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Wine Talk: Juan Diego Florez

Opera tenor developed his delicate voice while cultivating a love of full-bodied wines

Kristiana Kahakauwila
Posted: December 5, 2005

Tenor Juan Diego Florez, known for his high, acrobatic voice and dashing good looks, has sung his way into the hearts of opera lovers throughout the world as a master of the bel canto. Born in Peru, Florez, 33, recently purchased a home in Pesaro, Italy, where in 1996 he made his professional debut in Matilde di Shabran at the Rossini Opera Festival. Whether Florez is playing a king in Gioacchino Rossini's Semiramide at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona (from which he drops in on chef Ferran Adrià at El Bulli) or a daring lover in Gaetano Donizetti's Don Pasquale at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, he always has a few bottles of good wine with him.

WS: How did you become interested in wine?
JDF: I was studying at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, when, in '94, I auditioned for [tenor] Ernesto Palacios. He thought my voice was interesting and invited me right away to do a CD with him. In Italy, he took me around and gave me advice—that I was singing too heavy, that my voice was a flexible voice, a light voice. And I didn't want to accept that because I was taught in a different way. Little by little, I realized he was right.

And I learned about wine because Ernesto would take me to Italian restaurants and ask for nice wines. I started to drink and remember the names. And the next time I would go to a restaurant, [I would] ask to drink those wines. So [Ernesto] was why I sing bel canto and also why I like wine.

WS: Are Italian wines as thrilling as Italian operas?
JDF: Oh yes. It is great to live in Italy and be able to travel and know different wines. In my current house [in Bergamo], I don't have a cellar because it's a small house, but I have some Solaia, [including] one 1997 and a 2000 that are waiting for me. There's also some great Amarone and very nice Chianti Classico from Querciabella.

I like mostly the full-bodied reds, especially from Spain. There are so many great ones. I love Vega Sicilia 1990, Muga Rioja Torre Reserva 1995, Finca Allende Rioja Calvario 2000, Dominio de Pingus Ribera del Duero 1996, Palacios Priorat L'Ermita 1997 and Clos Figueres Priorat 2001.

WS: Will your new house in Pesaro have a wine cellar?
JDF: Of course! Actually, the house is on a hill, and there are vineyards along that hill and along the property. It's in a DOC near Pesaro, and I have some space to make my own vineyard. They have Sangiovese there, so let's see.

WS: How many hectares of vines will you have?
JDF: Four or five. Just enough for me. [Laughs.]

WS: Do you drink wine while you're on tour?
JDF: Some people ask, "Can you drink wine as a singer? It's not bad for your throat?" And I answer, "It's better." Sometimes when you're feeling not in great voice, to have a nice wine lifts you up. [And that] makes your voice sound better.

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