Juan Diego Florez Daniel Oren Bel canto speactacularJuan Diego Florez

Bel canto spectacular

With Anna Netrebko, Patrizia Ciofi, Daniela Barcellona, Placido Domindo and Mariusz Kwiecien

Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana

Daniel Oren, conductor

Decca, 2008

To review a famous album of a celebrated singer and find something new to say about it is sometimes more difficult than finding interesting aspects in lesser known works, but when I listened once more to Juan Diego Florez’s Bel canto spectacular many considerations came to my mind and I could not resist to write them down.

Bel canto spectacular has been released in 2008 and has been introduced in the booklet as the revival of the lost bel canto world. At that time, Florez focused his career almost exclusively on the three bel canto composers (and chiefly on Rossini) who wrote La figlia del reggimento, I Puritani, La favorite, L’elisir d’amore, Linda di Chamounix, Il viaggio a Reims, Lucrezia Borgia and Otello, the operas from which are taken the arias and duets that constitute the programme of this album. The passing of time oriented Florez to new repertoires and especially to the French music of the 19th century, but it is a matter of fact that his name will be forever associated with Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti despite all his efforts and versatility.

The features of Bel canto spectacular can be summarized and divided into the three main groups: the pure spectacularity of the glorious Amici miei, che allegro giorno from La figlia del reggimento that triumphally and appropriately opens the album with its nine Cs, the wonderful display of great voices in the duets with colleagues as Anna Netrebko, Mariusz Kwiecien, Patrizia Ciofi, Daniela Barcellona and Placido Domingo and finally something that is maybe less obvious at first sight, especially for those who expect from Bel canto spectacular an album oriented to show off the virtuosic qualities of the Peruvian tenor and that instead find themselves listening to arias – as Da quell dì che t’incontrai, from Linda di Chamounix and T’amo qual s’ama un angelo from Lucrezia Borgia – that privilege the purely musical side of singing.

Florez’s legato, phrasing and tender inspiration in these two arias, together with Una furtiva lagrima from L’elisir d’amore and Ange si pur from La favorite, are astonishing even for those who are already accustomed to his singing – or better to his bel canto in the literal meaning of the world (“beautiful singing”). The homogeneity of his voice in all registers and his warm timbre add to the just mentioned qualities a romantic trait that compensate for the lack of what can be called a genuine “dramatic strength”. The declaration of Carlo’s love to Linda in Da quell dì che t’incontrai is among the most magical moments of the album thanks to Florez’s easiness to place himself in this supremely delicate melody and his accents are so sweet and sincere that the effect is thrilling.

The duets are moments of true, gorgeous singing. The first is the long scene from the third act of I Puritani with Anna Netrebko as a lovely Elvira, more convincing here than in the recorded performance at the Metropolitan Opera in 2007. This duet is particularly interesting also for the opening of the traditional cut and for some nice variations, sung by Netrebko for the major part. The funny duet from L’elisir d’amore is performed by Florez with Mariusz Kwiecien and the naivety of Nemorino has a good counterpart in the boldness of this Belcore.

Patrizia Ciofi joins Florez in the duet from Linda di Chamounix and, despite her voice is not one of the most beautiful, she sings as a graceful young girl next to Florez’s loving Carlo. The duet from Il viaggio a Reims shows the collaboration of the Peruvian tenor with another of the greatest Rossini singers of our times, Daniela Barcellona. The final part of this long piece, Ah, no, giammai quest’anima is among the most wonderful parts of the entire album. Placido Domingo, at last, joins Florez in the bonus track from Rossini’s Otello (Ah vieni, nel tuo sangue), but this piece has a rather amusing outcome. Despite the two tenors sing well, Domingo is overwhelmed by Florez’s bright and booming high notes, so that the veteran of the stage almost fades in comparison with his younger colleague.

The spectacularity of this album is guaranteed both by its undiscussed protagonist and by the guest stars, but, despite the presence of distinguished colleagues and of a captivating arias as Amici miei, che allegro giorno, the best parts of Bel canto spectacular are the romantic arias that Florez sings alone because it is in those charming pieces that his precious voice really reveals its splendour.