Saturday 19 April 2014

Juan Diego Florez - L'Amour

Juan Diego Florez - Amor
Boieldieu, Bizet, Delibes, Donizetti, Adam, Massenet, Thomas, Offenbach and Gounod; Juan Diego Florez, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale Bologna, Roberto Abbado
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 19 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Juan Diego Florez's first all French disc, with some spectacular repertoire

For his new disc on Decca, Juan Diego Florez moving into new territory and exploring roles which he does not (yet) have in his repertoire. Accompanied by Roberto Abbado and Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Florez sings a variety of French operatic arias ranging widely from Boieldieu and Adam to Massenet and Offenbach. The arias, with their showpiece high lyrical writing, very much recall tenors such as Nicolai Gedda, Alfredo Kraus and Leopold Simoneau. By and large the arias stick to Florez's existing territory so we get Bizet's La Jolie Fille de Perth, Iopas' aria from Berlioz's Les Troyens and Romeo from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette. The main exception to this is the pair of arias from Massenet's Werther, a role often sung by heavier, spinto tenors though it was also in Alfredo Kraus's repertoire.

I have to confess that listening to this disc, I was rather in two minds. On the one hand it is a finely crafted selection of French arias, sung with a degree of style in good French. On the other hand, Florez's technique remains firmly Italianate. Though not necessarily a large voice (but it has developed in robustness over the last few years), he produces his upper register with an Italianate openness which I find sits uneasily with the style of music.  If you listen to Simoneau (and Kraus) in this repertoire then their upper notes are sung with more head and less chest, they are floated more than Florez seems to want to do. But I feel rather guilty at wishing he sang differently, because technically he is so superb and I cannot imagine many contemporary singers being able to cope with the technical demands of some of these arias.

The disc opens with an aria from Adrien Boieldieu's sentimental comedy La Dame blanche  (1825). Set in Scotland and based on the writings of Scott, it was one of the first pieces to introduce the fantastic into opera in Paris. The aria Ah! quel plaisir d'etre soldat is very much in the vein of the Donizetti showpieces which we are familiar with in Florez's repertoire, and he just as admirable here in his quality of tone and ability to charm.

Whilst I might complain about the general lack of French style in Florez singing, that does not mean that it is all of one character. Each item on the disc has an admirable sense of character and this is much more than an easy coasting through familiar territory.

The serenade from Bizet's La Jolie Fille de Perth  (1867) has become a standard albeit in arrangements, as the aria does not function as a stand alone item in the original opera. Florez sings it with a nicely seductive technique, bringing his voice down to create a variety of shade and timbre. Though ultimately the feel of the piece is rather more robust and not quite as suave I would have liked. For Une ange, une femme from Donizetti's La Favorite (1840), Florez is joined by Sergey Artamontov and the piece is a terrific scene between an ardent son and an implacable father. Whilst we might imagine Florez performing Fernand from La Favorite on stage, with O blonde Ceres from Act Four of Berlioz Les Troyens we have a role which we are unlikely to see him perform. The aria is beautifully done, quite robust in tone but fine grained and well shaped.

The aria from Adolphe Adam's Le Postillon de Lonjumeau (1836) is famous for its top D's (a role which brought Nicolai Gedda to fame) and again, though Florez is rather more Italianate and robust in style his top D's are frankly spectacular. With Fantaisie au divins mensonges from Delibes' Lakme (1883) we have a rather more lyric tenor part, in which Florez combines strong tone with style, substance and shapely phrasing.

Next follow a pair of arias from Massenet's Werther (1892), O Nature pleine de grace (from Act 1) and Pourqui me reveiller (from Act 3). In both of these Florez seems very much to be laying down a marker for the future. On disc he is highly convincing in the role, giving us powerfully vivid passion with lovely seductive moments. If you like your Werther's Italianate of style (and they don't come in any other style nowadays) then keep your eye on Florez.

With Oui je veux par le monde promener librement from Ambroise Thomas's Mignon (1866) we are back in lyric Donizetti territory (though Thomas's opera was written quite a few years later). I will drop any further references to style and simply sit back and enjoy a fine performance. And in the second aria from Boieldieu's La Dame blanche there are few people who could produce such spectacular results. The outrageous technical demands of the aria make you understand why the opera does not get many outings. Viens gentille dame is long and complex, and Florez sings it with remarkable facility, style and charm. Listen and wonder.

In Au mont Ida, troi deesse (Le Jugement de Paris) from Offenbach's La belle Helene (1864) Florez is a bit to spinto sounding for my taste, but certainly his performance works well in its own terms and he brings a nice degree of narrative wit to the aria. The final item is Ah! leve-toi soleil from Gounod's Romeo e Juliette and before I start wittering on about style again, I have to admit that in the later 19th century the role was in the repertoire of the dramatic Polish tenor Jean de Reske at the same time as he was singing bigger Wagnerian roles. In that context, Florez's account of the famous showpiece is finely done and in a great tradition.

In pure recording terms, I would have like the sound to be a bit less bright and I thought that Florez's upper register was captured with a little too much glare in places. The CD booklet has full texts and an introductory article, though the order the arias are mentioned in is neither historical nor the order on the disc which is frustrating. Throughout Florez is well supported by Roberto Abbado and the Bologna forces.

This is a fascinating and striking disc, and shows that Juan Diego Florez is not just sitting on his laurels, but is exploring new areas. I don't think every item on the disc works, even on its own terms, but Florez is never less than interesting and here a great deal more so. And in some items you won't hear finer singing today.

Adrien Boieldieu (1775 - 1834) - Ah! quel plaisire d'etre soldat (La Dame blanche) [4.45]
Georges Bizet (1838 - 1875) - A la voix d'un amant fidele (La jolie Fille de Perth) [5.45]
Gaetano Donizetti (1797 - 1848) - Un ange, une femme inconnue, a genoux priait pres de mois (La Favorite) [9.33]
Hector Berlioz (1803 - 1869) - O blonde Ceres (Les Troyens)  [4.30]
Adolphe Adam (1803 - 1856) - Mes amis, ecoutez l'histoire d'un jeune e galant postillon (Le Postillon de Lonjumeau) [3.57]
Leo Delibes (1836 - 1891) - Fantaisie aux divins mensonges (Lakme) [5.32]
Jules Massenet (1842 - 1912) - O Nature (Werther) [4.52]
Jules Massenet (1842 - 1912) - Pourquoi me reveiller (Werther) [3.05]
Ambroise Thomas (1811 - 1896) - Oui, je veua par le monde promener librement (Mignon) [4.45]
Adrien Boieldieu (1775 - 1834) - Viens, gentille dame (La Dame blanche) [8.36]
Jacques Offenbach (1819 - 1880) - Le Jugement de Paris (La belle Helene) [3.51]
Charles Gounod (1818 - 1893) - Ah! leve-toi, soleil! (Romeo et Juliette) [4.38]
Juan Diego Florez (tenor)
Sergey Artamonov (bass)
Orchestra e coro del Teatro Communale di Bologna
Roberto Abbado (conductor)
Recorded 3,5,8,11,13,16 July 1023
DECCA 478 5948 1CD [64.15]
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