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Music review: A showcase for Juan Diego Florez

November 5, 2009 | 12:29 pm

Florez It’s easy to swoon over tenor Juan Diego Flórez’s high Cs, which he spun out Tuesday at the Eli and Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica with the prodigality of exuberant youth.

But his artistry goes far deeper.

In fact, his most moving moments came not in the virtuoso challenges of Donizetti, Rossini or Massenet, but in the contained, inward pain of a man singing of leaving his country forever, in “Adiós Granada” from Tomás Barrera-Saavedra’s zarzuela, “Los emigrantes.”

The audience’s tumultuous reaction seemed to take the 36-year-old Peruvian by surprise. Indeed, from the very beginning, he appeared startled by the audience’s overwhelming embrace. But Los Angeles has been waiting for him for a long time.

His recordings for Decca whetted the appetite for a singer who negotiated the purling bel canto repertory with such expressive, informed, insouciant ease.

His brief appearance at a Los Angeles Opera gala a number of years ago was inconclusive. That may have been because his voice is not huge. But it is focused, lithe and compelling, and it blossoms in the heights. His recital did not disappoint.

He threw down the gauntlet immediately, opening, without any stage warm-up, with the formidable hurdles in “Si, ritrovarla io guiro” (Yes, I swear that I will find her) from Rossini’s “La Cenerentola.” There are enough high notes in this aria to satisfy anyone lusting for that primal experience. But here, as throughout the program, Flórez went deeper, proving a poetic interpreter of text, using rubato for lyric expression, and shifting subtle colors to reflect various shades of emotion.

Each half of the program opened and closed with an opera showpiece: Idreno’s love-and-jealousy aria “La speranza più soave” (from Rossini’s “Semiramide”); “Pourquoi me réveiller” (Massenet’s “Werther”); and the popular blockbuster, “Ah! mes amis” (Donizetti’s “Daughter of the Regiment”), with its notorious nine high Cs.

In between came a series of Rossini songs, zarzuela excerpts and the balcony aria from Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Flórez’s always sympathetic collaborator, pianist Vincenzo Scalera, also played a brief salon piece by Rossini.

It was an exhausting program. But Flórez didn’t seem fazed, and the audience demanded more.
For encores, he sang “Una furtiva lagrima” (from Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love”); “La donna è mobile” (Verdi’s “Rigoletto”); Lara’s “Granada”; and, as a down payment on his appearance as Almaviva in Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” for Los Angeles Opera at the end of the month, the close of the Count’s “Cessa di più resistere.”

He might still be singing, if it were up to the rapturous audience.

-- Chris Pasles

Photo of Juan Diego Flórez in 2003: Trevor Leighton / Los Angeles Opera