Juan Diego Flórez is known for his phenomenal voice and for performing bel canto roles. Enrique Castro-Mendivil / Reuters
Juan Diego Flórez is known for his phenomenal voice and for performing bel canto roles. Enrique Castro-Mendivil / Reuters

We catch up with opera star Juan Diego Flórez ahead of his Abu Dhabi Festival performance



The way he tells it, the Peruvian opera singer Juan Diego Flórez, who performs on Monday, March 23,at Emirates Palace, was once on his way to becoming South America’s answer to Enrique Iglesias.

Brought up in a family where classical music was never heard, the 42-year-old tenor says he only started studying music to fulfil his dream of becoming a pop star.

Today, he is one of the world’s most famous opera singers, he has a foundation to help poor children in his native Peru and plans to open a singing school in Vienna. He also says he would be delighted if he could open a similar school in the Middle East. Yet, things could have been very different.

“My parents never really wanted me to be a musician at all, because in Peru you don’t earn any money that way,” says Flórez. “But when they realised it was genuinely what I wanted to do, they supported me always.

“Still, I actually entered the conservatoire to know music to write my pop songs, so I could learn to read and write music. It was only there that I started my classical voice lessons and realised: wow, I like this.”

It’s easy to imagine Flórez being successful. Besides his phenomenal voice, the Abu Dhabi Festival headliner has the sort of clean-cut Latin good looks that could grace a million posters.

But pop music’s loss was opera’s gain – Flórez has forged a dazzling career thanks to one of the most agile, delightful male voices in all of classical music.

When we catch up with him in the run-up to the gala opera evening at the Abu Dhabi Festival, where he’ll be accompanied by the Budapest Festival Orchestra, Flórez still sounds slightly in awe about how fast his career has grown.

“When I first visited La Scala in Milan [where he made his debut at the age of 23 in 1996], I promised myself: ‘In 10 years time you’ll be singing here’. But I was wrong – I started singing there only a few months later. It was very emotional and just to get such applause from the public felt like a huge achievement.”

Following that early triumph, the world’s greatest opera stages opened up to him, his success made possible by a voice that is both acrobatic and beautifully clear in tone.

His popularity has also allowed him to bend a few rules. Returning to La Scala in 2007, Flórez sang the first encore seen at the opera house in 75 years – scandalising some traditionalist critics but delighting the audience.

Breaking taboos on encores has become something of a habit – and I note that the aria he chose, Donizetti's Ah! mes amis, is given final billing for his Abu Dhabi gala.

Flórez is most famous for singing bel canto (see sidebar) roles that best showcase his talents, though recently he has been moving towards a more romantic repertoire that requires a slightly heavier vocal delivery.

“My voice changed in the last few years, which is normal when you reach 40, so you have to adjust certain things,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to sing new roles, but for me, I always want to continue singing Rossini because I love it so much and enjoy it.

“I don’t push my voice; I try to keep a good technique, a natural way of singing, to sing from the breath, which is the main thing.”

While Flórez is very popular with opera lovers around the world, back home in Peru, he is a bona fide superstar. His wedding in Lima, in2008, to Julia Trappe was a televised media sensation, with most of Peru’s great and good in attendance.

Flórez now lives in Vienna with his wife and two children, but he’s still able to turn the huge amount of attention he gets back home for a worthy cause.

“I can use my fame there to help socially, so that’s very good,” he says. “I created a foundation for poor children called Sinfonia por el Peru, where they play in orchestras and choirs, learn values and get away from the bad life, become better citizens in every aspect.

“I created the programme three years ago – it now has 2,500 children taking part.

“I’ve used that public image of mine to attract financial help, so I’m pleased I have it.

“I now have plans to create a school for singers in Vienna and I would love to found one in the Middle East, too, if possible”

• A Night at The Opera featuring Juan Diego Flórez is at Emirates Palace on Monday, March 23, at 8pm. Tickets, from Dh125, are available at www.timeouttickets.com

The schedule

December 5 - 23: Shooting competition, Al Dhafra Shooting Club

December 9 - 24: Handicrafts competition, from 4pm until 10pm, Heritage Souq

December 11 - 20: Dates competition, from 4pm

December 12 - 20: Sour milk competition

December 13: Falcon beauty competition

December 14 and 20: Saluki races

December 15: Arabian horse races, from 4pm

December 16 - 19: Falconry competition

December 18: Camel milk competition, from 7.30 - 9.30 am

December 20 and 21: Sheep beauty competition, from 10am

December 22: The best herd of 30 camels

Company Profile

Name: Direct Debit System
Started: Sept 2017
Based: UAE with a subsidiary in the UK
Industry: FinTech
Funding: Undisclosed
Investors: Elaine Jones
Number of employees: 8

Confirmed bouts (more to be added)

Cory Sandhagen v Umar Nurmagomedov
Nick Diaz v Vicente Luque
Michael Chiesa v Tony Ferguson
Deiveson Figueiredo v Marlon Vera
Mackenzie Dern v Loopy Godinez

Tickets for the August 3 Fight Night, held in partnership with the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, went on sale earlier this month, through www.etihadarena.ae and www.ticketmaster.ae.

