Showing posts with label Juan Diego Florez. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Juan Diego Florez. Show all posts

Monday, September 12, 2016

Proms to World: We're still us

Here are some pics from the Last Night of the Proms: Juan Diego Flórez serenading Paddington Bear - Britain's beloved fictional character is from Darkest Peru, remember - and (above) singing 'Rule, Britannia' dressed as arguably the Last King of the Incas, with Sakari Oramo holding the fort from the podium and a plethora of different international flags happily rubbing colours together throughout the arena. Photo credits: all BBC/Chris Christodoulou.

You know something? If we hadn't known about Brexit, we wouldn't have guessed it was (supposedly) happening. If we hadn't read in the right-wing press that nasty Remainers were printing EU flags to stir up trouble, we would have thought there were just as many other-nation flags around, including EU ones, as there usually are at the LNOP (and I've not seen or heard about any trouble at all - the notion that some pro-EU riot would happen seems to have been fictional, not that the Leave camp is known for making things up...). 

And if we thought that the UK has turned overnight into a vicious, small-minded, xenophobic nation bent on economic suicide for the sake of keeping out foreigners, we should think again. There are those elements here, as everywhere; and there have been some vile incidents of hate crime around the country, which could possibly have been stirred up by the Brexiters' rhetoric during the campaign. But it's not the whole picture - far, far from it. 

Because what the LNOP tells us is that at heart we're the same as we always were: a bit bonkers, zany humoured, welcoming, and loving a big party with a noisy communal singsong. Sakari (who as you know is Finnish) made a beautiful speech about the deeply magical power of music to transcend petty differences and unite us in our shared humanity. Ultimately the entire spectacle rather revived hope and faith in London's ability to remain the splendid multicultural melting pot as which it has flourished these past decades. 

As for 'Rule, Britannia', you don't have to sing it if you're watching at home, but if nobody can hear you, you can always consider some alternative words such as: 'Rule, Britannia! Britannia waives the rules...Britons have been led astray by self-serving fools'.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Orphée et Eurydice: grief and catharsis at the ROH

(This was originally for the Independent's Observations section the other day.)

The new season at the Royal Opera House opens with a collaborative effort unusual enough to seem a tad startling. Orphée et Eurydice, by Christoph Willibald Gluck, is an 18th-century classic of the first order, mingling singing, dance and orchestral interludes in the service of a timeless Greek myth. To realise it, the theatre is opening its doors to the Israeli-born, London-based choreographer and composer Hofesh Shechter and his company of 22 dancers; and also to the conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner and his orchestra and chorus, the English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir. The celebrated Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez sings the title role, the British soprano Lucy Crowe is his Eurydice, and the production is co-directed by John Fulljames and Shechter.

It is Shechter’s first venture into opera – and he is on board because he simply fell in love with the Gluck. “I was offered work in opera before and refused,” he says. “I have to feel I’m connecting with the music when I make dance for it and when I heard this I felt there was something about the simplicity of it that seemed to lend itself to dance. Often operatic music can feel very busy, or doesn’t leave enough space for the imagination. Something about Orphée, though, is pure, spacious and open. I really love it and I was very curious about how my style of movement would fit with it and how it would bring other qualities and feelings into my material.”

This collaboration is a new departure for John Fulljames, too: “I have no choreographic training, and this is Hofesh’s first experience in opera, so I think there’s a good complementarity there,” he remarks. “One of the most important things about Hofesh is that he’s not only a choreographer; he’s a musician. He’s unique amongst choreographers at his level in that he not only makes his own choreography, but usually he also writes his own music – so it’s been fascinating for him to work with existing music and to respond to it in detail.”

When Orphée’s beloved Eurydice dies, the demigod travels beyond the grave to try to bring her back, aided by the power of his music. The story, suggests Fulljames, is at heart all about coming to terms with the loss of a loved one.

