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Warning: this review may be painful for New Yorkers to read. Tenor and bel canto specialist Juan Diego Flórez was due to give a pair of solo recitals in New York and London last week, but a cold struck him down, forcing him to cancel his Carnegie Hall appearance at the eleventh hour (a new date has been announced for March 10 2007).

When the time arrived for the London recital on Saturday, Flórez was still not fully recovered, but he sang anyway. The only visible precaution was a small cup of tea strategically placed on an improbably large table. Perhaps other bel canto tenors should enquire what was in that tea. They could probably do with some too.

Even at less than 100% Flórez is way out in front of his rivals. Although his voice sounded on the dry side when he sang quietly, there was no stopping him once he was into his stride. Top C’s pealed forth, including a dozen or so in one verse of the famed tenor aria from Donizetti’s La Fille du régiment, which he sang by public demand as an encore – compensation for those who do not have tickets to see him in the Royal Opera’s forthcoming production. Maybe by that point of the evening singing the complete piece did seem incautious.

The problem is that recitals of bel canto arias with piano feel very limited in scope. Flórez was fortunate to have impeccably groomed accompaniments from Vincenzo Scalera and countered sameness as far as he could by leavening his Rossini and Donizetti with three Mozart arias and a handful of songs from his Peruvian homeland.

There was artistry in even the minor morsels, but for an example of what he can really do there was nothing better than Bellini’s song “Per pietà, bell’idol mio”, a reworking of material from the opera I Puritani which gives tenors a chance to get their hands on the heroine’s main aria. Flórez phrased it so beautifully that it could have melted a heart of stone. Sopranos should count their lucky stars that Mr and Mrs Flórez had a boy.
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