities by Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini, framing more well-known pieces by Verdi and Lehár and songs from Zarzuela (a kind of Spanish operetta).
The concert opened with pieces from Bellini’s Il Pirata, the cavatina ‘Nel furor delle tempeste’ (in the fury of tempests) telling of the nobleman-turned-pirate Gualtiero’s yearning for his lost love Imogene. Bellini’s Romantic, lyrical passages beautifully sung by Flórez were followed by pieces from Rossini’s La Scala di Seta, an early one-act farce of mistaken identities involving two lovers and a silken ladder. ‘Vedrò qual sommo incanto’ (I’ll see as if by magic) provided tenors in the nineteenth century with a springboard for dazzling vocal acrobatics, a specialty of Flórez with his famed top register. ‘De’miei bollenti spiriti’ (My dream of wild ecstasy) from La Traviata was an unusual departure into the Verdian repertoire, requiring more spinto or dramatic force than most Rossinian tenors can muster. Flórez however with his extraordinary breath control was able to sing the aria with lightness and dexterity, characteristic of his vocal flexibility and the diversity of operatic roles he is willing to take on.
…the sunny brightness of his top register and Romantic passion…
The concert’s second half opened with pieces from Zarzuela, a staple of any Flórez recital. Little-known outside the Spanish-speaking world, the Peruvian tenor makes a strong case for their sultry and vivacious musical qualities, lending them the sunny brightness of his top register as well as quintessential Romantic passion. ‘Dein ist mein ganzes Herz’ (You are my heart’s delight) and ‘Be my love’, two popular pieces sung with magnificent lyric beauty and the comic ‘Allegro io son’ (I am happy) from Donizetti’s Rita ensured audiences were in high spirits by the programme’s end. What followed were three spectacular encores: part of Flórez’s signature aria ‘Ah! Mes amis’ from Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment, the ever-popular ‘La donna è mobile’ from Verdi’s Rigoletto (another signature) and finally the rousingly patriotic Maxican song ‘Granada’. Under the award-winning conductor Alessandro Vitiello, the Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn provided Flórez with a sparkling and stylish accompaniment.
As demonstrated by their standing ovation, London audiences are eagerly anticipating the tenor’s return in April 2013, when Flórez will be performing Rossini’s La Donna del Lago at the Royal Opera House and starting his residency at the Barbican. Pity Mr Flórez will not be returning sooner.