“I love this opera’s directness,” he says. “It’s extraordinarily undecorated. So much opera risks being sentimental or melodramatic – but this is the opposite. Gluck strips back everything in order to get to an emotional truth: he’s interested in exploring grief and the relationship of love to loss. You really understand love when you understand loss. I think the piece is an extraordinary study of the grieving process, going through stages of anger and betrayal and eventually reaching a point of acceptance about loss. Its consequence is coming to a much greater understanding of love.”

With all this to relish, the joy of hearing Flórez sing the aria immortalised by the great English contralto Kathleen Ferrier in translation as “I have lost my Eurydice” can only be a bonus. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Why are great tenors like the London buses? You guessed it. I have for you today interviews with not one, but two of today's very best.

Here is Juan-and-only-Diego Flórez for your delectation, in today's Independent, talking to me about his first album for four years, the not-too-inner game of tennis (including the inspiration of Roger Federer), and why he is soon going to sing Werther.

And here, dear friends, is the new April issue of BBC Music Magazine, out today, with Jonas Kaufmann as the cover star. My encounter with him has the dubious distinction of being the only interview I have ever conducted while wearing snow boots. He talks to me about versatility, Winterreise and, er, Werther.

You have to buy the magazine as it's not online. Apparently the cover is Blippable, which means you can download an app, point it at the picture of Jonas and something ought to happen, though one isn't sure precisely what.

By way of a Kaufmannesque bonus, I couldn't resist asking him whether he might ever sing Paul in Die tote Stadt - a role that seems to be crying out for his voice and his dramatic abilities. He remarked that you need a sweet tooth for Korngold, but that he has recently sung the final duet and found it incredibly beautiful - so why not? We are glad that at least he hasn't ruled it out. And a message for the Kaufmaniacs? Well, he has found that you often ask him after performances to please go and sing wherever it may be that you live - but there is only one of him, so you'll have to keep on travelling...

Just for the heck of it, here are both of them singing "Pourquoi me reveiller?" from that Massenet. Flórez's is from his new, all-French album, L'amour. Kaufmann's is from the Paris performance a few years back as broadcast by Arte/Medici TV.  See what you think...

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A tale in tartan?

A starry cast is set to make waves in La Donna del Lago at Covent Garden. I had a brief chat with the director, John Fulljames, about why he thinks Rossini's rarity is - well, rare.

He thinks it's all to do with the difficulty of the vocal writing; as for the story, it's at the heart of that weird 19th-century idea that Scotland is the most romantic place on earth - a form of cultural nationalism that was invented, as he explained, by Sir Walter Scott. Might it yet prove to be a favourite opera for the Scottish National Party? We'll see... anyway, one hopes they can't go far wrong with Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Florez out front.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A solution to vocal problems? Oh yes! Oh yes!

Argy-bargy at the Royal Opera House press conference yesterday: in the course of a highly operatic morning, Tony Pappano had a go at everyone about the misinformation and conspiracy theories that circulated around the Robert le Diable cast changes a few months back.

Leaving aside the possibility that the work itself is jinxed and should just be quietly buried...what happened, Pappano said, was this: first Florez decided against moving into heavier repertoire, following an unhappy experience with the Duke of Mantua; next, Diana Damrau got pregnant; and though Maria Poplavskaya was ill, she then recovered and went back into the show because her doctor said she was was well enough to do so. The saga with Jennifer Rowley is another issue altogether...

Apart from that, there's plenty good stuff next season including a recital on the main stage by Jonas Kaufmann, who'll also be singing in Puccini's Manon Lescaut; three Strauss operas for the composer's anniversary year, including Karita Mattila in Ariadne auf Naxos; Faust with Calleja and Terfel; Les Dialogues des Carmelites with Magdalena Kozena on stage and Simon Rattle in the pit; a new production of Parsifal; and a lavish, expensive staging together with the Royal Ballet of The Sicilian Vespers. In ballet, there'll be a full-length creation by Christopher Wheeldon based on Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale, with a new score by Joby Talbot, and Carlos Acosta will be in charge of a new staging of Don Quixote. Sales are up, with ballet reaching 98% of box office and opera hot on its heels (so to speak). More opera 13-14 news here. More ballet 13-14 news here.

