Juan Diego Flórez / Rizzi / Orchestra of Welsh National Opera - Barbican, 12 July 2008
Bellini Norma: Sinfonia
Bellini I Puritani: Ah te, o cara
Rossini Semiramide: Sinfonia
Rossini La Donna del lago: Tu sorda a miei lamenti
Rossini William Tell: Overture
Rossini William Tell: Asile héréditaire
Donizetti Lucrezia Borgia: Partir degg’io, T’amo qual s’ama un angelo
Donizetti Don Pasquale: Sinfonia
Donizetti La favorite : La maîtresse du roi
Donizetti La fille du régiment: Sinfonia
Donizetti La fille du régiment: Amici miei
Juan Diego Flórez - half man, half cheese, half toothpaste, and tonight, for one night only, half phlegm.
It all started off so well. The hall was packed to the rafters, with the audience including Barbican regular Dame Vivienne Westwood, resplendent in grey marl sack dress with matching knee socks and beanie over her long apricot hair.
JDF was in fine voice for the first half, with an ever-increasing range of colour now appearing in his laser-bright sound. The breath control was immaculate, the long final lines of Asile héréditaire floated out on an invisible support. Like the old skool, he seems to have gills for lungs. Nothing moves, nothing sounds, he just inhales as if by magic. Only a more contained posture and a faintly rough halo to his tone hinted at any problem - and even then, I assumed he was just being a bit slow to warm-up.
And with Carlo Rizzi's WNO Orchestra behind (JDF's backing band moves up a class each time I see him), even the usually grin'n'bear it inter-aria overtures were delivered with a style that would have outclassed a lesser tenor.
But he began to slip in earnest at the start of the all-Donizetti second half. When he clutched his throat at the end of Partir degg’io and looked up puppy-eyed at Rizzi, I assumed it was just penalty box theatrics to explain a little novelty intonation that cropped up here and there.
But when he failed to reappear on stage after the orchestra's Don Pasquale overture, it was clear that something more serious was up. Eventually Rizzi was called off the stage, and we sat waiting for a good five minutes wondering what was going on.
They reappeared eventually, and JDF explained that he had a frog in his throat, 'a little phlegm', but that he'd try and carry on without 'you know' (looking at the front row and making a spraying gesture, to much laughter).
As he soldiered on with La maîtresse du roi, the raspy edge and hollow lower notes proved the problem was serious. What's more, it seemed to drain Flórez of energy.
Part of the joy of any JDF performance is the enthusiasm and love of the music that radiates from him like sunbeams. But here, suddenly he looked as if he wanted to go home right now, not a minute later. He managed to struggle through somehow, and return for Amici miei - money notes intact, but understandably ragged in places elsewhere.
After that, I really didn't expect anything more, though I'm sure I wasn't the only person willing the poor sick lamb to belt out a few encores regardless of any medical issues.
So I was surprised when he returned on stage after a massive ovation to announce that they'd prepared something from L'Elisir d'Amore 'with lots of decorations, like the CD' but couldn't manage it - so instead they'd do the cabaletta of Cessa di più resistere from Il Barbiere di Siviglia - because it has 'lots of coloraturas' and we wouldn't notice any mistakes (!) - and maybe something else too later. JDF said he'd been in a hot shower, and apologised again to the front row for the 'various fluids' that might land (more lols). He tried hard, but it was far from his finest performance of this testing piece, so it was no surprise we never got the second encore.
I can't help but be disappointed that it wasn't quite the phenomenal recital I expected, but credit is due to Juan Diego Flórez for trying his best not to disappoint his audience. Meanwhile, here's hoping JDF wraps up warm and doesn't snog any germy sopranos before Matilde di Shabran opens at the Royal Opera House in October.