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Flórez Triumphans

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Bel Canto Spectacular, J. D. Flórez

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Great Tenor Arias, J. D. Flórez

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Verdi, Rigoletto, D. Damrau, J. D. Flórez, Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden
The inaugural concert in the Placido Domingo Celebrity Series -- one of the shrewd cost-saving measures instituted at Washington National Opera to counter the effects of the economic downturn -- featured the brilliant Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez on Sunday afternoon. It was a major event, with tickets sold out long ago (in fact, only to subscribers and high-level donors), and critics had to beg, borrow, or steal to get a seat in the Kennedy Center Opera House. Luckily I had to resort only to the first of those options, being spared the moral dilemma of choosing between a second mortgage and larceny in order to attend. When Flórez made his WNO debut in 2006, in Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri, he had just begun to make a name for himself internationally: he has since gone on to the sort of stardom that few opera singers ever achieve. If it will be difficult to imagine him coming back to Washington for another production anytime soon, no one who loves fine singing wanted to miss the chance to hear him again, especially in a program that featured his strongest repertoire -- primarily Rossini, Donizetti, and Verdi, with a few distractions thrown in for good measure.

In the first half, one had the sense that the programming was chosen to give Flórez a chance to warm up to the big money pieces later in the concert. "Pria che spunti in ciel l'aurora," from Cimarosa's Il Matrimonio Segreto, is not all that memorable, although its slow beginning featured Flórez's sensitive phrasing, often sustained by remarkable control through places where other singers would breathe. There were many more fireworks to be enjoyed in Rossini's "Cessa di più resistere," the aria usually cut from performances of The Barber of Seville and reworked by the composer in La Cenerentola: perfectly tuned staccato notes, florid runs, and all. "Pietoso al lungo pianto," from Verdi's Un Giorno di Regno, had less to notice, except for a few nice high notes. Guest conductor Alessandro Vitiello, in his company debut, had a competent hand at the podium, without great inspiration, it must be said. He happily kept the tempos fleet in the three overtures from the same operas as each aria on the first half, providing little more than time filler to allow Flórez to rest (just how many notes could Verdi write for the damn triangle?). Concertmaster Oleg Rylatko had a pretty enough turn on the solo part of the "Méditation" from Massenet's Thaïs, with a somewhat electrified vibrato.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Juan Diego Florez at Opera House: With metallic voice, tenor sets gold standard (Washington Post, March 1)

Tim Smith, Juan Diego Florez inaugurates WNO's Placido Domingo Celebrity Series (Baltimore Sun, March 2)
By the second half, Flórez was running on all cylinders, opening with a luminous rendition of "Ah, lève-toi, soleil" from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette. Three selections from Verdi's Rigoletto (the most famous one kept inevitably for the encores) were probably the closest Washington will ever come to seeing Flórez's Duke of Mantua, a role that he wisely chose to preview on his home territory in Lima and then sing only in a few carefully chosen houses. In concert, he gave Questa o quella little nuances that made what is a simple song seem more substantial, while "Ella mi fu rapita" again had some strikingly long phrases. Like most tenors, a lot of the placement of Flórez's high notes is nasal: while it was noticeable in some cases, he is much more successful than some other tenors (Lawrence Brownlee comes to mind) at sweetening the tone, although he keeps it rapier-sharp in melismatic passages. The nasality certainly came across in the famous series of high Cs in "Ah! mes amis," from Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment, which was in effect the first encore, followed by "Una furtiva lagrima" from L'elisir d'amore and "La donna è mobile," conspicuously missing from the Rigoletto set earlier in the program. For the final encore, he turned to his popular CD Sentimiento Latino for La flor de la canela, a Criollo waltz by Peruvian singer Chabuca Granda.

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