Juan Diego Flórez always shoots to score

Opera singer

Ailyn Perez (Marc Brenner)

Just as the crowd vibrates during a perfectly executed overhead kick in football, the audience explodes when Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez delivers the salvo of high Cs that are the climax of Donizetti’s opera. Daughter of the Regiment. The difference is that overhead kicks rarely end up in the net; Flórez consistently scores.

He’s been doing it for years but the voices change over time and Flórez is now nearly 50 years old. Still in his prime, he began to tackle repertoire that required a darker, heavier voice, starting with the role of Rodolfo, the “hero” tenor in Puccini Bohemian. Now he’s brought it to London for this revival of Richard Jones’ 2017 production of the opera.

When the staging was last seen, in 2021, Covid restrictions reduced its size in every way. No such problem now, full commotion has been restored. In Stewart Laing’s beautiful, sometimes authoritative drawings, the singers, facing the audience, often seem distant from each other. We are in a version of 19th century Paris that Puccini could have recognized, yet Flórez is wearing a 20th century jacket. The frigid attic where four male students would struggle to survive looks like a smart loft conversion, while the cafe they visit in Act Two is downright chic, all starched tablecloths and wingtip collars.

Andrey Zhilikhovsky as Marcello with Juan Diego Flórez as Rodolfo (Marc Brenner)

Andrey Zhilikhovsky as Marcello with Juan Diego Flórez as Rodolfo (Marc Brenner)

Yet the emotional impact lives on, especially in the opening scene: no sooner has the curtain risen than Puccini launches his tenor Rodolfo (Flórez) and his soprano Mimì (Ailyn Pérez) into their signature arias. It’s either Puccini’s dramatic move or a misstep; on this point my opinion is divided. Flórez does well, combining restraint and caressing warmth, even if he is not the most natural actor. Elsewhere, when he lets rip, his voice can take on a harsh edge.

In Mimì de Pérez, he has the perfect foil. His voice is clear and clean, full of feeling throughout its range. Although the rest of the cast sings, they are overshadowed, aside from Musetta, the stereotypical pie with a heart, played with a mixture of cheerful panache and empathy by Danielle de Niese. She’s that rare thing, an opera singer who acts just as well with her face as she does with her voice. It is his detailed characterization that emphasizes the final, anguished scene so that it carries all the emotional weight: as Mimì dies, Flórez’s last cry rings out in pain because of what he has lost.

This performance was conducted by Kevin John Edusei, making an impressive Royal Opera debut. There are 16 additional performances, shared between four casts and three conductors. The rehearsal room is going to be pretty busy.

Royal Opera House, until November 17; roh.org.uk