I came away from this recital with contradictory feelings, Flórez indeed put a lot of bums on the seats of the Royal Albert Hall but did he in the process make too many concessions to “stadium opera”?
As I tweeted from there, the Royal Albert Hall what it misses in acoustics (and heavens knows some sections have abysmal sound and sightlines) makes up in atmosphere. The very idea of staging a solo recital in a cavernous space like the RAH has more to do with chutzpah than musical enjoyment. The RAH as a rent a night venue has given home in recent months to such classical luminaries as Russell Watson and Katherine Jenkins. Of course the PR and interviews leading up to the recital pointed to Pavarotti being the last tenor to sing a solo recital there (when JDF sang there also during the 2006 Proms). Mind you on two occasions I’ve attended recitals by Montserrat Caballe and Kiri Te Kanawa, but as the ladies had also a guest artist on stage, they don’t count in the narrow definition of solo recital. Also another notable feature was the age of the audience, this was one of the most elderly audiences I’ve ever seen to either opera or a classical concert. And clearly not one used to the conventions of the genre, as we had numerous instances of flash photography and a few of premature or misplaced clapping. One thing is for sure, a large swathe of the crowd had never listened to Il Pirata. We even got the unusual sight of clapping for the departing orchestra at interval! Nevermind the PR angle and audience…was the evening any good?
The programme reads like a respectable operatic first half, if rather short on singing, while the second half was a zarzuela fest with a heavy dose of smaltz, that late in the career Pavarotti would have loved. From Stalls L Row 4 the sound of the orchestra was very patchy and the acoustic amplified the percussion to such an extent to cover most other instruments. The conducting felt uninspired throughout with the bel canto numbers played with lack of assurance and character. JDF’s first aria was beautifully sang but distinctly underpowered, from time to time I had to struggle to listen to him and the silly clapping half way didn’t help.
His second aria from La scala di seta was delivered with much more expressive brio and a stronger, more focused projection. He is a Rossini specialist after all.
Then we moved on to Verdi, the orchestral playing of the Overture for Louisa Miller had nothing terribly distinctive about it. This orchestra totally flattened any differences between Bellini, Rossini and Verdi. To be honest I was mercifully waiting for JDF to return and sing Alfredo’s aria from Act 1 of La Traviata, a role that normally would not be within the narrow fach his roles occupy. This was JDF, the unknown quantity and he excelled his delivery was passionate and direct. His vocalising was on the lighter end of the scale but actually full of beauty and thought. I really hope that as his voice is maturing that he will have the chance to assume the role. He was impressive and one almost forgot the distant acoustic and the one poor soul from G Stalls that clapped half way…
After the interval the two zarzuela arias were truly first class. The first one was full of lust and the quest of love made impossible by the circumstances. His more animated expression really set the scene. The lyricism with which he delivered the lines: Son mosquitos que vuelan junto al que duerme y zumbando le obligan a que despierte / They are mosquitoes which fly over those who sleep, and buzzing, force them to wake up was all consuming. The second aria was equally impressive and allowed him to use a much more open tone, singing this celebratory piece full of exclamation and warmth.
After a castagnettes heavy intermezzo from La boda de Luis Alonso we moved on to the lighter than light part of the programme, or shall I call it the Three Tenor section? Lehar and Brodzsky are such a cliche for this type of concert it was very disappointed that he felt the need to include them. They were executed nicely enough but I’d rather he had spent his time singing more Donizetti, as his final programmed aria from Rita (bizarrely the only time during the evening when he spoke to the audience, just to tell us that the widower in the opera is all too happy to be left alone) the singing was first class again, with a ringing high register and his little comedy acting flourishes that brought the music to life. A deluge of applause followed with a lot of noise for encores…a very near approximation of a football stadium filled with pensioners.
He sang Ah! Mes amis from Fille and La Donna è mobile from Rigoletto and topped up with that Three Tenor favourite…Granada. The encores were truly predictable and played on to the audience, but who can actually blame him. This was a night of audience favourites, with an artist at the top of the game, trying to be listened to in a barn. He pleased his fans to no end and even managed to be audible without showing any signs of strain.
I will make sure to add any videos that the good people at Rosenblatt Recitals put out on YouTube in the coming week or so (as there was a camera recording at the back of the Arena on the night).