The Dublin stop on the Tour l’Amour of celebrated Peruvian tenor, Juan Diego Flórez, was as much a love-fest as the event’s title promised. Having serenaded us with love songs from the treasure trove of French opera, Flórez responded generously to the standing ovations and calls of “encore” from an audience well and truly smitten by his voice and artistry. Blessed with a golden voice that can seemingly do absolutely anything he wants, Flórez has been wowing audiences across the opera theatres of the world. At the National Concert Hall in Dublin he was joined by the RTE concert orchestra under the baton of the ever-sensitive Sebastiano Rolli.

Juan Diego Flórez © Josef Gallauer | Decca
Juan Diego Flórez
© Josef Gallauer | Decca

Programming for such concerts generally involves cherry-picking from the top tenor arias from nineteenth-century opera, punctuated by some rousing overtures or solo numbers for orchestra. While this format underpinned much of Saturday night’s offering, there was a genuine attempt to explore some more recherché works such as Bizet’s “A la voix d’un amant fidèle” from his opera La jolie fille de Perth or the overture to Le Toréador by Adolph Adam. The selection of arias from French-language operas exclusively (Donizetti’s opera La Favorite was written and first performed in French) gave a unity to the concert as a whole and a pleasant break from the overly familiar Italian warhorse arias.

Before starting on Flórez’s performance a word of praise is due to both Rolli and the RTE concert orchestra for an intelligent and lively account of the various overtures which punctuated this concert. Opening with a jolly rendition of the ever popular Prélude to Bizet’s Carmen, I was impressed how Rolli resisted the urge to bombast in this piece which meant that we weren’t readjusting our ears for Flórez’s opening aria. The different moods of delicate tenderness in Adam’s overture to Le Toréador and rustic Provencal charm in Bizet’s L’Arlésienne: Farandole were well captured. Some sharp intonation towards the end in the woodwind (piccolo in particular) marred an otherwise understated and intelligent performance.

The arias of the first half all shared a similar soulful, yearning quality. This gave the listener the opportunity of hearing his mellifluous voice with its forward tone, seducing the senses. What particularly impressed me were the intense emotions imbuing every line of every aria which pointed to evidence of the true artist and not just a vocal superstar. His interpretations were underpinned by an impeccable vocal technique that quietly served his artistry, allowing him to soar to the high Cs with seeming ease.

A change of ordering meant that “Prendre le dessin d’un bijou…” from Delibes’ Lakmé was the first item, Flórez instantly capturing the thwarted passion of Gérald as he sings of his beloved. The line “a pu sentir battre son coeur fidèle” was delivered with intense emotional fervour, and Florez demonstrated great delicacy with pellucid pianissimos that wafted to the back of the auditorium as he sung of “O fantaisie aux ailes d’or” (O Fantasy on golden wings). Both Bizet’s “A la voix d’un amant fidèle” and Massenet’s “Pourquoi me réveiller” (from Werther) were suitably melancholic and brooding, the “Hélas” of the latter throbbing with feeling. An earlier aria, also from Werther (“O nature, pleine de grâce”) contained some of the most memorable moments of the first half. The “tout m’attire” was sung with an extraordinarily delicate pianissimo while “enivre-moi de tes parfums” was spine-tingling. My only objection in this piece was that for the sake of the concert performance the aria finished far too abruptly after the interrupted cadence.

In the second half, Flórez showed how convincingly he could convey the various different characters with mercurial transitions; from the charming naivety of the novice Fernand in Donizetti’s La Favorite, through the finely judged humour of Paris’ dilemma in Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène, to the starry-eyed lover in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. Not only were the pearly high Cs in Berlioz’s “O Blonde Cérès” (Les Troyens) a delight, but one found oneself rejoicing in the exquisite phrasing which was always so sensitively controlled.

As the encores happily kept on coming, Flórez engaged in some light-hearted banter with audience and conductor alike. It was an evening which testified anew to the truth of the old saying, "Omnia vincit amor" (Love conquers all).