JDF @ RFH

Oh look, we’ve all done it. You’re going about your job, perhaps the office is crowded, maybe you knock over someone’s papers, and instinctively say, “shit! sorry!” The thing is, in your case, there aren’t 2,000+ people listening attentively to your every beautiful word at the point you exclaim. To then get a warm, humorous applause in response shows just what a star you are. So Juan Diego Florez lost his way at one point. And? Entertaining though it was (and it was entertaining!) the real news about this recital is just how straightforward, unshowy, serious and, quite simply, stunning it was. As my 2010 finished with the rich combination of Tannhäuser and Hänsel und Gretel, it was perhaps good that this simple, cleansing diet of Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti and Prado was on offer to start 2011.

That JDF is a remarkable – indeed, astonishing – singer will not come as news to anyone who knows classical music. Here, his tone was full and strong, though
it is not a large, refulgent sound, as was evident in the ferocity of the battle with the dry, draining acoustic of the Royal Festival Hall. But the detail-revealing acoustic highlighted just how secure his voice was. The main recital didn’t stretch him into the upper echelons too frequently, and in the middle range it
sounded like there was a thickening to the voice which, whilst of course not diminishing the musicianship, nonetheless changed the timbre from the last time I’d heard him. The Mozart was elegant but, to be honest, rather bland: Se all’impero from La Clemenza and Del più sublime soglio. Then the Rossini songs: three from Les Soirées Musicales (7, 1, 3). Immediately, for all their austerity relative to Rossini opera, there was a spark, a mellifluousness that was engaging and suited Florez’s style.

The Messa di Gloria yielded Qui tollis peccata mundi, and we must wonder how many Hail Marys it takes to recover from saying ‘shit’ in the midst of a Rossini sacred work… The second half began with an aria from Édouard Lalo’s Le Roi d’Ys which, in common with much of the recital, sounded curiously familiar. Operatic Donizetti and Verdi (La Favorite and Un giorno di regno respectively) provided more physical, more muscular and more fluent bookends to a series
of songs by contemporary composer Luis Prado. These were odd, with a largely chromatic, flowing and rich accompaniment underpinning an oddly jarring, stop-go vocal line. Not a great success to me, but nice to hear something different and notable for the only pieces for which Florez needed the score
(well, if you don’t count the Rossini Messa which prompted the fluff!) I was enchanted by the accompaniment of Vincenzo Scalera: rich, romantic, and idiomatic playing that suited the repertoire. His solo piece, Rossini’s Piano Prelude from the Musique Anodine was, in fact, anything but anodyne. It was
full of quirky tonalities and headlong rushes up to abrupt stops, the sort of music that makes you genuinely smile in its wilful, playful charm. For encores, we were treated to four, including Gounod, Rossini, Verdi and ravishing zarzuela.

After two encores, the applause had dropped away, people were getting their coats on, notes were being exchanged and people were speculating to each other about when their next bus was, and suddenly, he was back. And he gave us Cessa di piu resistere from Il Barbiere di Siviglia. It took him more consistently into higher territory, and it was thrilling, drawing on that secure, clarion high tenor range that is JDF’s gleaming goldmine. However, this is a bit naughty. If you’ve made a production your own, including a DVD, and you have a revival of that same production playing with a different cast, and reviews are already noting that Cessa di piu resistere is being omitted, it is just a little naughty to swan into town, give a recital of rather austere fayre, and then pep up your audience with that very aria which, just a mile away, is being denied the audience… Ah well, JDF we love you and we’ll let you off in your cheekiness. And it’s not your
fault I can’t get excited about La donna è mobile.

In summary, then, a fantastic recital of rather daringly unfamiliar pieces, albeit that none of them are
likely to frighten the horses, topped off with some familiar vocal fireworks in the encores. And an opportunity to see a charismatic performer with a voice that, given both careful husbanding and repertoire selection, will surely be chalked up as one of the greats.

Oh, and he said a rude word. *titter*

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