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11.5.06

Sentimiento Latino

available at Amazon
Juan Diego Flórez, Sentimiento Latino, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Miguel Harth-Bedoya (released on March 14, 2006)
Singers should do what they can to make their fortunes, and the classic strategy has been to make a recording of popular music, preferably music from one's home country and tradition, and then tour giving exclusive performances of that music. Caruso, Pavarotti, and others had popular Neapolitan song, Domingo has pimped the zarzuela repertoire, Renée Fleming has done Christian classical chestnuts and nursed an amateur jazz habit, Dmitri Hvorostovsky does Russian patriotic songs, to name only a few of probably an endless number of examples.

Tenor Juan Diego Flórez was born in Peru, where his father was a popular song singer and his mother was a marinera dancer in Lima. His latest CD goes back to those roots, bringing together fifteen popular songs, mostly from Latin America and some from Spain. As part of a brilliant marketing move, you receive a bonus track if you download the album from iTunes. Far from being automatically against this sort of popular album, I see its principal merit in its appeal to everyday listeners. Here at least is a real operatic voice -- not a flimsy imitation like Il Divo -- singing music with broader appeal than opera, for whatever reason, has. I would like to hope that people who like this CD will buy one of Flórez's opera aria anthology CDs, maybe even go to see him at the opera. The tenor lines his pockets, and opera hopefully benefits.

This is the sort of CD that hardly needs me or any other critic's review. Flórez has a puissant, smooth voice and sounds generally very good (like the great high C at the end of the final track, México lindo y querido, on the word ti, not the easiest vowel, as well as fine high B's in a couple of other songs), except for a few rare places. At the end of Estrellita (track 9), he holds a long note that is quite flat for a painfully long time, the sort of thing that producers should catch. The repertoire -- Latin love songs -- is the perfect vehicle for Flórez's sound and his good looks. I suffered no pain listening to it several times before and during the writing of this review. I am not sure how much I will listen to it in the future -- because of how I choose to fill up listening time rather than the quality of the CD -- but it is easy on the ears.

The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra provides the orchestral accompaniment. In general, they are solid, for the most part channeling a popular instrumental ensemble, although the sound is rather canned at points. (The recording was done in 2004 at Ed Landreth Auditorium at Texas Christian University.) In particular, the brass sound has been manipulated, with the imprecise horns often pushed far into the background (as in track 5, Granada, and track 13, Aquellos ojos verdes). The trumpets do some impressive Mariachi tricks, especially in the final track. I love the sound of the accordion (as in Dutilleux's Correspondances), and Daniel Binelli's work on the bandoneon here -- as in the opening of track 4, El día que me quieras -- has the same nostalgic effect on my brain. The FWSO's music director, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conducted Golijov's opera Ainadamar at Santa Fe last summer. He has an equally sure hand in this material.

If you enjoy this album and want to hear Juan Diego Flórez live, you need to see him as Lindoro in L'Italiana in Algeri, the Rossini opera that concludes the Washington National Opera's season. (Flórez is scheduled to sing all but the final two performances, on May 30 and June 3, when he will be replaced by Robert McPherson.) The rest of the cast promises to be equally fine, with Olga Borodina (Isabella) and Lyubov Petrova (Elvira), supported by Leslie Mutchler (Zulma) and Valeriano Lanchas (Haly). Ionarts was at the dress rehearsal last night, and without commenting on that, I am optimistic that this production will be a success.

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