The tenor often functions like a high-wire artist, notes Juan Diego Flórez

For many listeners, tenors reign as the kings of opera. When they hit the highest notes, it sends thrills through the audience. “I think people love high notes,” says Peruvian-born Juan Diego Flórez, one of contemporary opera’s greatest tenors. “The notes ring in their ears, and it’s exciting.”

In a video interview with EuroNews, Flórez explains why tenors often function like a circus high-wire act. French tenor Benjamin Bernheim adds, “The bet we make on a tenor is, will he succeed?”

The art of the modern tenor arose in Italy, when composer Gioachino Rossini thrust the tenor’s voice into the spotlight. “Before Rossini, the main stars of opera were the sopranos and the castrati,” said Flórez, who specializes in the bel canto operas of Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti (and who will appear with Vincenzo Scalera in recital Jan. 31 at Symphony Center). “But with Rossini, the castrati were abolished. So he gave the star parts to someone who would be similar to the voice of the castrati, the tenors and the mezzo-sopranos.”

In 1831, with Rossini’s William Tell, a sensation happened. French tenor Gilbert Duprez astounded audiences with his revolutionary delivery of the high C. “Duprez was rehearsing in his dressing room, and he was trying these high notes,” Flórez said. “He hits this high C with a full voice. He’s astonished by the sound. And he wants to keep it, and he wants to sing like that. And he does. Then everybody says, ‘Wow, what is this?’ So he was the father of the high C as we know it today.”

Decades later, another king of the high Cs came along: Enrico Caruso
“He really was the first tenor to sing for a lot of people, for arenas,” Flórez said. “In his era, everybody in the world had a disc of Enrico Caruso at home. He was that famous.”

But even more important than technique is emotion. “I don't think you need to have the high C,” Flórez said. “You need to be a good singer. For me, I want to be touched by a singer. The best singers are the ones who make you feel something.”

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