How do you crown a night of French songs?

So we went to Juan Diego Flórez last night. “He’s no Bruce Springsteen,” my wife said to me as we realised the pattern for the first half: he’d sing a song, and then go off-stage for a rest while the orchestra played some filler. Every time they played a filler, you looked through the programme, reading the names of the people in the orchestra. He managed to sing only four songs for the first half of the show.

And they were all French. Turned out he was doing a Tour L’amour.

I said to someone at half time that I hadn’t heard any of these songs before. We’re talking tunes from La jolie fille de Perth, Lakmé, Werther, Les Troyens. Well, that was a faux pas.

What you’re supposed to say, I learned from a man who has the right word for everything, is that you didn’t realise the whole programme was going to be French, but that somehow “adds to the subtlety”.

Juan Diego didn’t say a word until almost the end of the show (“He has great charisma,” someone said to me afterwards). When he did start speaking, he proved to be an amiable ham, with something of Charlie Chaplin in his movements.

And a funny thing happens in this late stage of the evening. The majority of the audience is fifty-five and upwards. A sea of grey and white hair. But faced with a superstar, they act like children. They lap up the ham. They laugh like they’ve just seen the funniest thing in the world. One man holds up nine fingers – yes, he wants nine high Cs! When Juan Diego says no, a third of the audience moan theatrically. Awww. You could be at a Christmas pantomime.

For his finale, Juan Diego sings two songs in a row. At this point, that’s something special. He milks Au Mont Ida Trois Déesses. He gets his laughs. He’s presented with flowers and he gives them to women sitting in the front row.

And then, for his last song, he makes the definitive statement about French opera. I mean, how do you crown a night of French songs?

You sing an Italian one. La Donna è Mobile. We all go wild.

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