In review: Juan Diego Flórez's Rosenblatt RecitalReview
Star tenor Juan Diego Flórez made an anticipated visit last night to Royal Albert Hall, as part of the Rosenblatt Recital series. With the Filarmonica Gioachino Rossini Orchestra under maestro Christopher Franklin, Flórez offered up a programme of signature singing - including his famous coloratura and thrilling high notes - as well as a sampling of Italian and Neapolitan songs, featured on his new album, Italia.
The impressive Royal Albert Hall housed what felt like an amped-up concert event, opened by the Filarmonica’s playing of the Overture from Die Zauberflöte. It was, in fact, literally amped up; it was our first encounter with the use of microphones that seems to be the norm for the Hall, and it took a few measures of Mozart to distinguish stellar acoustics from amplification. There was an exciting level of aggression that came out of this sound, yet as Flórez appeared for “Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön”, it felt like an unnecessary addition to the tenor’s already thrilling sound. Mercifully, Flórez used his microphone to politely ask the sound technicians to keep the amplification to a minimum for the rest of the concert; the audience must have been as eager as we were to hear him cleanly and naturally, since approving applause followed his request.
Microphones aside, it really was a rush to hear the steel and precision in Flórez’s sound. He treated us to a second Mozart aria, from the obscure La Betulia liberata, written when the composer was just 15 years old. We got to hear the start of Flórez’s agility, with tricky melismas and tenor writing that are reminiscent of La clemenza di Tito.
It’s always been an amazing thing to hear Flórez sing coloratura; there’s efficiency in the sound, yet it’s not necessarily light. His machine-gun approach is full of precision and control, and he always seems malleable and flexible despite all the work involved. Flórez treated us to “Cessa di più resistere” from Il barbiere di Siviglia, where we heard the expertise and ease that gave the tenor his star status. He closed the first half with “Mercé, diletti amici” from Verdi’s Ernani, which was a total highlight. His voice sounded at home, with room to bloom, and his final notes were heroic and virile. If there’s more Verdi in Flórez’s future seasons, that would be just fine by us.
The second half was full of popular Italian songs, and some Neapolitan favourites. Flórez says of this music, “Who doesn’t love these songs?” It’s true; Leoncavallo’s “Mattinata” and Rascel’s “Arrivederci Roma” brought an instant warmth to the evening, and we seemed to get to know Flórez on a more personal level. His love for these songs is clear, and it was treat to hear him sing with the relaxed abandon that is part of this music.
Perhaps the problem was that we wanted to hear more of Flórez, without interruptions. The Filarmonica took the spotlight a few times, for the overtures of Die Zauberflöte, Il barbiere di Siviglia, and Nabucco, all within the first half. They played with exciting enthusiasm, yet it broke up our connection with Flórez, who didn’t sing more than two numbers in a row without exiting the stage.
For a few of the Italia numbers, the tenor was joined by mandolin player Avi Avital, accordionist Ksenija Sidorova, guitarists Roberto Gargamelli and Luca Pecchia, bassist Massimo Jean Gambini, and percussionist Ivan Gambini. The new sound was a great way to get our ears pared down from operatic arias to flexible Italian songs; we just wanted to hear more of it. Christopher Franklin took the podium for this small ensemble, which seemed unnecessary and a hindrance to the chamber-ensemble dynamic that could have come out of these songs.
The two numbers, Kreisler’s Prelude and Allegro and Monti’s Csárdás, performed by Avi Avital and Ksenija Sidorova, were fantastic and exciting; yet it took way too long to set up and tear down from their individual numbers, and to bring back the full orchestra partway through the second half. It seemed as though a simpler solution would have been for everyone to hang out onstage, and for a smaller set of chairs and music stands to be set aside downstage, ready when needed. The music on this programme was fantastic, and it seemed a shame to interrupt the evening’s flow with constant stage exits and rearranging of furniture. We had begun to really get to know Flórez in this half, and the interruptions were enough to take us out of the fun of the music.
Clunky programming aside, Flórez sounded in fantastic form, both in full opera mode and on the more popular side of things. His season inludes a few more concerts, scheduled around performances of Don Pasquale in Vienna, La donna del lago in Pesaro, Les Huguenots in Berlin, and interestingly, an in-concert Werther in Paris. We were left wanting more from his London concert, so perhaps we’ll have to look into travel plans to the mainland to get our next fix.
Click here for more info on Juan Diego Flórez’s new album, Italia.