I am a Flórez aficionado. I managed to see him twice
at Covent Garden in La sonnambula (2002) and then last
month (January 2007) in La Fille du régiment. Flórez
in operatic performance is invariably worth every effort and
every penny/euro/pound/mortgage as part of a team telling a
story. But uninterrupted Flórez for over and hour? Maybe not
for me: but if you like undiluted full strength Flórez then
this is for you.
leaflet tells us that this is the fifth such Flórez disc. Therefore
there must be a market, which then raises the question: market
for what? That is perhaps a little unkind but the fact is that
all but three tracks on this disc (5, 8, 14) have appeared on
previous single releases.
Pavarotti wore the
mantle of King of the High Cs unassumingly. Listen to
the 1968 Decca CD recording (414 520-2); or the compilation
of 2001 in The Singers series (467 920-2). Having assumed
the mantle, Flórez appears to wear it even more lightly. His
tone is lighter and although obviously not apparent on a CD
he is physically lighter on his feet, tripping about the stage
like a young gazelle. As at February 2007, when this is being
written, there is really no-one who can compete with his mid-note
and long held high C security, or indeed with his high tessitura
in bel canto repertoire. And sure enough this disc demonstrates
these qualities very clearly indeed.
of starting with a bel canto stand-by to set the disc
style, he turns to one of Verdi’s most popular melodies but
one which is usually sung by a dramatic tenor – or certainly
one with more heft. That said Flórez hits notes with a clarity
that always sounds fresh. That freshness is apposite for the
Duke’s view of the fickleness of women but misses the undercurrent
of the debauched Duke. That undercurrent is also missed at the
end of the aria. Flórez takes the last note up an octave to
a high B as if in celebration – certainly a typically high note
on which Flórez ends an aria. Whereas in the opera, the aria
ends on middle B prior to the entry of the murderous Sparafucile
– a more sombre conclusion.
Next we have Rinuccio,
in love with Gianni Schicchi’s daughter, trying to persuade
his family to accept the services of that crafty countryman.
This is persuasive Puccini with a between-verse captivating
orchestral snatch of O mio babbino caro. Interestingly
Flórez puts more drama than one might expect into his persuasive
endeavours and his admonishment of the relatives.
The next two tracks,
both from works by Donizetti are arias for lovesick swains.
The first for Nemorino with his secret tear and love for Adina;
opening with its familiar haunting refrain. Here we have a less
ebullient Flórez, but conveying vocally Nemorino’s determination.
Whilst there are still the ringing highs this aria is much better
for the vocal variations.
Tonio, in gaining
permission from the regiment to marry ‘their daughter’, is quite
irrepressible and Flórez is ideal for the role. The music is
exciting and Flórez is exhilarated and exhilarating. The concluding
joy in Pour mon âme, lying at the higher end of any tenor’s
range and with its celebratory successive high Cs is almost
a Flórez calling card, not deposing Pavarotti but presenting
a somewhat different style and tone. Here is a sharper timbre,
and a light touch with the same ringing accuracy and security.
The next two tracks
are not my personal favourites. As Italian bel canto
tenors record Neapolitan songs, so it must be comparable that
Peruvian Flórez should look to the Spanish language. Both these
songs were recorded in Texas. Both are familiar tunes and if
you want to ‘sing along with Juan’, then fine. Personally the
former should be left to the popular Jimmy Dorsey recording.
In both, Flórez’s crisp timbre seems flattened or smoothed and
in the latter recording is not helped by an almost frenetically
Onto the almost
overpowering tear-jerking aria and cabaletta for Rodrigo sung
immediately after being told that his beloved Desdemona is already
married. This track demonstrates all Flórez’s strengths but
also shows his lack of power in the lower reaches of his range.
There is mid-note-hitting security in some quickly-paced difficult
runs. The word ‘coloratura’ is almost invariably used to describe
sopranos. The logic of which has always escaped me. Here is
faultless florid singing for which ‘coloratura’, is the only
word, and tremendous it is too.
Next is a young
Mozart work, with Marzio’s only aria in this opera. Here the
rapid runs are only manageable with repeated ‘ah’s or the like;
the runs and leaps showing yet again remarkable vocal focus
and agility. Mozart is new to the group of Flórez single discs
and is the more enjoyable for that – particularly with the playing
by Les Talens Lyriques.
Rossini’s aria and
cavatina for the returning Gianetto does not really add to the
vocal opportunities. Accepting the aria as “…insipid and commonplace
in the extreme…” (Stendhal: 267), Flórez rescues it from the
severity of that condemnation but no more.
Orphée et Euridice
is manifestly the French version of Gluck’s opera. Whilst familiarity
suggests that we might expect to hear a counter-tenor or a mezzo,
there is no logical reason why Flórez should not sing this quite
beautiful aria. Orphée has disobeyed the dictum not to look
back at his wife whom he was leading back to earth and as a
result she has died - again. Flórez deploys refreshingly stronger
dynamics than hitherto; he makes clear Orphée’s self-criticism
for his loss – even if there is the occasional question mark
takes us back to Rossini, if a not particularly memorable opera
or extract. Again Flórez evinces strong dynamics in some slow
coloratura and later with notable orchestral support he manages
to inject excitement into the music.
Un giorno di
regno is the early Verdi opera that got the bird – not the
worm – at the first performance and has been little seen since.
Verdi’s attempt at ‘Rossini humour’ failed as this extract demonstrates
musically. Flórez comes to the rescue as best he can but cannot
save the first part from being dull. The second part, with suggestions
of Rossinian crescendos, is little better.
Then there is reliable
Rita (Donizetti’s one act opera) with its very light
touch aria for Beppe which Flórez exploits deliciously with
successive mid-note leaps forte, smooth runs and the
ever reliable ‘tra-la-la’-ing. Curiously the Verdi of Qui
tollis is again not the most scintillating – particularly
for Flórez whose voice is not the strongest in the lower regions
of his register.
As you would expect
the final track shows the Flórez voice at its best; ringing
highs, secure runs, lots of coloratura and all delivered with
that beguiling youthful vocal confidence that is his hall-mark.
The only real disappointment
with this disc is the accompanying leaflet. No libretto so no
translation, just an almost sycophantic potted history of Flórez.
And what a pity the front photo shows an absence of a razor whereas
the smooth handsome Flórez appears on three photos within.