• Exclusive In-Person Interview with Juan Diego Flórez

    [Opera Lively interview # 132] Opera Lively was honored to present to our readers a short interview with the outstanding tenor Juan Diego Flórez the day we launched our website. A couple of years later and after Opera Lively's growth including 131 exclusive interviews with prominent artists, it was our pleasure to address Mr. Flórez again, this time for a long in-person interview at the Met in early May on the occasion of his performance of Prince Ramiro in La Cenerentola. Below you will find the transcript of this piece. We again thank Mr. Flórez for his support of Opera Lively and his time.

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    Singer: Juan Diego Flórez
    Born in: Lima, Peru, on 13 January 1973
    Fach: Light Lyric Tenor
    Recently in: La Cenerentola (Prince Ramiro), Metropolitan Opera
    Next in: Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Count Almaviva), Bayerische Staatsoper, Berlin, May 23, 26, 19, June 1, 7, July 30. Le Comte Ory (title role), Teatro alla Scala, Milan, July 4, 7, 10, 17, 21
    Artist's website: www.juandiegoflorez.com

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    We won't include an artistic biography this time, since his career was well described in the body of the interview itself and is very well known to every opera lover already, given the tenor's worldwide fame.

    Discography:

    The tenor's 13 major CDs and 15 important DVDs are too numerous to list here. Please consult the following links for cover pictures and samples (click on each recording for details):

    CDs: click [here]

    DVDs: click [here]

    The Opera Lively Exclusive Interview with Juan Diego Flórez

    © Opera Lively - Disclaimer: this exclusive interview is copyrighted by Opera Lively with all rights reserved, and is not to be reproduced without express authorization. Brief excerpts can be used after consultation (use the Contact Us form) as long as proper credit and a link to the full interview on Opera Lively are provided. Links to the interview can be posted without authorization.

    Credits - Questions by Opera Lively journalist Luiz Gazzola. Photos used with permission from the singer's website and sent from the Metropolitan Opera Press Department; credits given when known (we'll gladly add credits if they are sent to us); fair promotional use.

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    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - Before we talk more specifically about you, let’s address the character Prince Ramiro in La Cenerentola. What is the recipe to do this role well? Do you have something to say about the psychological characteristics of this character, if any, that might make of him more than a stock character?


    Juan Diego Flórez – Prince Ramiro is a prince of course, but he is different than all the characters in the opera. He and Cenerentola are the normal ones. The other ones are always playing a role or being greedy or not true to themselves. Instead, Ramiro and Cenerentola, they just search for love, although it may sound as a cliché; not convenient love, but pure love. That’s why in this production in the Met we are different than the others. We are not made up; we practically don’t have make-up on. We look natural. The other ones look white in their faces. They wanted to make us different in a way.


    JDF as Prince Ramiro - photo credit Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera

    OL - Are there any vocal challenges in this role?

    JDF – Vocally it’s a high tenor Rossini role, so what it means is that it is very virtuosic with big high notes, and a lot of runs and coloratura singing; all that bel canto can have is in there.

    OL - This production has an extraordinary cast. Can you tell us a little bit how good it is to work with your illustrious colleagues?


    JDF and Joyce DiDonato - Photo credit Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera

    JDF – Well, of course. We can start by talking about Joyce. She is a magnificent mezzo-soprano and she is like my sister. We have worked so much together, and we know each other so well… The rest of the cast, also, I have worked with each one of them, especially Alessandro Corbelli and Pietro Spagnoli. They are friends. With Pietro, for example, I made my debut with him. So, it’s very easy to work with them, and so pleasurable!


    JDF, Pietro Spagnoli, Joyce DiDonato, Alessandro Corbelli, Patricia Risley, and Rachelle Durkin - Photo credit Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera

    OL - You were born in Lima in 1973. I’m very much interested in your South American background. I’d say that arguably together with the late Bidu Saião you’re the most accomplished South American opera singer in history. So, let’s start with your childhood. Your father was a singer and your mother a music-lover. How early did music enter your life?

