A solo operatic night at the Royal Albert Hall has a pleasantly old-fashioned feel to it. Maybe it was accentuated on this occasion because Juan Diego Flórez is an old-fashioned sort of singer – no slick modern master of presentation, but simply a marvellous voice, with enough of a smile to carry the audience along with him.
It was in 2001 when a then unknown Flórez made his London debut with Rosenblatt Recitals at St John’s, Smith Square. He was only the second singer to appear in the series, which was set up with an eye for promising young artists, and it hit gold right at the start. Now at the Royal Albert Hall, with an orchestra in tow, they have both come a long way.
As the leading bel canto tenor of the day, Flórez likes to stick with what he knows best. The first half of this programme included three early 19th-century Italian arias, one each by Rossini, Bellini and Verdi. The slim, bright voice, with its exceptionally clear focus, cuts elegant lines through this repertoire. Like Pavarotti’s tenor, if a size or two lighter, it never lets him down, so there were few surprises – a less-than-perfect example of his famed top notes in Bellini’s Il pirata being one (it was ambitious to throw in a high D so early on) and his lovely, gentle caressing of La traviata another.
The second half hit a more popular vein, though nothing Flórez does admits any hint of vulgarity. A pair of arias from Spanish zarzuelas – Vives’s Dona Francisquita and Serrano’s La alegria del batallón – turned up the emotional heat. Lehár’s Das Land des Lächelns and “Be my love” from The Toast of New Orleans were short on Germanic warmth and vocal muscle respectively, but it was a joy to hear the music sung with such grace and flawless tone.
A short comic number from Donizetti’s Rita ended the printed programme. Then it was on to the encores, including an effortless volley of high Cs from La Fille du régiment, Flórez’s signature number, as amazing as ever. The Württembergischer Kammerorchester Heilbronn under conductor Alessandro Vitiello are his companions on this Europe-wide tour, which has Liège, Aarhus and Berlin still to come.