Still, it was clear that TP is fairly fed up with singers who cancel, and that it does happen more than it used to.

What to do? Maybe the ROH needs to invest in some vibrators.

This is not a joke. (At least, I don't think it is.) Just look at this news from the University of Alberta:
Vibrators are being used by researchers at the University of Alberta to help give actors a little bit more vocal power. The team of researchers found that pressing the sex toys against the throats of actors helps to give them improved projection and range – vocally, of course.
“You can actually watch on a spectrograph how vocal energy grows,” said David Ley, who worked on the project. “Even when you take the vibrator off, the frequencies are greater than when first applied.
He said he has used this method with singers, schoolteachers and actors, and so far the vibrator technique has always worked...
Ley headed over to a local love shop in search of some hand-held vibrators in order to test out whether they could help release various forms of muscular tension. He was looking for a vibrator with a frequency somewhere between 100 and 120 hertz, which is close to the range of the human voice. Once he applied the vibrator to an actress’ neck over the vocal cords, she was able to produce striking results.
(As reported on RedOrbit - Your Universe Online - read the whole thing here.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Meet 'Dr Rollo'

In September I went to Paris to meet Dr Rollo - that's Rolando Villazon to you - and had a whale of a time interviewing him for Opera Now. The piece was the cover feature in the November edition.

As you'll know by now, though, from the howls of fury and outrage elsewhere in the blogosphere, the Mexican tenor is committing the cardinal sin of...appearing at the Royal Variety Performance on TV tonight, singing a duet from West Side Story with Hayley Westenra.

Do we really have a problem with this? If so, isn't that...well, a bit sad? Bernstein's West Side Story is a masterpiece by any standards, and as crossover singers go, Hayley is relatively appealing. And frankly I don't see any reason why a man who can sing like that shouldn't entertain people by doing so, in whatever form is appropriate for the occasion. It wouldn't do any of us any harm to lighten up a little from time to time. Having seen Rolando's stunner of a comeback performance at Covent Garden in Werther, back in March, I reckon he has the right to sing whatever he likes. Besides, after what he has been through, with the operation and the process of returning - which he says was the scariest thing of all - he has the right to a bit of respect from those of us who haven't been through anything like it.

So I phoned him up for another chat. It was out in yesterday's Independent, but hasn't found its way to the website yet. Here's the long version 'director's cut'. Rolando talks candidly about carping the diem: the towering influence of Placido Domingo, the new golden age of singing, and what really went on in Popstar to Operastar... And first, a trailer from the Bavarian State Opera for Les contes d'Hoffmann, which is what he's been up to this autumn.


Barry Manilow, Pixie Lott, Peter Kay – and a top opera star? What on earth is Rolando Villazón doing in the Royal Variety Performance?

“It’s fun,” declares the celebrated Mexican tenor, 39. “It’s different from what I normally do, but it’s an opportunity for me to have a great time.” His contribution to the annual bonanza of stage entertainment, on ITV on 14 December, is not especially operatic: he sings “Smile” from the Charlie Chaplin film Modern Times (which is on his album of songs from the movies, La Strada) and “Tonight” from West Side Story. The latter is a duet with Hayley Westenra, who is better known for her appearances at rugby grounds and military occasions than for actual opera. Cue cries of horror from opera purists: oh no, Villazón is doing the dreaded “crossover” again!

Don’t sniff. Villazón says it was crossover that led him to opera, rather than vice-versa.

He might never have started singing if, aged about ten and growing up in the suburbs of Mexico City, he had not heard Plácido Domingo’s album of “crossover” love songs. “There was nobody in my home who was close to opera or classical music,” he says. “Then by accident, I ended up with this album. I would never have put on a recording of Domingo singing classical arias, but I heard these love songs and I fell in love with his voice. I bought all the crossover albums of Domingo – I was listening to them, trying to sing like them, learning the songs. It all started there. I had a crazy dream that one day I’d sing with him – something I never expected to come true.”

