Juan Diego Florez is a rare breed. A tenor, yes, but a very particular kind of tenor. There are various terms for his voice type. The Italians might call him a tenore lirico-leggero(light tenor) or, more fittingly, a tenore di grazia (graceful tenor). But none of this gives you much indication of what makes him so special. It has partly to do with a technique so effortless it is barely apparent, but more significant is an evenness of tone that enables him to access the stratospheric upper register without any apparent break. Top Cs and Ds are almost casually negotiated; scales and arpeggios glide off the vocal chords.
He arrived at this Barbican recital with apologies for a cold, which had days earlier deprived a Carnegie Hall audience of the pleasure of his company. And it is a pleasure - not just on account of his boyish charm but because of the instinctive elegance and ardour of his musicianship. Presenting an opera star like this, on an empty stage with just a piano (Vincenzo Scalera was an engaging partner) exposes them in ways that none but the most accomplished can sustain.
With Florez there's an openness that touches and charms. To use an unfashionable word, there's a sincerity about his singing. He began with Tamino transfixed by Pamina's portrait in Die Zauberflöte. The phrasing was rapt but unfussy, the legato seamless. Turning to "Il mio tesoro" from Don Giovanni he made you wonder why the vengeful passage-work floors so many distinguished singers. Not only was it flawless, but it meant something.
And so it went on. Cold or no cold, the Rossinian fireworks (his speciality) were brilliantly forthcoming. The arpeggios sparkled, the scales cascaded with not so much as a single bumpy aspirate. But then he stilled the hall with a Bellini song "La ricordanza" and, in a clinching phrase of exquisite artistry, quietly brought the house down.
For encores he pulled out the stops, finally banishing the cold completely with the nine top Cs of Tonio's solo in La Fille du Régiment, in which he opens at Covent Garden next month. But please, let's hear no more of this nonsense that he is "the next Pavarotti". He is Juan Diego Florez, and special.