Just in time for the holidays, Juan Diego Flórez releases the de rigueur Christmas album every internationally renowned opera star seems to make.  Entitled Santo, this CD, like most others of its ilk, is pleasantly entertaining.  However, Flórez eschews a straight Christmas album for one composed of a mix of religious standards, carols and eclectic rarities. 

Traditional carols are represented by “Cantique de Noël”, by Adolphe Charles Adam and “Adeste Fideles.”  The former is sung in French and English, while the latter comes with a verse each in Latin, German and English.  For the third verse, Flórez supplies the traditional descant more frequently heard on any one of the stable of soprano Christmas albums.

Messiah is also represented by the opening tenor recitativo and aria “Comfort ye – Ev’ry valley.”  Rounding out the traditional religious offerings, there is also Franck’s Panis Angelicus, “Alleluia (Plaudite, sonat tuba)” by Fux, the Shubert “Ave Maria” and “Mit Würd’ und Hoheit angetan” from Die Schöpfung.

Flórez also includes a few unusual choices, though not particularly associated with Christmas, are in keeping with the CD’s title.  As he is considered one of the leading Rossini tenors of our time, it is not surprising to see Rossini represented thrice:  “Domini Deus” from the Petite Messe solennelle, and “Qui tollis” and “Gratias agimus tibi”, both from the more rarely heard Messa di Gloria.  Bellini also makes a cameo appearance with the “Qui sedes” from the Mass in a minor.

Finally, in keeping with Flórez’s heritage, the CD includes some South American choices: “Kyrie” from Missa criolla by the Argentinian composer Ariel Ramíerz (1921-2001), and “Santos”, a work composed by Flórez himself.  This piece, and the Ramírez “Kyrie”, are heavily influenced by South American rhythms and percussion.

Both are lovely, if not particularly memorable, and as a composer, Flórez knows how to capture the musical flavors of this native Peru.  The Ramírez does have an hypnotic chant-like quality to it, the melody floating over some subdued percussion (bongos, I think).  The piece is most chorus until the last third, when Flórez joins in with some lovely, subdued singing.

In fact, throughout the album, Flórez sings beautifully.   None of these pieces are particularly challenging vocally and he carries them off with ease.  He throws in some tasteful high notes where appropriate, adds effective ornamentation in the Händel and breezes through the Rossini pieces.

Flórez has a smallish voice with some particularly ringing high harmonics that allow him to cut through an opera orchestra, but here sounds a bit overpowered during the traditionally orchestrated “Adeste Fideles” when both the orchestra and chorus get going in the third voice.  The top notes of the descant ring out, but as he drops into this midrange, his voice fades into the background.  I’ve always liked the sonority and clarity of his tone, but find his vocal production a little on the nasal side, and that’s the case here.