RESULTS

6.30pm: Al Maktoum Challenge Round-1 Group 1 (PA) Dh119,373 (Dirt) 1,600m
Winner: Brraq, Adrie de Vries (jockey), Jean-Claude Pecout (trainer)

7.05pm: Handicap (TB) Dh102,500 (D) 1,200m
Winner: Taamol, Connor Beasley, Ali Rashid Al Raihe.

7.40pm: Handicap (TB) Dh105,000 (Turf) 1,800m
Winner: Eqtiraan, Connor Beasley, Ali Rashid Al Raihe.

8.15pm: UAE 1000 Guineas Trial (TB) Dh183,650 (D) 1,400m
Winner: Soft Whisper, Pat Cosgrave, Saeed bin Suroor.

9.50pm: Handicap (TB) Dh105,000 (D) 1,600m
Winner: Hypothetical, Mickael Barzalona, Salem bin Ghadayer.

9.25pm: Handicap (TB) Dh95,000 (T) 1,000m
Winner: Etisalat, Sando Paiva, Ali Rashid Al Raihe

Jeff Buckley: From Hallelujah To The Last Goodbye
By Dave Lory with Jim Irvin

What is a robo-adviser?

Robo-advisers use an online sign-up process to gauge an investor’s risk tolerance by feeding information such as their age, income, saving goals and investment history into an algorithm, which then assigns them an investment portfolio, ranging from more conservative to higher risk ones.

These portfolios are made up of exchange traded funds (ETFs) with exposure to indices such as US and global equities, fixed-income products like bonds, though exposure to real estate, commodity ETFs or gold is also possible.

Investing in ETFs allows robo-advisers to offer fees far lower than traditional investments, such as actively managed mutual funds bought through a bank or broker. Investors can buy ETFs directly via a brokerage, but with robo-advisers they benefit from investment portfolios matched to their risk tolerance as well as being user friendly.

Many robo-advisers charge what are called wrap fees, meaning there are no additional fees such as subscription or withdrawal fees, success fees or fees for rebalancing.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

Developer: Big Ape Productions
Publisher: LucasArts
Consoles: PC, PlayStation
Rating: 2/5

LOVE AGAIN

Director: Jim Strouse

Stars: Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Sam Heughan, Celine Dion

Rating: 2/5

Our legal consultants

Name: Hassan Mohsen Elhais

Position: legal consultant with Al Rowaad Advocates and Legal Consultants.

Day 1 results:

Open Men (bonus points in brackets)
New Zealand 125 (1) beat UAE 111 (3)
India 111 (4) beat Singapore 75 (0)
South Africa 66 (2) beat Sri Lanka 57 (2)
Australia 126 (4) beat Malaysia -16 (0)

Open Women
New Zealand 64 (2) beat South Africa 57 (2)
England 69 (3) beat UAE 63 (1)
Australia 124 (4) beat UAE 23 (0)
New Zealand 74 (2) beat England 55 (2)

Anxiety and work stress major factors

Anxiety, work stress and social isolation are all factors in the recogised rise in mental health problems.

A study UAE Ministry of Health researchers published in the summer also cited struggles with weight and illnesses as major contributors.

Its authors analysed a dozen separate UAE studies between 2007 and 2017. Prevalence was often higher in university students, women and in people on low incomes.

One showed 28 per cent of female students at a Dubai university reported symptoms linked to depression. Another in Al Ain found 22.2 per cent of students had depressive symptoms - five times the global average.

It said the country has made strides to address mental health problems but said: “Our review highlights the overall prevalence of depressive symptoms and depression, which may long have been overlooked."

Prof Samir Al Adawi, of the department of behavioural medicine at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman, who was not involved in the study but is a recognised expert in the Gulf, said how mental health is discussed varies significantly between cultures and nationalities.

“The problem we have in the Gulf is the cross-cultural differences and how people articulate emotional distress," said Prof Al Adawi. 

“Someone will say that I have physical complaints rather than emotional complaints. This is the major problem with any discussion around depression."