But come true it did. In 1999 Villazón entered Operalia, the competition for young singers that Domingo had founded; he scooped two top prizes, one for for zarzuela (traditional Spanish operetta), plus the Audience Prize. At the winners’ concert, he and Domingo sang together: “It was absolutely amazing. Afterwards we became good friends. He has been extremely important in my career: an inspiration, a friend and an example.”

Villazón, who is appearing next summer in a London gala to mark the 20th anniversary of Operalia, credits Domingo with having sparked a new golden age of operatic singing. “There has been an evolution in the way people act and sing; there was a time before Domingo and a time since. He learned everything there was to learn from Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano and that great generation of artists, but with the musicality, the intelligence and the generosity to transform it. We are all sons of that now. Many people say that past times were the greatest – but look at today! I don’t think there has ever been a more complete tenor than Jonas Kaufmann, or someone with the technique of Juan Diego Flórez. Joyce DiDonato? She’s a volcano. Diana Damrau? My goodness!”

But he himself nearly had to drop out of that roster altogether: he has recently made a triumphant comeback following an operation in 2009 to remove a cyst from inside one of his vocal cords. The condition could have cost him his career – indeed his voice – had the cord not healed successfully. After his operation, Domingo flew in to visit him at home in Paris: “We just hugged and cried,” Villazón remembers.

An onslaught of criticism dogged his recovery, ready to blame his problems on singing too much, too soon. Yet the cyst had nothing to do with singing, he emphasises: it was “genetic” and could happen to anyone, singer or not.

“I was doing a lot – but am I the only one? Of course not,” he insists. “There are unwritten rules in the world of opera that we should destroy. For instance, ‘One has to learn to say no’. We all say no to a thousand things. One has to learn to say yes! You have to be ready to take up opportunities, because this absurd system of signing four or five years in advance means that if you don’t, you could wait ten years for another chance. I came out of Operalia and jumped into La Traviata in Paris to replace someone. I had done auditions in every major theatre and they all said no. After La Traviata, everyone came back and said yes.”

It was in the romantic hero roles of 19th century opera that Villazón made his name – Alfredo in Verdi’s La Traviata, the eponymous poet in Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann and Massenet’s Werther in which his long-awaited return took Covent Garden by storm last spring. Romantic he may be – an effusive, energetic personality who never quite stops performing – but he has also had to be tough.

Last year he made further waves by agreeing to be a judge on Pop Star to Opera Star, where his presence appeared to give the TV talent show a credibility its critics weren’t convinced it deserved. The TV world took him by surprise in many ways. “I don’t watch TV,” he explains. “I haven’t watched TV for years. They asked me about The X Factor and I didn’t know what it was. Katherine Jenkins used to laugh at me because they’d mention names of famous people and I didn’t know them.

“I remember in this programme thinking I need to say something stupid, something that stays in people’s minds. If I tried to say important things – ‘opera serves the subconscious,’ and so on – nobody cares and they don’t remember. Either you play the game, or you say no, so I came up with ‘chaca-chaca’. It’s from a 1970s Mexican commercial for soap powder. They used to put soap in a machine and say: ‘Look, this soap doesn’t move; but this one over here has chaca-chaca’. So I say: give me ‘chaca-chaca’ in your performance!”

If you thought Villazón was clowning, you wouldn’t be wrong. Clowning has become something of an obsession, one that bounces through his TV appearances, the cartoons he draws and the operas he sometimes directs (his clown-based production of Werther drew a mixed reception). He even used his months away from singing to write a novel about a clown. Maybe most significantly, he works with Red Noses Clowndoctors International, which brings clowns to perform in children’s hospitals and hospices: donning a clown costume, he turns himself into ‘Dr Rollo’. “I have been an ambassador for them for six or seven years,” he says. “The doctors love it because the children become more motivated.

“The clown figure laughs at structures and rules,” he adds. “It gets rid of the little professor inside me that keeps saying, ‘You are a serious opera singer, where is your jacket, where is your tie, you need to speak very seriously...’ The clown liberates you.”

