Remembering Luciano Pavarotti: The Seminal Voice Of Our Generation, Unparalleled.

The past week has brought a series of difficult moments in both opera and sports.  The NHL lost former Toronto Maple Leaf, Wade Belak, and now an entire Russian team tragically lost their lives in a senseless plane crash.  In opera, many hearts were torn at the news of the young tenor, Salvatore Licitra, at only 43, losing his life after a tragic accident and possible aneurysm.  So many losses surrounding a time in which people around the world are preparing themselves emotionally for the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  But amidst these high profile tragedies and losses, I chose to remember another artist who passed away four years ago.  His voice brought peace and joy, light and beauty to many millions of people, and so it seems appropriate to remember Luciano Pavarotti as the great beacon of light, even in a time of loss, one that was perhaps extinguished as a human life but continues to glow strongly for those of us who adored him.

The Best

Might a voice like his re-surface in some young singer? Maybe, but there is also the bleak possibility that we may never hear another voice like his again Although some tenors today have been said to have “high notes that resemble those of Pavarotti,” perhaps we might actually recall what it sounded like when Signor Pavarotti rang those high notes into the sipario’s stratosphere and beyond.  For whatever reason, and I unfortunately never had the pleasure of meeting him in person, I feel the need to protect his legacy and retain the truth about the unique quality of this man’s voice and his pure Bel Canto artistry.  There remain only a couple of living artists who exhibit this type of singing and who remain fervent in their tradition rather than cater to the mishmash of imprecise fach distrubution that has become commonplace in opera houses.  Pavarotti possessed the seminal voice of our generation, unparalleled.

From the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians:

He studied in Modena with Pola and in Mantua with Campogalliani, making his début in 1961 at Reggio nell’Emilia as Rodolfo (La bohème) and quickly making an impression for his eloquent lyrical singing. In 1963 he sang Edgardo (Lucia) in Amsterdam and made his Covent Garden début as Rodolfo, returning as Alfredo, Elvino, Tonio (Fille du régiment), Gustavus III, Cavaradossi, Rodolfo (Luisa Miller), Radames and Nemorino (1990). In 1964 he sang Idamantes at Glyndebourne; in 1965 he made his American début at Miami, toured Australia with the Sutherland-Williams company, as Edgardo, and made his La Scala début as Rodolfo, returning for the Duke, Bellini’s Tebaldo and Massenet’s Des Grieux. At La Scala he also sang in a remarkable performance of Verdi’s Requiem to mark the centenary of Toscanini’s birth. He first sang at San Francisco in 1967 as Rodolfo, and the following year made his Metropolitan début, again as Rodolfo, later singing Manrico, Fernand (La favorite), Ernani, Cavaradossi, Idomeneus, Arturo (I puritani), Radames, Rodolfo (Luisa Miller, 1991) and the Italian Singer (Der Rosenkavalier).

Pavarotti had a bright, incisive tenor with a typically free, open, Italianate production and penetrating high notes. He made it a practice never to sing beyond his own means; even when he tackled more dramatic roles such as Otello late in his career he never forced his fundamentally lyric tenor. Above all he had a directness of manner that went straight to his listeners’ hearts. His voice and style were ideally suited to Donizetti, the early and middle-period works of Verdi (he was particularly admired as Alfredo and Gustavus III) and to Puccini’s Rodolfo and Cavaradossi. His impassioned singing of Calaf’s ‘Nessun dorma’ (Turandot) turned the aria into a bestseller, though in this role and some of the other heavier parts he essayed he arguably lacked the true spintopower.

Pavarotti’s art is liberally preserved on disc and video, which give a true reflection of his voice and personality: no opera singer understood better than he the new power of the media. He recorded most of his major roles, some of them twice, and was one of the ‘Three Tenors’ combination (with Domingo and Carreras) of the 1990s that brought opera to an unprecedentedly wide public. His genial looks and generous, outgoing personality were ideally suited to that kind of phenomenon; indeed, it might well have not existed without his enthusiastic participation. Despite his enormous popular acclaim, Pavarotti was anxious to preserve his reputation as a serious artist, and his voice retained much of its colour and vibrancy into his 60s. In 1999 he sang Cavaradossi at the Metropolitan, followed in 2001 by Radames, although by then the tone production had become noticeably more effortful. His last opera performance was Cavarodossi at the Metropolitan in 2004, and he retired, following a farewell tour, in 2005.

Alan Blythe/Stanley Sadie/R

About tenors, Signor Pavarotti said the following:

There is always tremendous pressure on a tenor to expand his repertoire, to take on new roles. Often this pressure comes from the people who like your singing the most.  They want to hear you in all of their favourite roles.  Others try to push you to your limits.  If you can sing “Aida,” they say, let’s hear you in “Il Trovatore.” Okay, now you’ve done “Trovatore,” how about “Otello?” They want to keep pushing you until you are singing Wagner–or until you destroy your voice […] There is a natural process in which a tenor’s voice becomes darker as he grows older.  Singing the more dramatic roles that require a darker voice will help push the voice down, help make it darker.  But once you have altered the voice in this way, there is a danger the voice might not go back up.  If you sing “Otello,” you may be saying good-bye to “I Puritani.” But maybe you have already said good-bye to “Puritani.” It works both ways.”  

From “Pavarotti: My World” by Luciano Pavarotti and William Write,” 291.

Of all the rewards, making other people happy is the best.  After my Central Park concert in 1993 the New York Times wrote that all of the 500,000 people who saw the concert had forgotten their problems by the time they left the park.  Maybe for only a short time they were happy.  No one can imagine how happy this makes me.” (Pavarotti/Wright, 290).

And you cannot imagine how happy you have continued to make us, Maestro Pavarotti.  Your memory and legacy will never be forgotten as long as there are voices and as long as opera continues to withstand the test of time, we remain devoted and in your humblest service as musicians, historians, and opera lovers.  From the world over, vi ringraziamo carissimo e gentile Signore.

©Mary-Lou Vetere, 2011

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