Monday, October 25, 2010

Flórez brings down the house... twice!

There are many reasons that my job rarely ever actually feels like a job, which is one of my favorite things about it. And if there ever is a fleeting moment where I start feeling like I am punching the clock, going through the motions, and 'paying the bills', it is almost always in the opera. I think this is only because the opera has the highest likelihood of monotony. Every now and again, when I've had a really busy week, and I'm really tired, and it's the fifth performance of some boring piece where the trombones have two notes total, I feel like I'm actually earning my paycheck.

I thought it might be one of those nights this past Friday. I had already played a rehearsal during the day, plus I was tired from not sleeping well the night before (more on that in another post), and the piece was Donizetti's Elixir of Love, which is pleasant but has the potential to be a real snoozer. But when I saw that the Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez was singing the lead male role, I thought it might be an exciting evening. As it turns out, I was right, and instead of having to prop my eyelids open with toothpicks, I got to experience one of the most rare happenings in the world of opera.

In one of the opera's final scenes, Flórez took the stage and performed the famous aria, Una furtiva lagrima. I. was. floored. In the world of live music, a perfect performance is almost non-existent. There is nearly always a phrase left unfinished, a pitch not exactly in tune, or a word not precisely enunciated. Not so much with Flórez. I have heard the top opera singers in the world in the past three years, and I've never heard anything like this. He sang so beautifully, with the perfect balance of musicality and technical proficiency, that it nearly brought tears to my eyes.

The audience went insane. I've heard maybe only one or two ovations that were as loud. But it wasn't the volume but rather the length of the cheering and applause which triggered an event that is the rarest of the rare. One older colleague told me later that he had only seen this happen twice in 30 years in the orchestra; both prior instances were for Pavarotti.

When a singer gets a great ovation after a solo like that, there is a certain standard practice for receiving it. First, they ignore it and stay in their dramatic pose. If the ovation continues for more than a minute or so, the singers usually nod their head in thanks and acknowledgment of the ovation. If the audience still won't stop clapping, the next step is to come to the front of the stage and either nod again or bow in appreciation. I've seen this happen a few times, and Flórez did all these steps on Friday night. But the crowd would not give up. They kept yelling "Bravo!", clapping, and stomping for several minutes without the slightest sign of stopping. So, it came to the final step... repeat the aria!

Flórez nodded to the conductor, the crowd died down, and the harp began the slow introduction again. He has obviously had this happen to him before, because he seemed totally prepared and at ease singing the same aria for a second time. He changed some of the embellishments and also sang from the opposite side of the stage, so as to give the other half of the audience a chance to hear it better. It was another stellar rendition, of course, and afterwards he had to sort of force the issue by simply walking off stage to let the opera continue. It was definitely one of those rare performances I think I'll remember for a long time, and I hope I get to hear more from Juan Diego Flórez in the future.


  1. Jeremy, I'm the grandmother of Jay Koelbl, a friend of Jacob's. I just wanted to tell you how very much I have enjoyed your blogs. What a wonderful opportunity your talent and hard word has brought to you and your family. Both of you share so gracefully with those of us back home, and we truly appreciate the glimpse you give us of such a great orchestra and the talented conductors and performers who perform with it!
    Thanks, Nancy D. Stubblefield (Billy's wife)

  2. Fascinating blog. Keep up the good work!

  3. I was at the performance last night, and it was breathtaking. He only bowed, unfortunately, at our ovation. We should have kept things going. I can't believe I got missed an opportunity to hear that aria again!