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OPERA REVIEW: Juan Diego Florez

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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)

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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.

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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.

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Responses to "OPERA REVIEW: Juan Diego Florez"

A Clovis Music Lover says:

Thank you providing the sense of the evening for those of us not fortunate enough to be able to attend! It sounds like it was a wonderful performance, and how lucky Fresno was to have been included in Juan Diego Florez’ North American tour!

The only thing that made up for missing Florez’ performance was having the opportunity to hear the Youth Orchestras of Fresno Philharmonic perform with tenor Scott Piper the night before. Having heard other concerts of theirs, including last year’s Mahler First Symphony with the Fresno State Orchestra and the Shostakovich 12 concert at Disney Hall, there is no question that this this was likely their best performance to date – and was quite a departure having such a wonderful singer work with them. Piper engaged and delighted the audience from the moment he sang his way from the back of the Shaghoian Theater to the stage as Figaro, and the rapture never stopped until the last ovation ended!

One woman told me she literally teared up hearing the Youth Phil play so well, and another gentleman said in amazement, “This is not something you would expect in Fresno, let alone with young people!” I, quite simply, thought they were AWESOME! Several people who attended both concerts mentioned afterward that they would have been interested in your thoughts on the Youth Phil and Scott Piper as well. Maybe at some future Youth Orchestra performance?

And, after reading your critique of Juan Diego Florez, I will certainly not miss the opportunity to see such a renowned artist again – you made me truly sad to have missed such a night!

I want to Thank and Congratulate the Fresno Grand Opera and especially Ron Eichman for his perseverance in making this event happen. I too, was very impressed by all who provided their musical talent that evening. Juan Diego Florez genuinely met the expectations of the audience, and I was particularly moved by Thi Nguyen’s solo violin and hope to have the opportunity to hear more from him. I feel very fortunate to have been in attendance, not just for the performance, but also for the excitement amongst the other attendees. It was wonderful to see the people who dressed up for the occasion and I loved chatting with many of my culturally involved friends who like I, believe that Fresno deserves more nights like this. Ron has always expressed his firm belief that Fresno can have the best. Fresno is fortunate to have many talented people living here, who likewise invest in the time and work to offer Fresnans and others who come here, culturally enriching experiences. Thanks again to people much like Ron, who remind us all that the best is attainable in Fresno.

The only unfortunate distractions that were in NO way the fault of the Fresno Grand Opera came from a woman sitting in the orchestra section who decided it was acceptable to RECORD parts of the concert (I have a lot of info on this incident, but will not go into length), a couple who went to their seats in the very front row as the first song was being performed, and the usher who seemed confused and decided to walk through an aisle to talk with a couple of ladies while the last encore was being performed. I’m just hoping that there were good reasons for these 3 distractions during the performances.

I’m sorry to even mention these items, (I thought about it over the last 3 days and cut my comments considerably), but I believe the Fresno Grand Opera worked very hard to make this as perfect an evening as possible for everyone, and they, as did the fellow attendees, deserved the best from everyone who was there.