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Juan Diego Florez: Great Tenor Arias
Christoph Willibald von GLUCK (1714–1787) J’ai perdu mon Euridice (Orphée et Euridice)
Domenico CIMAROSA (1749–1801) Pria che spunti in ciel l’aura (Il matrimonio segreto)
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792–1868) Languirm per una bella (L’Italiana in Algeri); la speranza piu soave gia quest’alma lusingava (Semiramide)
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797–1848) Feste? Pompe? Omaggi? Onori? (La figlia del reggimento); Anch’io provai le tenere smanie d’un puro amore (Lucrezia Borgia)
Jacques François HALÉVY (1799–1862) Loin de son amie vivre sans plaisirs (La Juive)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901) Deh! Lasciate a un’alma amante (Un giorno di regno); La donna e mobile (Rigoletto)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924) Firenze e come un albero fiorito (Gianni Schicchi)
Juan Diego Florez (tenor)
Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Milano Giuseppe Verdi/Carlo Rizzi
Recorded Auditorium di Milano, Milan, Italy, 24-30 March 2003
DECCA 475 6187 [58.25]


Florez has already released a number of critically acclaimed recital records and complete opera recordings. He is now at the stage of his career when there is a tendency for the artist or his management to want to consider extending repertoire and venturing into new territory. For a tenor leggiero such as Florez, with such a specific voice and repertoire, there must always be the dangerous temptation to wander into other, heavier territory. Still, for the sensible singer, there are examples from the past to advise and warn. A tenor such as Alfredo Kraus is the paragon for how a tenor with a specific style and voice could use it with elegance and endure with remarkable longevity. Pavarotti, a tenor who like Florez started out by dazzling with his high Cs in Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment, provides another type of career path. And finally, you have the singers who have attempted to move into heavier roles and simply fallen by the way-side.

I raise all these issues because, having previously explored Bellini, Rossini and Donizetti, Florez expands his wings on this disc. At first sight, the selection of composers could be a little worrying. Verdi, Puccini and Halévy are not guarantors of vocal health in a tenor leggiero. But the selection of items on this disc is both reassuring and cunning.

Florez starts by going backwards, including arias by Gluck and Cimarosa. He then continues his explorations of Rossini and Donizetti, before proceeding to early Verdi. The choice of something from Un giorno di regno is apt as in these early operas Verdi was still indebted to his predecessors in the treatment of the tenor voice. The choice of La Donna e mobile is understandable and is the only really hackneyed selection on the disc. Halévy’s La Juive is most famous for the heavy tenor role of Eléazar, which was Caruso’s last new role. But quite sensibly, Florez sings the lighter second tenor part. Finally, we get an aria from Gianni Schicchi.

The French version of Gluck’s Orpheus legend has not been lucky on record. In producing such an edition, Gluck adapted it to French taste and recast the title role as a haut-contre rather than a castrato. In baroque music this tricky, distinctively French voice type (a sort of high tenor with a falsetto extension) has, under William Christie’s guiding hand, made something of a come-back with various singers showing what can be done in the music of Lully and Rameau. However they do not yet seem to have reached Gluck and the standard recording for the French version of the opera is still the one made by Leopold Simoneau.

Here Florez approaches the aria from a full-throated, Italian point of view. Stylistically, this is not really what I want in this aria, but Florez is a musical singer and his technique is superb. The result is appealing even though I can’t but help wonder what Paul Agnew would sound like in the role.

Napoleon banned the use of castratos. Well before this, Italian opera had started to develop a thriving tenor culture, partly because castrati tended not to appear in opera buffa. The result was something akin to the French development of the haut-contre so that by the early 19th century the range of some tenor roles was quite spectacular. The aria from Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto finds Florez in charming form exploring this early example of the Italian lyric tenor’s repertoire. And in fact Cimarosa’s style is remarkably prescient, prefiguring the early 19th century music on this disc.