Suitably liberated, Villazón has bounced back. He has undergone the greatest danger a singer can experience and emerged stronger than ever. “It was difficult,” he acknowledges. “But it was also a great time. If I had to live my career over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Not even the cyst.”

The Royal Variety Performance is broadcast on ITV on 14 December. La Strada is out now on Decca.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Love is in the...cello section??

[cue tchaikovsky]
Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! Muso Magazine's survey of which musicians make the best lovers has named [drumroll] the cello as the sexiest instrument and cellists at the top of the nookie class (have a look at the mag's G Spot section...). I can't elaborate, having never, alas, touched either the instrument or one of its practitioners... instead here's a picture of the best pin-up of the lot, who happens to be a tenor. [not that I've tried one of those either, but one can dream...]

And I still say three cheers for the good old violin. There's a reason why violinists are called fiddlers... On Friday Tom and I celebrate the 10th anniversary of the day we met, so someone must be doing something right.

Richard Morrison has a hilarious take on the Muso survey in The Times:

'...After all, it was a cellist who featured in the best-ever story about musicians and sex. Just turned 80, the great Pablo Casals proposed marriage to a twentysomething pupil, and was accepted. On his wedding day his doctor and friends approached him. “You should be very careful tonight, Pablo,” they said. “Think of the health risk.”

Casals brushed them impatiently aside. “I’m going to enjoy myself,” he said. “And if the girl dies, she dies.”'


Monday, February 12, 2007

High Cs strike back

That interview with the glorious JDF finally found its way into the paper, or some of it did. It was for this, which is out today: how singing that high C can make or break an operatic career. Alvarez was centre stage in the end because he's in full flood at the ROH at the moment, whereas Florez has moved on...but at least [fluttering] one met them both...

[cue South American music, Peruvian pipes and/or tango] Intriguing contrast between these two Latin luminaries. As a teenager, Florez went to study at Curtis, that most elite of musical establishments in Philly. Alvarez was somewhere in the wilds of Argentina managing his family furniture business and didn't hear an opera until he was 30. Florez cuts a trim, elegant, designerish figure. Alvarez is one big boufka soundbox. Brain versus brawn? Fine technique versus sheer oomph? Opera has room for all sorts...

NOT OPERA, BUT THIS IS BRILLIANT: Also in today's Indy, Miles Kington writes about the play-wot-he-wrote: Tchaikovsky's death as Sherlock Holmes mystery, with the premise that Tchaikovsky was the only witness to the Holmes-Moriarty waterfall incident, therefore Holmes had to track him down in Russia and eliminate him...

Friday, January 19, 2007

Sky high Cs...

When is a writer not a writer? When she's transformed into a screaming schoolgirl going nuts over a favourite tenor. Sorry to keep on and on about this guy, folks, but seriously, when Juan Diego Florez opens his mouth and that voice hits the high notes....I don't think I was the only person in Covent Garden last night whose heart hit the stratospheres with it. It's like someone striking the jackpot full on, the centredness, the perfection, and if there's one thing better than the high notes it's the velvet legato, the softness, the beauty of line...

As you'll have gathered, I finally made it to La fille du regiment at Covent Garden yesterday. If there was a ticket left for the rest of the run, I'd say go and see it, but the place is booked solid. And what an evening it is - not just Florez. In fact, the show really belongs to the French soprano Natalie Dessay, whose bell-like voice seems a near-perfect partner for Florez's and whose sparkle, intelligence, spirit and ability not only to hit the high notes but to hit them while being hoisted into the air on her side all add up to a humungous performance which ought to ensure her superstar status from now on.