    JDF – Music, always, but the classical music, really when I was seventeen. In my house we didn’t have classical music. My parents never listened to it, or to opera, but towards the end of high school there was a teacher who wanted to do Zarzuela at the high school, and I took part of it, and asked him if he could give me some lessons. He started to teach me voice, by imitation. I tried to sing like him, and then I wanted to enter Peru’s National Conservatory, but not because of classical music but rather pop music. I used to compose and sing my own songs and I wanted to know how to read and write music. So, I went to the conservatory and auditioned with singing because I had already had lessons with this teacher. He taught me “Questa o quella” and Schubert’s “Ave Maria” and I got in. But in the conservatory I discovered really what classical singing meant, and I decided I wanted to do that; but before, I wanted to be a pop singer, a melodic ballad singer.

    OL - So, you started by writing your own songs and singing pop, rock, and Peruvian music. Do these first steps still influence you today, as a classical musician? Do you think they inform you in any way, or did you leave it all behind you?

    JDF – I think everything that you listen to, that you like, what you grow up with, is part of you, and you bring that to your music and to your singing. I cannot say no. That’s part of what I am and of my background, and I sing with that.

    OL - As a teenager in Peru, how did your peers and friends see your classical music vocation? I was talking with maestro Marco Armiliato and he told me how all his friends – and himself – were into soccer, while he was also into classical music, and his peers found it really weird. Any similar experiences?

    JDF – Yes, of course, because they were going out to parties and drinking, and I was going out with my friends from the Conservatory, with classical students. We would go to concerts, and of course we would go out and drink and go to parties as well, but it was another crowd. My other friends would say, “where are you going; aren’t you going out with us?” and I’d say “no, I’m going to a concert.” “What do you mean, a concert?” they’d say. [laughs] But I always played football; I kept that, and I still do it, and enjoy it so much!

    OL - So, you came to Philladelphia to the Curtis Institute at age 20. Was it difficult for a young man your age to make this leap?

    JDF – No, because I wanted to discover the world; I wanted to go away from Peru not because I didn’t like it, but because I wanted to explore, as a young person. For me, it was great. I found that scholarship with a lot of dedication and effort. I found it myself; I came to audition, I got in, I found the money, and I studied in Philadelphia for three years. It was great because I entered the voice program. It meant I should just sing art songs, but they didn’t have a tenor for the opera program, and they took me practically into the opera program, being only twenty. They gave me operas. I arrived there in September 93, and in November 93 I was singing I Capuleti e I Montecchi. I didn’t know anything about Bellini, nothing, and I sang it, and then I sang Barbiere, then I sang Viaggio a Reims, and another one… That gave me so much experience, but I was really lucky that I didn’t get ruined in my voice, because I wasn’t really prepared, but I just did them. It all gave me experience and made my debut very fast, because I had my debut very early also, at 23.

    OL - Then, you met Mr. Ernesto Palacio who had a huge influence in your career. Can you tell us more about it?

    JDF – Yes, in 94 I met him. He was a singer at the time. I was in Peru for a vacation. He represented something big to me: Peruvian tenor who sang at La Scala, at the Met, and who belonged to a tradition of singers with Luigi Alva, and before, Alejandro Granda, who sang with Toscanini many times. I auditioned for him in Lima, and he said to me “I want you to have a career.” He helped in every way he could. He made me do a CD right away, then another one while I was still a student. He got me international auditions; the first one in Bologna, for the Rossini Festival. They accepted me to sing a small role. You know, the story goes that the tenor cancelled and I went on to sing the big role, and this is how it all started.

    OL - Yes, Corradino in Matilde di Shabran, on short notice, and you stepped in. You learned the role in just a few days.

    JDF – Yes, a lucky break, unexpected of course, and then they called me to sing at La Scala.

    OL - Yes, four months later you were singing at La Scala. Was this incredibly fast rise to fame psychologically difficult for a young man, 23 years old?

