On the eve of Juan Diego Florez's Albert Hall concert, The Sunday Times sent a journalist to his home in Pesaro. This beautiful town on Italy's east coast – home to the Rossini Opera Festival, and where Pavarotti had his much-filmed villa – is where Florez has made his base with his wife and baby although, inevitably, he is often away.
As the concert's producers coughed up the trip expenses, Tanya Gold's piece is, not surprisingly, reverential. She enthuses about Florez's “gleaming teeth, wide eyes and naughty curls. He is so handsome, wholesome and ridiculously joyful, I wonder if he is followed around by an orchestra of cartoon rabbits.” Or maybe she really is besotted by the tenor's looks.
The easy, vibrant top of his voice has made Florez a fixture in all the important opera houses in the world. Gold recounts his appearance in Donizetti's La Fille du régiment at Milan's La Scala in 2007 when, after bringing down the house with Ah! Mes Amis and its nine high-Cs, he decided to encore the aria.
The audience loved it, so he stopped the orchestra and sang it again. Who wouldn't?
Well, hardly anyone, especially at La Scala. It's not done.
Arturo Toscanini banned solo encores at La Scala in 1933. Florez's reprise made Le Figaro and The New York Times. “One newspaper said, ‘He spat on Toscanini,' ” Florez says. “Many singers said, ‘Thank you very much.' ” So he did it again at the Met.
But Juan Diego's a nice guy. People like him, and incidents like the La Scala ‘bis' arise from his boyish enthusiasm. This has not only made him popular in the industry, but he has a huge fan base. When he married his German-born wife, Julia, in 2008, he returned to his family in Peru for the occasion.
They had a huge wedding in Lima's cathedral… a royal porridge of glitz, televised live, with the president waving at people; they even cancelled the football, which is a big deal in South America, because there weren't enough police.
Gold asks whose idea it was to get married in the cathedral.
My agent's. He says, ‘You should marry in the cathedral,' I said no. The cathedral is where the prince marries in England… I tried not to have it on TV. I got overwhelmed. It was like a fairy-tale wedding. For women – for some of them – this is their dream.”
His agent, fellow Peruvian tenor Ernesto Palacio, has been with Florez from the first days of his career. Palacio had just retired as Florez arrived in Italy heading to Pesaro to sing a small role in the 1996 Festival's Matilde di Shabran. The main tenor fell ill and the unknown 23-year-old stepped in to the spotlight. He's not looked back. He has fans everywhere,
They follow you in the street, running, in Japan. In Vienna, they can be quite wild.”
His easy-going Latin nature can turn into laziness. He tells Gold that he is always late for rehearsals.
This is a bad thing I have, and I don't like it. I say I am coming early, and I always end up coming late. Sometimes I find myself in the last rehearsals of a new opera and I don't know the words. I am a bit of a lazy kind, and from now on I would like to prepare more. Everything comes easily, but it will not always be like that. That is something I say now, but I don't know if I can do it.”
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.