Recordings > Editor's Choice

Juan Diego Flórez: "L'Amour"

spacer Arias by Adam, Berlioz, Bizet, Boieldieu, Delibes, Donizetti, Gounod, Massenet, Offenbach, Thomas. Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, R. Abbado. Texts and translations. Decca 4785948

Toujours L'Amour

Juan Diego Flórez demonstrates impressive stylistic grasp in his new program of French arias.

FlorezAmourCD

In his new recital disc, it's not enough to say that Juan Diego Flórez explores French operatic repertoire. He attacks his new material with a zeal that's both defiant and seductive, while showing a passion for self-improvement and sometimes self-transformation. If he overreaches at times, Flórez also surpasses expectations with his impressive stylistic grasp.

Some may question this light tenor's decision to confront the operatic Goliath of Massenet's Werther . Yet Flórez doesn't pull his punches, even in the passages of explosive despair in which some more frugal performers prefer to turn inward. And while the Decca engineers have surely done their part, the enhanced heft rarely seems distorted. 

Under Roberto Abbado's shrewd guidance, and based on good models, the two Werther solos are carefully put together, with fundamentals solidly in place — cohesive text and musical line, focused tone, strategic accents and an ability to tease out the long phrases. There's a rapturous glow in the Act I solo "Ô Nature, pleine de grâce," and the strenuous "Pourquoi me réveiller"  adheres to a compelling emotional arc.

The less rugged contours of the lyric-tenor repertoire succumb easily to the Flórez charm. Here's a stirring, pulsing "Ah! lève-toi, soleil!" , a little over the top at climaxes but generally shaped with rich dynamic variation while seeming impulsive and improvisational. He excels at the gauzy "Ô blonde Cérès," from Les Troyens , the fluid, whimsical "Fantaisie aux divins mensonges," from Lakmé, and the sensuous subtlety of the minor-key serenade of Bizet's Jolie Fille de Perth 

The tenor does not forget to touch home base, in a few frilly selections from the bel canto era — Adam's Postillon de Lonjumeau  and two numbers from Boieldieu's Dame Blanche . And yet, while he's in great form for the most part, some florid effects don't seem to have his complete attention. The disc finds him using a heavier attack on top notes, covering and darkening the tone even at the cost of precision — and applying the new muscle a little indiscriminately. Explosive high fortissimos give Donizetti's "Un ange, une femme inconnue," from La Favoritea generic air, somewhat too showy for the pained confession we are meant to hear.

In terms of repertoire, he might have gone a bit farther — "to the depths of the unknown, to discover the New," in Baudelaire's line — to explore rarities, as Rolando Villazón did in his illuminating French aria disc a few years ago. Instead, Flórez seems eager to test himself on more traveled paths.

Just hear what he makes of an old Jussi Björling hit, "Au mont Ida" , from Offenbach's Belle Hélène. As he has done with this lilting number in live recitals, Flórez alternates young Paris's natural excitement with the narrator's sly wit — hints of an older roué looking back — and doesn't spare the rubato or the hammy French inflections. It's quite unlike Björling's (Swedish) version; both are knockouts in their own way. So vive la différence, and chapeau bas. spacer 

DAVID J. BAKER

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Current Issue: January 2015 — VOL. 79, NO. 6