    JDF – I was kind of unconscious. I was doing everything and not really realizing what I was doing. After Pesaro, immediately I went to Ireland to sing Don Pasquale, and L’Etoile du Nord by Meyerbeer, and then I went to La Scala. It was one after the other, and I made my debut at La Scala and then I did a concert there. I started to sing in several houses in Italy, one after the other. The Royal Opera House Covent Garden came also the following year. I was studying a lot because everything was a new role, but I had the facility; I played the piano, I could read the music… I think it is something that every singer should learn. Many singers don’t know that, how to read music. They know it but not well enough so they always depend on somebody who is going to teach them the music.

    OL - The Peruvian public and cultural institutions seem to be, and justifiably so, deeply in love with you, given the large number of accolades, awards, and honors you have received from institutions in your country. You are even on a postal stamp there. How emotional is it for you to go back to Peru to sing?

    JDF – It is very emotional, especially because of the children. I have a foundation, and when I go there I feel the love and the thanks from all those children of the Sinfonia por el Peru, my foundation, similar to the Sistema in Venezuela. I have a recital in Peru on May 13, with a pianist, but in the middle of the recital we are presenting the National Children’s Orchestra, and that is a great achievement because the foundation is only three years old, so I’m happy about that. I’ll be doing a lot of work during those four or five days I’m going to be there. In Peru, I’m recognized and I am kind of a hero. Many people haven’t heard me sing, in Peru, but they are still proud. It’s something else. Many people have heard me but many haven’t, but they all love me in a way, because I’m making them proud and feeling important in the eyes of the world, and for Peru that’s very important; that’s the reason why.

    OL - Your popularity in your home country is impressive – crowds flocked to Plaza Mayor to see your wedding ceremony. How about the rest of South America – do you have any intention of trying to enhance the popularity of classical music and opera in neighboring countries? Any collaboration with Venezuela? Any plans for say, Argentina and/or Brazil?

    JDF – No, I don’t have any plans, but I know I’ll be doing it anyway, and that’s good. My only intention is to help these children through music – not only classical. The program is not only classical music. I know that with my singing I’m making the opera world a bit more popular, but popularity is not one of my objectives.

    OL - How did you get the idea for the foundation?

    JDF – I went to Caracas for a concert and I saw the Sistema and decided that I wanted to do this in Peru also, and got to work on it right away.

    OL - You are also UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassador. What responsibilities come with that?

    JDF - I got this prize and this title because of my foundation. There is no responsibility per se, except to continue what I am doing, but now under the patronage of the UNESCO, and that’s a good and important thing because it makes it easier to achieve my objectives.

    OL - You are really the king of bel canto. In the future, other singers will look back at you for inspiration. So, when you look back, who were the past singers who inspired you?

    JDF – When I started, I was seventeen in the conservatory; I got hold of cassettes. Pavarotti was the first tenor I heard, and Alfredo Kraus. Both really impressed me, and I thought “how do they do that, how do they sing like that?” And then, of course, throughout my career I have admired many tenors and I always listen to performances from other singers, not only tenors, and I learn from everybody.

    OL - Other journalists must have asked you so many questions about bel canto, that I’d like to focus a bit on your latest CD, L’Amour. I listened to it last week and was thoroughly impressed. I’m a lover of French opera and new all those pieces. I thought that your voice was a bit darker in this repertory with meatier and rounder colors as compared to the bel canto light tenor roles. Is this an evolution in your instrument, and are you planning to go deeper into these roles?



    JDF – Yes, my voice changed a bit when I hit 39, 40. I felt more comfortable in these roles, so I did Guillaume Tell, La Favorite, and I felt really, really well. In this CD I sing with this slightly different voice, not because I want it, but because it’s how I sing now. This year I’m doing Romeo in Peru, and Werther in 2016. I’ll be doing Les Huguenots, and operas like that – Lucrezia Borgia, Lucia, but I’ll still be singing Rossini. [laughs]

    OL - How did you select the tracts for L’Amour?

    JDF – By investigating. The Internet is great these days; you can even go into libraries. I did it by myself. I got a nice group of pieces; some known, some others a little bit less known. I made a nice mix.

    OL - In your extensive discography and videography, what are a couple of your favorites? If someone wanted to get to know your artistry and asked for your advice on what to buy – your best recordings - what would you say?

