Newspaper article International New York Times

A Star Tenor Expands His Range ; at 42, Juan Diego Florez Enters a New Vocal Phase with His Role in 'Lucia'

Newspaper article International New York Times

A Star Tenor Expands His Range ; at 42, Juan Diego Florez Enters a New Vocal Phase with His Role in 'Lucia'

Article excerpt

At 42, Juan Diego Florez enters a new vocal phase with his role in 'Lucia'.

The boyish pluck is still there, but middle age seems to have snuck up on Juan Diego Florez.

It's etched lightly across his face, in some wayward gray hairs, and even in his seemingly effortless, upswept tenor. Two decades into a starry operatic career, Mr. Florez, now 42, is entering a new vocal phase: At the Gran Teatre del Liceu here, he is singing for the first time the role of Edgardo in Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor," a role more heroic than the bubbly coloratura heroes that made him famous.

"Even if change in a voice is light, and people maybe don't notice it, that slight change is for singers a bit of an earthquake," he said in an interview the evening after his first performance, on Dec. 4. Mr. Florez, wearing jeans and a gray turtleneck and sipping sparkling water, was speaking at an eco- resort not far from Barcelona, where he is staying with his wife and two children during the run of "Lucia," in which he alternates with Ismael Jordi through Dec. 23.

"Around age 38, there was a slight change to my voice, and very much in the center," he said. "That made it possible to start thinking about certain roles: Guillaume Tell, Romeo, Edgardo. These roles require a fuller center."

Mr. Florez said that Edgardo was the part he coveted most, mainly because hearing the Spanish tenor Alfredo Kraus sing the role at the Metropolitan Opera in New York was a watershed moment in his life. Before earning a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Mr. Florez had lived briefly in New York in early 1993 while auditioning for music schools.

He sang Neapolitan songs and played guitar -- skills he learned while performing as a child at a pub that his mother managed in his native city of Lima, Peru -- one day in the New York subway and earned about $60. That evening, he stood outside the Met hoping for a last-minute ticket to "Lucia," and nabbed one just before the curtain rose.

"This was the beginning of my love affair with 'Lucia,"' he said.

The next 15 years saw Mr. Florez move from a starving student ("I, too, ate Top Ramen, the inflatable noodles," he said with a laugh) to a global career that has included some 50 recordings. In Peru, he has been awarded the Gran Cruz de la Orden del Sol del Peru, the country's highest honor, and was featured on a national stamp.

After singing "Ah! mes amis" from Donizetti's "La Fille du Regiment," with its eight high C's, in 2007 at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan and in 2008 at the Met, the applause was so intense that he repeated the aria. He continues to be in demand at the major opera houses, and his schedule is booked through 2021.

"I think he is coming into his prime because his voice is filling out," said John Eliot Gardiner, who conducted Mr. Florez in Gluck's "Orphee et Eurydice" at the Royal Opera in London in September. "He is arriving at, if not a peak, then a plateau. …

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