Daniel Bardsley

UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FIXTURES

All kick-off times 10.45pm UAE (+4 GMT) unless stated

Tuesday
Sevilla v Maribor
Spartak Moscow v Liverpool
Manchester City v Shakhtar Donetsk
Napoli v Feyenoord
Besiktas v RB Leipzig
Monaco v Porto
Apoel Nicosia v Tottenham Hotspur
Borussia Dortmund v Real Madrid

Wednesday
Basel v Benfica
CSKA Moscow Manchester United
Paris Saint-Germain v Bayern Munich
Anderlecht v Celtic
Qarabag v Roma (8pm)
Atletico Madrid v Chelsea
Juventus v Olympiakos
Sporting Lisbon v Barcelona

'I Want You Back'

Director:Jason Orley

Stars:Jenny Slate, Charlie Day

Rating:4/5

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Revibe
Started: 2022
Founders: Hamza Iraqui and Abdessamad Ben Zakour
Based: UAE
Industry: Refurbished electronics
Funds raised so far: $10m
Investors: Flat6Labs, Resonance and various others

if you go

Getting there

Etihad (Etihad.com), Emirates (emirates.com) and Air France (www.airfrance.com) fly to Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport, from Abu Dhabi and Dubai respectively. Return flights cost from around Dh3,785. It takes about 40 minutes to get from Paris to Compiègne by train, with return tickets costing €19. The Glade of the Armistice is 6.6km east of the railway station.

Staying there

On a handsome, tree-lined street near the Chateau’s park, La Parenthèse du Rond Royal (laparenthesedurondroyal.com) offers spacious b&b accommodation with thoughtful design touches. Lots of natural woods, old fashioned travelling trunks as decoration and multi-nozzle showers are part of the look, while there are free bikes for those who want to cycle to the glade. Prices start at €120 a night.

More information: musee-armistice-14-18.fr ; compiegne-tourisme.fr; uk.france.fr

UAE athletes heading to Paris 2024

Equestrian
Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi, Abdullah Al Marri, Omar Al Marzooqi, Salem Al Suwaidi, and Ali Al Karbi (four to be selected).


Judo
Men: Narmandakh Bayanmunkh (66kg), Nugzari Tatalashvili (81kg), Aram Grigorian (90kg), Dzhafar Kostoev (100kg), Magomedomar Magomedomarov (+100kg); women's Khorloodoi Bishrelt (52kg).


Cycling
Safia Al Sayegh (women's road race).

Swimming
Men: Yousef Rashid Al Matroushi (100m freestyle); women: Maha Abdullah Al Shehi (200m freestyle).

Athletics
Maryam Mohammed Al Farsi (women's 100 metres).

The years Ramadan fell in May

1987

1954

1921

1888

World ranking (at month’s end)
Jan - 257
Feb - 198
Mar - 159
Apr - 161
May - 159
Jun – 162
Currently: 88

Year-end rank since turning pro
2016 - 279
2015 - 185
2014 - 143
2013 - 63
2012 - 384
2011 - 883

Kill

Director: Nikhil Nagesh Bhat

Starring: Lakshya, Tanya Maniktala, Ashish Vidyarthi, Harsh Chhaya, Raghav Juyal

Rating: 4.5/5

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Console: PlayStation 2 to 5
Rating: 5/5

The specs

Engine: 2.2-litre, turbodiesel

Transmission: 6-speed auto

Power: 160hp

Torque: 385Nm

Price: Dh116,900

On sale: now

Indoor cricket in a nutshell

Indoor Cricket World Cup – Sep 16-20, Insportz, Dubai

16 Indoor cricket matches are 16 overs per side

8 There are eight players per team

9 There have been nine Indoor Cricket World Cups for men. Australia have won every one.

5 Five runs are deducted from the score when a wickets falls

4 Batsmen bat in pairs, facing four overs per partnership

Scoring In indoor cricket, runs are scored by way of both physical and bonus runs. Physical runs are scored by both batsmen completing a run from one crease to the other. Bonus runs are scored when the ball hits a net in different zones, but only when at least one physical run is score.

Zones

A Front net, behind the striker and wicketkeeper: 0 runs

B Side nets, between the striker and halfway down the pitch: 1 run

C Side nets between halfway and the bowlers end: 2 runs

D Back net: 4 runs on the bounce, 6 runs on the full

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: SmartCrowd
Started: 2018
Founder: Siddiq Farid and Musfique Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech / PropTech
Initial investment: $650,000
Current number of staff: 35
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Various institutional investors and notable angel investors (500 MENA, Shurooq, Mada, Seedstar, Tricap)

Uefa Nations League

League A:
Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, France, England, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, Iceland, Croatia, Netherlands

League B:
Austria, Wales, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Ukraine, Republic of Ireland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Northern Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Turkey

League C:
Hungary, Romania, Scotland, Slovenia, Greece, Serbia, Albania, Norway, Montenegro, Israel, Bulgaria, Finland, Cyprus, Estonia, Lithuania

League D:
Azerbaijan, Macedonia, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Latvia, Faroe Islands, Luxembourg, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Liechtenstein, Malta, Andorra, Kosovo, San Marino, Gibraltar


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