He got a standing ovation before he even opened his mouth.
But that was to be expected at Juan Diego Florez’s Fresno concert Monday at the Saroyan Theatre — one of only three appearances for the famed bel canto tenor in North America this year. Florez’s reputation preceded him, which was no surprise. First thrust into the international spotlight about five years ago when he nailed the tremendously difficult Donizetti aria from “La Fille du regiment” demanding NINE perfectly sung high C’s, the accolades have continued to pile up, with many calling Florez the heir to Luciano Pavarotti.
Florez didn’t disappoint on Monday evening, when a packed house — including some very excited fans waving little Peruvian flags — were treated to a impressive display of musicianship.
How to describe the way Florez sings? There were times, clutching his lapels with both hands and leaning ever so slightly forward as he was hitting one of his high, pure tones, that I swear I could see his entire body quiver right down to his toes. A singer’s “instrument” is more than his or her vocal cords, of course — it’s the entire corporeal being supporting those vocals — and it was in these moments that Florez’s complete dedication to the physicality of his effort came across as stirring. That was especially the case with his almost hypnotic aria from Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.”
Below: It was a night of glamor at the Saroyan. (Bee photos by Craig Kohlruss)
The program alternated between arias by Florez and offerings from the small but mighty Fresno Grand Opera orchestra, conducted with wonderful precision by Christopher Franklin. The evening began without fanfare, and during the first half of the program, Florez didn’t offer the audience much of a glimpse at his personality. (The production design didn’t help. The pinkish lighting might have been intended to cast a warm Valentine’s Day glow, but it came across as a little cheap and uninspired.) But as things proceeded, he seemed to warm up to the crowd — who can resist a bunch of flag-waving Peruvians? — and we got to see more of his charismatic stage presence with each selection.
Thi Nguyen, the Fresno Grand Opera orchestra’s concertmaster, entranced the audience with a sensitive rendition of “Meditation” from the opera “Thais.”
By the program’s second half, Florez seemed to bound onto the stage at each appearance with big, ambitious-sized steps that reminded me of an excited student striding to the front of the class. (One thing that struck me is how youthful his enthusiasm seemed. He’s suave, yes, but certainly not a distant man of mystery.) He certainly wasn’t Mr. Casual on stage, and his formality was a bit of a change from other well-known artists who have visited Fresno Grand Opera before. But there also wasn’t a sense of the instantly manufactured warmth that some performers are so good at. The emotional connection that slowly formed throughout the evening seemed genuine and homespun.
When it came time for his most famous aria, the Donizetti, people in the audience leaned forward in anticipation. And Florez didn’t disappoint, at least to these dazzled ears, as he piped out those high tones with clarity and seeming effortlessness.
By the time he got to the three encores, the audience was on its feet each time with the exuberant cheers you’d expect — along with a full-size Peruvian flag unveiled by a group behind me. “I see there is a lot of Peruvians here,” Florez said slyly, and the crowd roared. He clasped his hand to his chest in thanks, then hugged himself in gratitude. When the planned encores were completed, the crowd still refused to go home, even with the house lights turned up, and he came on stage for one last bow — and he seemingly genuinely touched at the enthusiastic reception. Considering all the world-class cultural capitals that Florez plays these days, this concert might soon become just a distant memory for him. But for Fresno, it was a moment that won’t be forgotten.
A full-length fur coat? On a warm winter Fresno night? You bet. Swanky events such as the Juan Diego Florez concert don’t happen here very often, and some audience members took advantage of the occasion to get all dolled up. Here are a few photographs by The Bee’s Craig Kohlruss. For a gallery of more photos, click here.