Initially intending to pursue a career in popular music, he entered the Conservatorio Nacional de Música in Lima at the age of 17. His classical voice emerged in the course of his studies there under Maestro Andrés Santa María. During this time, he became a member of the Coro Nacional of Peru and sang as a soloist in Mozart's “Coronation Mass” and Rossini's “Petite Messe Solennelle”.
He received a scholarship to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia where he studied from 1993 to 1996 and began singing in student opera productions in the repertory which is still his specialty today, Rossini and the Bel Canto operas of Bellini and Donizetti. During this period, he also studied with Marilyn Horne at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara. In 1994 the Peruvian tenor, Ernesto Palacio invited him to Italy to work on a recording of Vicente Martín y Soler's opera “Il Tutore Burlato”. He subsequently became Flórez's teacher, mentor and manager and has had a profound influence on his career.
Flórez's first big breakthrough and professional debut came at the Rossini Festival in 1996. At the age of 23, he stepped in to take the leading tenor role in “Matilde di Shabran” when Bruce Ford became ill. He made his debut at La Scala in the same year as the Chevalier danois in Gluck's Armide. His Covent Garden debut followed in 1997 where he sang the role of Count Potoski in the world premiere of Donizetti's “Elisabetta”. Debuts followed at the Vienna Staatsoper in 1999 as Count Almaviva in “Il barbiere di Siviglia” and at the New York Metropolitan Opera in 2002, again as Count Almaviva. On February 20, 2007, the opening night of Donizetti's “La Fille du régiment” at La Scala, Flórez broke the theater's 74 year old tradition of no encores when he reprised "Ah! mes amis" with its nine high Cs following an "overwhelming" ovation from the audience.
Flórez is also active on the concert stages of Europe, North America, and South America. Amongst the many venues in which he has given concerts and recitals are the Wigmore Hall in London, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall in New York, the Palau de la Música in Barcelona and the Mozarteum in Salzburg. In a departure from his usual repertoire, he sang 'You'll never walk alone' from the Broadway musical, Carousel, at the Berlin Live 8 concert in 2005.
He was signed by Decca in 2001 and since then has released five solo recital CDs on the Decca label: Rossini Arias which won the 2003 Cannes Classical Award; Una furtiva lagrima, which won the 2004 Cannes Classical Award; Great Tenor Arias which won the 2005 Echo Klassik award for the best arias and duets recital; Sentimiento Latino; and most recently, Arias for Rubini. In addition to his official discography, almost all his professionally performed roles have been preserved in radio broadcasts, and many also by television.
Juan Diego Flórez has been recognized by his native country with several awards and distinctions. In May 2004, he received the Orden al Mérito Cultural de Lima, from the Mayor of Lima; the Orden al Mérito por servios distinguidos en el grado de Gran Cruz from President Alejandro Toledo; and was named an Honorary Professor of San Martín de Porres University. On November 29th of that year, he appeared on the 2 sol stamp, part of a series of five stamps honouring contemporary Peruvian musicians. On June 4, 2007, he received his country's highest honor, the Gran Cruz de la Orden El Sol del Perú, from President Alan García.
From the classical music world he has received the Premio Abbiati 2000 (awarded by Italian critics for the best singer of the year); the Rossini d'oro; the Bellini d'oro; the Premio Aureliano Pertile; the Tamagno Prize; and the L'Opera award (Migliore Tenore) for his 2001 performance in “La Sonnambula” at La Scala.
Flórez is the possessor of a light lyric tenor voice of exceptional beauty which, while not of great size, is nevertheless audible in even the largest houses due to its unusual harmonic structure. Its compass is two octaves, up to and including the high D natural, the higher part of its range being particularly strong and brilliant, with almost no sense of effort, while the lowest notes are comparatively weak. The head and chest registers are perfectly integrated, with no audible break in the passaggio. His breath control is impeccable, allowing the longest phrases to be sustained with apparent ease. The ornaments of bel canto, including the trill, are well executed, and stylistic errors such as intrusive aspirates generally eschewed. Perhaps the most distinctive technical accomplishment is the singer's total mastery of coloratura to a degree probably not matched by any other tenor who has recorded, and to be heard to best effect in his Idreno (“Semiramide”) and Corradino (“Matilde di Shabran”).