Juan Diego Flórez / Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn cond. Alessandro Vitiello - Royal Albert Hall, 8 May 2012
It's nearly six years since Juan Diego Flórez last gave a solo concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Some criticised the microphone he used for part of that evening to help his voice carry in the cavernous space. This time round the mics were there for recording purposes only. No amplification was used. None was required; Flórez measured his voice to the size of the venue and muscled up more ear-splitting decibels than a heldentenor at full blast. And that's not some airy metaphor - it's a fact. Let no-one claim his voice is 'too small' for anything less than a football stadium. From my prize vantage point a few feet away I wondered if I'd be going home with tinnitus.
I suspect the basic need to be heard at the back may have played its part in his programme choices. The rapidfire roulades, impossible to belt out at top volume, were few. In their place was a display of effortless top Cs and Ds, gloriously sustained notes, long lines spun from seemingly infinite resources of breath and power. Flórez's immaculate technical control (I don't for a minute believe his protestations of laziness) allowed him to operate at the very limits of his capabilities without ever tipping over into straining. Just occasionally a slight rise in pitch as he came off a final note gave a hint of his labours.
Given Flórez's understandable reluctance to stray too far from the narrow band of repertoire that displays his talents to best advantage, his programme was creatively balanced between the familiar and the less so. Alessandro Vitiello and the Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn provided sympathetic support and some unconventional but appropriate fillers that never overstayed their welcome.
The first half's arias from Bellini's Il Pirata and Rossini's La scala di seta were dispatched with a due portion of fireworks, but lacked some of the colour and playfulness I expected from Flórez. The second half found him more relaxed. A couple of stirring zarzuela numbers were followed by the chestnuts Dein ist mein ganzes Herz and Be my love. Whatever the language, the enunciation was perfect, and Flórez's lightly softened consonants never intrusive. He spoke for the first time to introduce the final choice, Allegro io son, a longtime calling card that rounded off the programme with a wink and a bang.
A few overenthusiastic audience members screamed out their own undecipherable encore choices, but Flórez went for the predictable but still gratifying Ah! Mes amis, La donna è mobile and Granada.
Bellini Il Pirata, Overture
Bellini Il Pirata, Nel furor delle tempeste
Rossini La scala di seta, Overture
Rossini La scala di seta, Vedrò qual sommo incanto
Verdi Luisa Miller, Sinfonia
Verdi La traviata, Lunge da lei...De' miei bollenti spiriti
Vives Doña Francisquita, Por el humo se sabe
Serrano La alegría del batallón, El mismo rey del moro
Giménez La boda de Luis Alonso, Intermezzo
Lehár Das Land des Lächelns, Dein ist mein ganzes Herz
Brodzsky Be my love
Donizetti Rita, Allegro io son
Encores Ah! Mes amis, La donna è mobile, Granada