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02 Mar 2008
Juan Diego Florez: Voce D'Italia - Arias for Rubini
The handsome face of tenor Juan Diego Florez naturally gets the cover of his latest CD, and his arguably unusually slim physique is on view too: on the inside cover of the booklet, on both the interior and rear of the jewel case, and on the back of the booklet.
And in an interior photo the singer, apparently tired of looking at the cameraman, stalks away, hands in suit pockets. In almost all these photos, Florez adopts an impassive affect, with only the slightest hint of a smile on his tightly pressed lips.
The vocal performances on the disc demonstrate what all the star's recordings have to date. His remarkable instrument has agility, a solid top extension, and an appealing tone, neither too sweet nor too tangy. With the exception of his previous disc, an over-orchestrated hodgepodge of lighter material called "Sentimiento Latino," Decca has primarily offered Florez in his trademark bel canto repertoire. Both his Rigoletto Duke and Gianni Schicchi Rinuccio, on the CD "Great Tenor Arias," indicated that his voice can stretch a bit into Verdi and Puccini, but some of the charm of his voice is lost.
Putting aide the awkward double title (Voce D'Italia - Arias for Rubini), this latest disc finds Florez comfortably at home in his beloved Bellini, Rossini, and Donizetti. The disc's repertoire covers arias from operas that made Giovanni Battista Rubini a (if not "the") leading tenor of his generation. Philip Gossett's booklet essay argues that Florez "is the acknowledged master of this type of vocalism." And no moment appears when, on a technical level, that judgment can be seriously challenged. On track after track, Florez leaps up to high notes and slides silkily around fast runs, all while maintaining an elegant composure. It's that same composure seen in the photos described above.
But what proves elusive in those photos - a sense of the singer's personality - also evades the ears in these performances. The lead roles in Bellini's Il Pirata, Donizetti's Mariano Falliero, and Rossini's Guglielmo Tell all sound pretty much the same here. And dramatically, perhaps not that much difference exists. However, to listen to Marcello Giordani singing the Pirata arias on a Naxos release of a few years back, one hears more of the hero, the dangerous sea brigand, than one does in the smoother, more secure singing that Florez provides.
But then over 70 minutes of tenor music from bel canto operas may not be the ideal continuous listening experience. Any of these tracks, heard by itself, would amaze and delight the ear. And that is due not only to Florez's great gifts, but also to the excellent support from the Academia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, under the leadership of Roberto Abbado. As a showcase for contemporary operatic singing, this Decca CD is an often stupendous affair. For at least one listener, a bit more individual expressiveness would have made it even more special.