Thursday, September 06, 2007
Now, be kind. I know the turret is overlarge, but then again, photographed from above it probably seems larger than it is. I pinkie-swear it'll look better by Sunday.
Famed Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti died yesterday after a struggle with pancreatic cancer. He was a larger-than-life remnant of an age in which the opera singer was the most celebrated of entertainers, a combination of rock star and royalty, and a symbol of great national pride and culture. He was a performer of great artistic technique with a specatcularly riveting voice and powerful stage presence.
I had a voice teacher who performed in a production in Austria with the Pav some 25-ish years ago, and I have a tasty bit of gossip I learned then, but I'll save that for another day.
Tenor is the most difficult voice to produce in the classical vocal style, and Pavarotti was a master. See the video below, and really only the first minute is enough. Here he sings the duet from Verdi's ultra-tragic La Forza Del Destino. This opera is a pretty big downer, but whose motif is one of the loveliest in the entire classical canon, in my humble opinion. (This motif was also used to great effect in the French films Jean de Florette and Manon de la Source.)
Pavarotti was a temperamental performer, and while he tested the patience of many others with his demands, he was not so forgiving of people he perceived to be wasting his time. About 10 years ago I read that he'd stormed off stage during a dress rehearsal yelling "Turds!" at the other cast and musicians. That's pretty bold. In an age where few people say what they really mean, I have to admire that on some level.
Anyway, notice Pav is wearing specs and reading from printed music, and it would be natural to think "well, he's sorta phoning it in," but notice what tremendous ease he has with the high tessitura - the way the upper notes seem to float up out of him with no great physical struggle - this is how tenor singing should be done. He was a natural, and regarded as a demigod in his native Italy. With no sacrifice of pearl-like exquisiteness, Pav had the kind of tone that cut right through an orchestra like a giant steelie tearing its way through a field of lowly clay marbles. Loved him for always having the hankie, too.
Judging by Russian Baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky's hair color, I'd say this was about 15 years ago and Pav would have been in his early 60s and his voice might understandably have been in decline. Yet, I hear no effects of aging here. An extraordinary instrument, a brilliant career, and a fascinating reminder of how the sublime and profane can coexist in one person. Bless him.