Juan Diego Florez
Orchestra La Scintilla
Riccardo Minasi, conductor
Juan Diego Florez has prevalently sung bel canto roles for the major part of his career and has been considered the Rossini tenor par excellence. In recent years, however, the Peruvian tenor has crossed the limits of 19th century music and has started to widen his horizons with new eras and composers, as his 2013 recording L’Amour, a collection of French music, has already revealed.
Four years later, in 2017, Florez finally approaches the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and devotes an entire album to it. Before that, Florez has only sporadically performed in concert few arias as Un’aura amorosa and Il mio tesoro intanto composed by the Salzburg composer, but now his presence in this repertoire seems assured – on stage too, thanks to his debut as Don Ottavio.
Florez’s thoughts on Mozart’s music are not less than enthusiastic and in the booklet he warmly discusses the reasons why he did not recorded a Mozart album so far («I was very focused on the bel canto repertoire»), but he is thrilled and proud to have recorded it at last («now I have the feeling that exactly the right moment has arrived»). Those who read these lines are easily influenced by Florez’s frankness and zest and wait for the big show to start with even more impatience than before.
Anyway, Florez’s performance is not completely satisfactory despite his commitment and the fact that his consummate musicianship and prodigious voice are impressive, so that at first it is difficult to understand why this recording is not as extraordinary as it might be expected.
The answer is perhaps a matter of style and experience rather than a matter of voice. Florez is not really unsuitable for the Mozartian repertoire; I personally think that his Ferrando is a little too light, but this is just my personal taste, and on the contrary I am sure he has all the necessary requirements to be an excellent Don Ottavio and a remarkable Tito – and yet, even their arias are not outstanding in this recording. There is always a hint of bel canto in Florez’s voice, some habits that are unusual to be heard in Mozart and that make rather “strange” certain passages. More than this, I think that the real problem is that Florez has recorded the album before he performed at least few of these roles on stage and acquired more familiarity with them. It is easy to guess that his study is not complete and that he is still in search of the final touches to define the psychology of some of his characters.
The recording, moreover, begins in a really odd way, with the famous aria Fuor del mar from Idomeneo, perhaps the most popular piece of the opera apart from Zeffiretti lusinghieri and a stumbling block for the tenors who have measured themselves with it. It is very likely that it has been chosen as the first track of Mozart precisely to impress the listener with the singer’s bravura and actually the aria is very well performed: coloratura is as spectacular as always, the tenor’s élan is vigorous, but nonetheless my impression is that Florez has tried to darken his voice for an unclear reason and he sounds artificial and insincere.
Dies Bildnis from Die Zauberflöte is slightly better, although a little more warmth and a little less boldness would have been preferred, while Si spande al sole in faccia, a rare aria from Il re pastore appears as the best aria among the first three: Florez is sensitive, sweet-toned and incisive (hear for example how he stresses «e folgora, e minaccia»), his agility is fine and the high notes are bright. In this aria, Florez is really amazing.
Il mio tesoro intanto is the second gem of Mozart. Florez is anything but a pale Don Ottavio both musically and expressively and some short variations give mild emphasis to the aria. After it, there are two arias from La clemenza di Tito, Del più sublime soglio and Se all’imperio, amici miei. The former is valuable for the noble phrasing and the paternal wisdom with which Florez embellishes it, features that we find again in the middle section of the latter, which is anyway slightly more energetic.
Next, there are two arias that are not as good, Un’aura amorosa from Così fan tutte and Ich baue ganz auf deine Stärke from Die Entführung as dem Serail. Un’aura amorosa is not the contemplative and romantic piece that it should be and it is too much brisk. This really appears as a missed opportunity. Belmonte’s aria is better, but this too is not remarkable for anything special. Luckily, the next aria is Don Ottavio’s Dalla sua pace and here Florez’s phrasing is smooth and elegant and again the pale character of Don Ottavio seems less irresolute and weak than he usually is. Definitely, if there is a Mozartian role suitable for Florez, Don Ottavio is that role.
The last piece is the concert aria Misero! O sogno… Aura che intorno spiri and fortunately it summarizes the best features of the album and not the negative ones.
Florez’s Mozart is not a perfect recording nor a “definitive” one. The only hope is that, if and when Florez will start to perform these roles on stage, he will perfection them with the sensitivity and intelligence that have always characterized his work.