Atlantis Alumni

Thursday, September 6, 2007

More on the Great Pavarotti

It was a great privilege to appear, as a supernumerary, with Luciano Pavarotti
in two operas: La Boheme (which Jim mentioned in his post) and Tosca. The La Boheme
was performed by the Opera Company of Philadelphia. The unique Italo-American composer and director Gian Carlo Menotti put the cast through their paces before Pavarotti arrived for rehearsals. He told us all that he would not stay once the tenor arrived and he grimaced with exaggerated horror at the thought of sharing directions with the big man. On stage in the second act, as part of the crowd near the Cafe Momus, I was drawing, an artist lost at the back of the crowd. Since I'm a painter, I was actually sketching members of the chorus, and one woman asked Pavarotti to autograph my sketch of her, which he kindly did.

During Tosca at the Mann Music Center, a touring production of the Metropolitan Opera, I was a super during the amazing choral "Te Deum" that ends the first act. It was an unbelievable thrill to hear that great choral music surround one totally, as much as hearing Pavarotti's voice from the wings. After the performance the tenor kindly signed photographs for members of the cast and others who visited him backstage.

I was also lucky enough to see Pavarotti in several operas in both Philadelphia and New York. He was unique in La Fille du Regiment, his nine high Cs pinging out with a surprising accuracy. He was the most Italianate of tenors in L'Elisir d'Amore, Luisa Miller, La Favorita, Un Ballo in Maschera and the Puccini works previously mentioned.

Though many of the points Anthony Tomassini wrote in his evaluation of the great tenor today in the New York Times were on target, I disagree with two. Tomassini claimed that Pavarotti never reached his full potential. I believe that he used his glorious lyric tenor to the best of his ability and his superb musicianship was evident in most of his performances. Yes, Pavarotti had a fairly small repetoire, but better that than trying to sing roles that were inappropriate for his honeyed voice or his limited acting abilities. I also disagree with Tomassini that it was a fine experience to see Pavarotti in Andrea Chenier. By the time he assumed that role, his career was on the decline, and it was a sad spectacle to hear him struggle with the high notes he could no longer summon in the last act.

It's best to remember Luciano Pavarotti at his peak, when he was the equal to such great singers as Gigli, Caruso, Schipa, Bjorling and the young Di Stefano. Addio, dear Luciano, and mille grazie for having put so much of your heart into your stage appearances, concerts and recordings.


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