The Lucerne Festival presented a concert by superstar tenor Juan Diego Flórez, with Vincenzo Scalera at the piano. The programme included music from Schubert to Puccini, passing through Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi and Tosti. Flórez started with three Schubert Lieder, going for crowd pleasers such as An Silvia, An die Musik and Ständchen. He had an almost heroic approach to An Sylvia, which, like An die Musik, seemed to sit a bit too low for him. I cannot judge his German, but he seemed fairly at ease, even if his diction lacked the crispiness of a native speaker. In the third song his voice seemed more comfortable, and he loosened up a bit more, for an emotional performance of Schubert’s beautiful serenade. Overall, his rendition of the German part of the programme was very enjoyable; Flórez may not be the first name which comes to mind regarding Schubert Lieder, but his elegance and natural musicality, together with the sheer beauty of his timbre, made for a very successful performance.

Juan Diego Flórez
© Lucerne Festival | Manuela Jans

The rest of the programme was dedicated to Italian composers. Flórez’ voice flourished in the long, never-ending Bellini’s melodies, showing an impressive legato and breath control. His interpretation was slightly “operatic”, meaning that he gave the feeling of being on a stage (which, to be honest, he was) rather than in a 19th-century aristocratic salon. His most successful was La ricordanza, a beautiful melody which Bellini recycled as the mad scene in I Puritani (“Qui la voce sua soave”).

Three songs by Paolo Tosti followed, a composer renowned for his writing in the style of so-called “salon music”. Sogno had a definite dreamy quality, as the name implies, while the music of Seconda mattinata showed clear Neapolitan influences. Aprile was particularly suited to Flórez’ voice, with its sunny melody and enthusiastic affect, mixing a reminiscence of Puccini together with an almost Baroque dancing rhythm a times. It gave him the opportunity to show a wonderful filato and a great messa di voce.

The second part of the concert was based on opera, beginning with “La speranza più soave”, Idreno’s aria from Semiramide. Flórez confirmed once again his status as the Rossini tenor of his generation, a superb performance. His coloratura was rigorous, every note sung with precision and intent, his style was perfect, his legato to die for. And he hit a full high C sharp: he's still got it! An aria from Donizetti’s Il duca d’Alba followed, where the singer gave a very Romantic interpretation, with great phrasing. One thing that I always find remarkable in Flórez is how he closes every phrase with care and love for the music which seem the result of both a remarkable natural instinct and careful study.

When Verdi composed Jérusalem for the Opéra national de Paris in 1847, he wrote the role of Gaston for tenor Gilbert Duprez, who created several characters in bel canto operas. In the aria “Je veux encore entendre ta voix”, Flórez showed how much his voice is suited to these roles. One wishes he would decide to perform some early Verdi on stage.

Juan Diego Flórez
© Lucerne Festival | Manuela Jans

The concert ended with “Torna ai felici dì” from Puccini’s Le Villi, an aria with a gloomy, mysterious atmosphere. Pianist Vincenzo Scalera played with precision, showing great musicianship and navigating all the difficulties of the transcriptions of the orchestral scores with skill and ease. The two musicians demonstrated very good chemistry – they have been working together for years – and communality of intent. He was also very effective in the two solo pieces: Bellini’s Largo and theme in F minor,and Foglio d’album by Puccini, which has a character of free improvisation.

As usual, Flórez gave the audience a generous selection of encores, playing the guitar, before Scalera re-entered the stage for a traditional Spanish song made famous by Cristina Aguilera, Contigo en la distancia, followed by Lehar’s “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz”, which caused some teary eyes in the audience, and a victorious “Nessun dorma”.

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