Sometimes promoted as the successor to Luciano Pavarotti, Peru's Juan Diego Flórez is actually a very different kind of tenor, and one of a sort that has not been seen much in recent years: his voice is light, extremely athletic, and suited above all to the bel canto tenor roles of the early nineteenth century. Among the accomplishments of his young career was the restoration to its proper place of a difficult passage, long considered unsingable, in the role of Almaviva in Rossini's Il barbière di Siviglia. His primary vocal model is not Pavarotti but Spanish tenor Alfredo Kraus -- a performer less well known to the general public but equally well admired among opera cognoscenti.
Born in 1973 in Lima to a folk guitarist father, Flórez sang when he was young in a rock band that specialized in Beatles and Led Zeppelin covers. What set him on the road to an operatic career was a free voice course he took in conjunction with membership in his high school choir. He enrolled at the Lima Conservatory when he was 17, moving on from there to Philadelphia's Curtis Institute on a full scholarship. One mentor was Peruvian tenor Ernesto Palacio, who became Flórez's manager.
At the 1996 Pesaro Festival in Italy, Flórez was booked to sing a minor role in Rossini's Ricciardo e Zoraide but took over the lead role in a newly unearthed Rossini opera called Matilde di Shabran after the scheduled tenor had to cancel. Rhapsodic praise from hard-to-please Italian opera fans led to a debut at La Scala in Gluck's Armide and then to the rest of the world's major opera houses over the next several years. His Metropolitan Opera debut in New York came in 2002 as Almaviva in Il barbière -- a role that has emerged as one of his specialties.
Possessed of good looks and trademark curly hair that have elicited nearly universal comment among music writers, Flórez faced pressure to assume the mantle of opera megastardom. He has won praise from close observers of the operatic scene, however, for taking account of the unusual nature of his voice and sticking to the repertory to which he is best suited, avoiding for the most part the heavier roles of Verdi and reintroducing audiences to something of the full fire that might have been heard on an Italian stage of the early nineteenth century. "I think I know my limitations," Flórez told The Economist in 2002. "I have been offered Mozart's Mitridate. I looked at the part, but it's all just a little low, and he's just a bit too angry all the time. It's not for me." An accomplished singing actor with a gift for comedy, Flórez has excelled in roles such as Tonio in Donizetti's La fille du régiment and the title role in Rossini 's Le Comte Ory.
Flórez has released three solo albums on the Decca label: one of Rossini arias, one (Una furtiva lagrima) including arias by Bellini and Donizetti, and 2004's Great Tenor Arias, which in the words of London's Observer newspaper "confirms his growing reputation as one of the most exciting vocal talents around." He has expressed an interest in exploring the repertory of Peruvian song.