IT’S A LONG TIME since Italy, the country that invented opera produced the most important singers. Today’s stars are increasingly coming from far-flung countries, not least in Africa and Asia, but South America has always been a rich source of tenor talent.


Are these South America's greatest tenors?

At the top of this pantheon must be Ramón Vinay (1911-96), the Chilean who enjoyed fame above all as a powerful interpreter of Verdi’s Otello. Two of the most elegant tenors to have come from the continent crop up in Flórez’s conversation, both also born in Lima, and both paving the way for him with their success in Italy.

Luigi Alva (b1927) was the outstanding bel canto tenor of his generation, who stuck to a narrow range of roles to preserve his purity of tone; almost a generation later, Ernesto Palacio (b1946) followed a similar path, excelling in Rossini and Mozart, and has since guided Flórez’s career.

With one notable exception (Santiago’s Teatro Municipal), most of South America’s theatres are too unstable to nurture major careers, and so the big names are familiar to audiences in Europe and North America. Argentina’s José Cura and Marcelo Álvarez are among the most prominent of these, though one should not overlook the powerful Dario Volonté, one of the survivors of the sunk warship General Belgrano.

One tenor who scuppered his own career is the Chilean Tito Beltrán, now making appearances following a spell in prison. Other names to listen out for include Luciano Botelho (Brazil), Dario Schmunk (Argentina) and Aquiles Machado (Venezuela). And while he has concentrated on a career in Buenos Aires and La Plata, Enrique Folger is worth hearing if you’re lucky enough to visit that part of the world.


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