Juan Diego Flórez’s tenor voice rang throughout Carnegie Hall with favorite opera arias and songs as a sold-out crowd of adoring fans clamored for more. This was the scene on November 18 in New York City, as the superstar performed with Vincenzo Scalera on piano.
The vibe of the concert felt more like an enamored fan club listening to their guru than a typical classical concert. The entire pacing from the concert’s beginning to end felt like we were at an American football game, only with people wearing suits and dresses. The fan club cheered loudly, applauded, and gave countless standing ovations.
However, it was the pacing of energy that was most fascinating. Flórez knows how to work a crowd. Of course we knew that it was going to be great going into the concert, but we didn’t realize how great.
The pianist Vincenzo Scalera was a source of wonder and inspiration for many collaborative pianists. His astounding ability to follow Flórez, capture orchestra energy in a piano reduction, and translate it to a large hall was quite a feat!
Bel canto, classics, and French arias
Flórez began with the bel canto favorites of Rossini and Donizetti that made him famous.
Just before Rossini left his Vienna residency, an elaborate banquet was held in his honor. He showed his gratitude with composing “Addio ai viennesi” (also known as “Addio di Rossini”), a virtuoso song that Flórez sang in his best bravura style. It opens with a legato, slightly melancholic farewell to the city (Vienna) in the minor mode, then becomes more animated and florid, closing with a bring-down-the-house high note.
Donizetti’s irresistible melody, enhanced in the opera by a rustic bassoon, has become a favorite of every lyric tenor from Caruso to Pavarotti to Flórez. Donizetti established himself with dramatic and comedic opera, but he also churned out quantities of attractive smaller instrumental works such as the Waltz for Piano in C Major performed by Flórez’s exceptional pianist Vincenzo Scalera.
The afternoon couldn’t be complete without some classic Verdi.
In "La mia letizia infondere . . . Come poteva un angelo" from I Lombardi, the lilting waltz-rhythm of the first aria has made it a perennial concert favorite for many singers and Flórez treated it with the utmost care.
Less well-known is the successive aria, which Verdi composed in two versions. We heard Flórez perform the faster second version, which requires more agility.
French arias of Massenet were heard in the second half of the program. The “French Puccini,” Massenet perfectly represented the time and place in which he flourished. Interested in all the musical currents swirling around Parisian opera, from the lyrical legacy of Gounod to the radical ideas of Wagner, he was able to graft them onto his own personal style while winning virtually universal acclaim. Less known than Massenet’s operas are his songs. Flórez chose to sing them to show variety — of both himself and the composer.
After the main concert was over, the crowd clamored for more. What they didn’t anticipate was the second concert to come.
Florez performed so many encores that the crowd lost track. It was perhaps about seven encores in total that felt like a concert by itself.
It was like Florez just started singing the songbook — “Ah! Mes Amis” with the nine piercing high Cs, “Nessun Dorma”, and works from his new album Bésame Mucho with him self-accompanied on the guitar.
From beginning to end, it was as if we were on an emotional roller coaster. Each time an aria ended, we clapped louder and louder, by the time the encores hit, we were standing up, sitting down, and back up again — on repeat — where we lost track of time.
The afternoon at Carnegie Hall can be summed up in one word — unforgettable.
Juan Diego Flórez
With his expressive singing and performances on the world’s leading stages, Juan Diego Flórez has established himself as one of opera’s greatest talents. His generosity, charisma, and passion inspire his many philanthropic endeavors, in addition to his acclaimed operatic appearances and recordings.
Born in Lima, Flórez began singing and playing Peruvian folk and pop music at an early age, later studying at Peru’s National Conservatory of Music, and eventually winning a scholarship to the renowned Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He has been recognized as one of the best tenors in history by the BBC, and has received numerous accolades and awards, including the Gran Cruz de la Orden El Sol—Peru’s highest distinction—and the Austrian government’s title of Kammersänger.
In 2011, Flórez founded Sinfonía por el Perú, an inclusive social project inspired by Venezuela’s El Sistema, which aims to enhance the personal and artistic development of the country’s most vulnerable children and youth through music.
Vincenzo Scalera was born in New Jersey to Italian-American parents and began piano studies at the age of five. He graduated from the Manhattan School of Music and worked as assistant conductor with the New Jersey State Opera. He continued his studies in Italy and, in 1980, joined the musical staff of Milan’s Teatro alla Scala as coach and pianist.
Scalera is a Steinway Artist and currently serves on the staff of the Teatro alla Scala’s Accademia d’Arti e Mestieri.