    JDF – I don’t like my CDs [laughs]. I listen a lot to all those tracks before the CD comes out, because you have to help with the edition of the CD. You have many takes on a track and they ask for your advice when they are putting it together. But then when the CDs are out, I don’t listen to them; I’m kind of tired of them. But I would recommend this last one, L’Amour; I really liked this one. About the DVDs, I really liked the last one I recorded, Guillaume Tell, I don’t know if it is out already; and also the ones before last, Matilde di Shabran and Zelmira.



    OL - I love that one. So, La Fille du Régiment with Natalie Dessay – it was an iconic production. Mme. Dessay has retired. Do you miss her? What was it like, working with her?



    JDF – She hasn’t entirely retired. She still does some things. My experience with her is amazing because she is a great actress and a wonderful person, and we had a lot of fun together. That’s the word: fun; a lot of laughs and a lot of discoveries about each other. I learned a lot from her and her passion. She is one of my best partners.

    OL - Comic operas are one of your greatest strengths. However you are equally good at tragic roles. Do you have a preference? Which genre is harder to pull off?

    JDF – Serious operas are more difficult because they are very static. You have to be credible while moving little. With comedy you can really explore the space. Especially in serious bel canto operas, they are very static and are made of just singing; that’s why these operas work well in concert form, because there isn’t a lot happening on stage. It would look very silly to just move around. I enjoy both, but comedy in the bel canto is more fun, because there is less of a convention. If I do something more dramatic like Werther or even Orphée that I’ll do in 2015 at the Royal Opera House, there is more to act there, because it’s less conventional theater; it’s more like real theater.

    OL - Do you have favorite stage directors you love to work with? I think most of your productions are traditional rather than Regie – but not always – there was for example that Rigoletto with the animal heads and a lot of nudity. Any opinions there?



    JDF – I’ve worked with lots of directors but I like more modern productions. I don’t like it when I arrive at a new production and everything is so conventional and old-fashioned. I think the public doesn’t want to see that anymore, either. But I like the modern productions when at least they make sense. When they don’t make sense, it’s just craziness; then I don’t like it because I don’t know what I am doing on stage, and they don’t know it either. You ask questions of the director on why he is doing certain things, and the answer comes as “I don’t know.” [laughs] It’s for you to interpret.

    OL - Tell us about your work as a composer, please. What are your projects?

    JDF – No, no, I’m not a composer, I just have some fun [laughs]. I do arrangements for Peruvian songs because they are not arranged and I need to sing them in my concerts. There is a song, Santo, that I composed for a CD. I think it’s my best work with a classical orchestra, but that’s not what I usually do. I don’t have any projects as a composer [laughs].

    OL - At this point in your career you have practically accomplished everything that there is to be accomplished. How do you keep yourself challenged and interested? What goals do you still have?

    JDF – I’m always interested because I like to explore the voice, the technique, the ways of breathing in a better way, and to see how others do it. For me the part of the mechanics of doing it is fun. I’m always curious and interested in singing. I enjoy singing. I enjoy rehearsing and performing; I’m not tired of doing that. I’m tired of traveling, of being on planes and away from home, but never of performing.

    OL - I think technically speaking, your most impressive feature is the extraordinary control you have over your voice and your pace. I think you are one of the most precise and elegant singers I’ve ever heard. How do you do it?

    JDF – Well, I study. Not so much, I’d have to say, but when I study I like to study well. I found that with the slight change that my voice had in the latest years, I have to study again, because with the technique I used to sing with, I could continue to sing but it wouldn’t be perfect because my voice has changed a bit, so I have to adjust for this bigger center. So I had to study deep and nice again and I had lots of fun doing so, even going into the science of it and the muscles involved in breathing. I have a friend who made echographies of the muscles to show what happens in your muscles and lungs while you sing. I read books about other singers and what they do. For me, it is a nice journey.

    OL - What advice do you have for younger singers?

    JDF – I would say that they should think that the teacher is only 20% of their preparation. The rest is them. They have to work by themselves. They have to record themselves in rehearsals and listen to the recording. They have to do their own experiments. Otherwise if you think a teacher will make of you a great singer, you are really wrong. I’d advise them to be prepared, musically.

