Luciano Pavarotti 1935-2007

I had come home from school one day in 1973 and as was my habit (even at that young age) I turned on the late, lamented WTMI, our classical music station here in Miami, to listen to the afternoon program with Alan Corbett. I guess I nodded off because as I woke around the five o’clock hour I heard an amazing voice that held me in a spell until the piece finished. Later I discovered that what I had heard that day, the day my love of opera was born, was an aria from La Boheme (“Che gelidda manina”) sung by a tenor that would dominate opera for over three decades. That voice, that amazing voice, belonged to Luciano Pavarotti. Pavarotti died today at the age of 71 from cancer.

I own two of the greatest opera recordings ever made, featuring his voice: La Boheme, recorded in the early seventies, and Madama Butterfly, recorded a decade later. No one has captured the essence of the music, the characterization via voice, of the roles of Rodolfo and Pinkerton quite like Pavarotti. He was a seminal tenor. His presence in opera, concerts and recitals was so ubiquitous that he almost single-handedly brought opera back into the mainstream of American and world culture. Of the many roles he sang throughout a long (too long) career I would say that he made whatever he sang in Puccini or Donizetti (and a lot of Verdi) his own. Only Placido Domingo, a different type of tenor, was his peer.

In later years, I questioned his choice of projects — the execrable “Three Tenors,” his duet albums, the song albums he did with “celebrity” singers. I called him a hack for abandoning his art in search of more and more lucre. I may have been too idealistic, but I stand by my statements. His voice, already failing 15 years ago, was a shadow of its former glory; he should have ridden off into the sunset as the greatest tenor of the last half of the twentieth century, but he did not. These less than optimal offerings will be a sad part of his legacy. But those recordings I still own, and the live performances I saw here in Miami, will always give me pause that I once saw one of the world’s greatest tenors at the height of his art.

Thank you, maestro. Rest in peace.


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6 thoughts on “Luciano Pavarotti 1935-2007”

  1. I think today we should put all our objections of him aside. His voice and musical career is what counts the most and he’ll be missed a lot like Enrico Caruso, Maria Callas and even non-opera singers like Frank Sinatra.

  2. I understand, Stefania. But I would have been less than honest if I had not written about my disappointment in his art in the 90s, and gimmick albums he produced with Bono, and all the “celebrities” he wanted to work with. Domingo is guilty of that, too. I am a pain-in-the-ass purist when it comes to classical music. That said, I have many opera recordings with Pavarotti that will always be for me the definitive tenor performance.

  3. It’s very hard to resist having it both ways when it seems you can pull it off. Obviously, the record companies had a hand in his unwise choices because they figured the stuff would sell, which I suppose it did. I expect he wasn’t primarily motivated by the money but rather by winning over a bigger public and achieving greater celebrity and fame. He obviously loved the attention, a trait firmly associated with star tenors throughout history.

  4. I dunno George, someone recently emailed me a YouTube with him performing “New York” with Liza Minelli. It presented him in a whole new light, and one he clearly enjoyed. Just because he´s a great opera talent, why shouldn´t he do other work if he so chooses. Also, because of the ¨Three Tenors¨ how many thousands of people now appreciate opera thanks to them? Yes, you are a pain-in-the-ass purist, but we love you anyway.

    Pssst–Don’t tell me you don’t sometimes dream of chucking computers.

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