It is with Rossini, that we come to the more outrageous demands made on the lighter tenor. In Naples, Rossini had a variety of tenors at his disposal and he delighted in comparing and contrasting them. Nevertheless his earlier operas generally have only a single main tenor role. Here Florez gives us an aria from Act 2 of Semiramide in which Idreno is intent on impressing his future bride by his virtuosic tour-de-force. The tenor voice in this repertoire has lagged behind the female voice, so that on Sutherland’s recording of Semiramide, John Serge sounds attractive but technically he is frankly disappointing. Here Florez is in stunning form and would impress any prospective bride.

He also includes Lindoro’s opening aria from L’Italiana in Algeri. Lindoro is a tricky role, but this piece is a particular hurdle over which many tenors stumble somewhat. In recordings of the complete opera from the late 1970s and early 1980s by Marilyn Horne (on RCA/Erato) and Luciana Valentini-Terrani (one on CBS and one on Acanta, now on Arts), their tenors manage to negotiate the difficult fioriture but quite often at the expense of tone quality. Quite frankly they don’t always sound nice. But Florez gives us a master-class in negotiating this music with charm and vocal quality. It helps if you have a flexible, supportive accompanist and here I had some doubts. Carlo Rizzi’s speeds are generous, he never seems to rush his singer, but I felt that he was a little inflexible. Listen to Claudio Scimone on RCA/Erato to hear how a conductor can bring accuracy and suppleness to a recording.

Moving on in time to Donizetti, Florez gives us two slightly unusual arias. He has already recorded the famous aria ‘Ah, mes amis’ from La Fille du Régiment which involves a sequence of 6 high Cs. For the Italian version, Donizetti replaced this aria with one from Gianni di Parigi. Nowadays this aria from La figlia del reggimento is something of a rarity, but in earlier times of course it was the Italian version of this opera which was current. The replacement aria may only have one high C rather than six, but it is no less impressive. The other Donizetti aria is a replacement aria for Lucrezia Borgia written specifically for the tenor Mario who gave the first London performance of the opera, singing the character of Gennaro. Though calling for an element of virtuosity it also draws upon those other elements in the tenor’s repertoire, legato and a sense of line. Florez does not disappoint and it is welcome to hear him making an impression without cascades of notes. This particular aria does not get an outing very often; on the Caballé recording Gennaro gets no aria at all and on the Sutherland he gets the other alternative aria which Donizetti wrote for Nicolai Ivanov.

Before continuing on to Verdi and Puccini we must make a brief sideways visit to France. The high lyric tenor role continued to be a feature in French opera; witness Donizetti’s taking advantage of it in La Fille du Régiment. In Halévy’s La Juive, the principal tenor role, Eléazar, might be a dramatic one, but the substantial second tenor part, Prince Leopold, calls for a more traditional French lyric voice. Here Florez sings a rather simplistic but quite charming serenade from the opera.

And so, on to Verdi. Listening to the aria from Un giorno di regno one is aware of how much Verdi was indebted to his forebears. In ‘La donna e mobile’ it is something of a revelation to hear the aria sung by a lyric voice (probably the heaviest part it would be wise to undertake) rather than as one of the lightest roles left in a heavier tenor’s repertoire. Florez sings the aria admirably, but sitting amongst this earlier 19th century Italian opera, one become aware not only of how much Verdi has taken from the earlier operas but also how much more regular and four-square his melodies can seem – or is that Carlo Rizzi just being a little too inflexible.

And finally to the most recent music on the disc, Rinuccio’s aria from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi; it is reasonable for Florez to sing this, after all it is young man’s music, written for a young lyric tenor to sing. But it seems to require a different technique from all the other music on the disc, needing more push from the voice. It was only here that I felt that Florez might have exerted his voice a little.

This is a well thought out recital. After doing two devoted to early 19th century opera, this widens the net a little so that the disc does not become repetitious and throws in one or two Italian novelties.

I am not sure that this is a disc to be listened to at one sitting, but I thought that about Florez’s other recital discs. This is a voice type that was designed to impress, to stun, within the confines of an opera involving a number of contrasting voice styles and I don’t think that this type of virtuoso tenor aria is heard at its best one after the other. But, if I have to hear sixty minutes all in one sitting, then Juan Diego Florez is definitely the man to do it.

Robert Hugill

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