    OL - I heard from other singers that you are a very nice man. One of my interviewees, Jessica Pratt, was once in Peru and said you were the perfect host, taking all the singers to visit Lima, and she was just incredibly impressed with how personable you were – such a stratospheric star, but so accessible and friendly. So, let’s talk about the man JDF a bit. How do you define your personality?

    JDF – I think I like people; I like to be with people, but I can seem sometimes distant, because at the same time I’m a bit reserved and I like my privacy. I’m a really private man. My family is the most important thing, but if I have to be the host when somebody comes to my country or to my house, I like to enjoy people. Sometimes they have to ask me to keep it down a bit [laughs] because sometimes I’m too jokey. I joke all the time. I wasn’t like that; I think I was more serious in the past, but I became like that, now. I don’t take myself seriously, and I don’t take anybody seriously. That, in a way, has made me go into this career without a lot of problems. Sometimes singers come to me and say “I don’t know what the stage director meant when he told me that I wasn’t doing this like that, and I told him that I am doing it, and he said to me that I should look the other way, and I told him – no, why?” I tell them, “why are you making your life difficult? Just say yes to anything they tell you. Just smile; you know, the rehearsals are long; he maybe will forget about it and then you’ll do what you want.” There is always an easy way to respond. I never understood some of my colleagues who respond in a sort of violent way when they are told that they are doing something wrong; and then there is a confrontation, there is tension, and sometimes the whole production is ruined because of these things; it’s best to just smile and try to arrange it in the course of things. I’ve always been friendly; and then I end up doing what I want. Directors and conductors need to show that they are the leaders – because they are! – and they need to show their authority. You just have to smile to that, because if you fight, then it causes a lot of problems. So, that’s how I’ve been going about this career, by never having conflicts with colleagues, directors, and conductors.

    OL – So you are an easygoing person.

    JDF – [laughs] Not always, but in general, yes.

    OL - Your daughter was just born in January – Lucia Stella – congratulations! Your son Leandro is about 3. How do you juggle your career, and your life as a father and a husband?

    JDF – That’s a nice question. I do everything, my calendar, thinking of them and how we can be together. Everything in my future is done that way. I’m always asking my wife “what do you think if I accept this opera?” Then we think about it, and we decide accordingly.

    OL - What are your other interests in life, besides classical music?

    JDF – I like sports – tennis and football. I have a group of friends in Europe, and I like to enjoy time with my friends. It is very important, I think. There is not much more than this. Oh, and I like wine and food. [laughs]

    OL – I heard that you cook as well.

    JDF – I cook, but not so much, anymore. I used to cook. When I’m alone I cook more, but not complicated things. I know a lot of Peruvian dishes. If I have to cook, then I cook.

    OL – Thank you very much for this lovely interview and for your time.

    JDF – You’re welcome.

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    Let's listen to the singer.

    From his CD "L'Amour" - "Pourquoi me réveiller" from Werther (Gounod)



    The tenor's famous nine high Cs in "Pour mon âme" from La Fille du Régiment (Donizetti)



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    Bookmark our site and come back for more - several new and exciting interviews are always coming to Opera Lively - recent ones have included composer Kevin Puts, tenor Giuseppe Filianoti, mezzo Magdalena Kozená, tenor Lawrence Brownlee, international stars Diana Damrau and Eva-Maria Westbroek, veteran mezzo Frederica von Stade, emerging soprano Lisette Oropesa, stage director and opera company administrator Francesca Zambello, and brilliant contemporary composer George Benjamin. More recent ones have included famous stage director Laurent Pelly, Greek National Opera artistic director and principal conductor Myron Michailidis, the great mezzo Sarah Connolly, Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko, star tenor Juan Diego Flórez, and others. Upcoming, Isabel Leonard (completed, under review).
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. BillMcEnaneyJr's Avatar
      BillMcEnaneyJr -
      I wonder what Mr. Florez means when she says that he doesn't take anyone seriously.
    1. Florestan's Avatar
      Florestan -
      Thanks. After reading the interview, I even more am anticipating the new La Sonnambula DVD I ordered as it features Juan Diego Flórez!


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