The production by Laurent Pelly is like prosecco, fizzing, light and fresh, full of clever touches and brilliant characterisation. Dessay's foul-mouthed Marie, complete with a stubborn, sticky-out auburn pigtail, stomps about like one of the lads as she irons the longjohns and peels the potatoes, dropping a spud in shock when Tonio declares his love, then melting into ecstasy behind him as he sings, but only as long as he can't see her. Her singing lesson in the second act is a terrific highlight, with all that virtuosity gradually transformed into a prime tantrum. Felicity Palmer as the Marquise de Birkenfield strides about with her fox-fur intimidating everyone in act one, only to turn into a quivering heap of jelly when faced with one person more indomitable than herself: the Duchesse de Krakenthorp, a.k.a. Dawn French (no, she doesn't sing), whose English asides - translated into French in the surtitles - had immortal moments all their own. 'Sweetheart, don't be stingy with the chocolate fountains...' Alessandro Corbelli, as Marie's surrogate father (at least, the lead daddy out of 1500), is one of the great comic baritones of today's opera world. And as the end approaches, just when you think you've seen it all, Florez arrives to rescue Marie, on a tank. I've been trying to think how it could possibly have been any better. It couldn't.

A little message for director Tonys Pappano and Hall at the ROH: what about Comte Ory with Dessay and Florez next?

And now for something completely different: here's my latest piece for today's Indy. Ochin priatna, Maestro Gergiev, and welcome to the LSO!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Speaking of tenors...

...The Met in New York has announced casting for its Ring Cycle in 2012 (!) and Kaufmann is to be Siegmund. Forward planning or what.

Meanwhile, Richard Morrison in The Times says that La fille du regiment with Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez is the hottest ticket in town........

(UPDATE: So does Ed Seckerson in The Independent...)

The Three Tenors: for Domingo, read Villazon; for Pavarotti, read Florez; for Carreras, read Kaufmann. Are these wonderful guys the future of opera? It's looking like it.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Him again...

Still walking on air after my interview with Signor King of the High Cs yesterday. Just to preserve the nautical imagery: what a dreamboat!

(No wonder my husband wants me to believe that the world's best and loveliest tenor is Wunderlich, who's dead...)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

King of the high Cs? Better believe it...

I'm high as a kite. Universal Classics held a little 'do' today for one of their best and starriest stars: Juan Diego Florez (above, photo credit: Decca / Johannes Ifkovits). Savoy Hotel; a collection of press & industry colleagues; and he sang three arias - the big whacks from Rigoletto and La fille du regiment (the one with nine high Cs) plus 'Granada' from his Sentimento Latino album, and I was standing 4 metres from him throughout. I nearly died of joy.

It's unbelievable. The security of that technique is, as far as I can tell, more comparable to Jascha Heifetz than any other singer I can think of. There's no shadow of doubt, but also no flaw in the pouring of the honey, just utter beauty and wonder and a hell of a lot of oomph, at least close to. Florez's voice is sometimes said to be 'small' or, better, 'small is beautiful', but it certainly didn't sound that way (beautiful, yes; small, no!) from 4 metres... It was hard to get the press & industry to stop applauding afterwards, and that takes a little doing.

I shook his hand afterwards. Yes, alas, I have washed since. But tomorrow I get to interview him (at least, 98% sure that I will), so maybe I can replenish that supply of wonder. And yes, he's drop-dead gorgeous - but with a voice like that, who even needs those sultry eyes?

He opens in La fille du regiment at Covent Garden in January.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The sound of genius

To the Royal Opera House last night for Don Pasquale, with Juan Diego Florez as Ernesto. The production is by Jonathan Miller. The critics have been a bit sniffy about it. But when Florez opens his mouth, you stop caring about anything else.

I don't believe I've ever heard a voice like this before, and I've heard a few good ones. It is so pure, so 'true', so focused; the sound is powerful, but the phrasing so musical and so filled with expressive intelligence that it makes most other big-time tenors (such as they are) seem crass by comparison. It's like the sound of Heifetz playing the violin in many respects and the effect is the same: you can do nothing but submit in astonishment and gratitude that such a thing exists on this planet and you have been lucky enough to encounter it. If we have a Caruso, this guy is it. He's good-looking too, but with sounds like this, one might not care if he wasn't (and his costume & make-up for this 18th-century-styled production made as little of those looks as it possibly could). And heavens, he's only 31 - where does he go from here?