Claudio Abbado, Rusalka, and more on the Weight/Voice issue


Maestro Claudio Abbado (1933-2014)

The most significant event in recent days was the unfortunate passing of Maestro Claudio Abbado at 80 years of age, after a lengthy illness.  Known for his devotion to Italian Opera, opera fans and music fans are devastated over the loss of this enigmatic, giving, and very special man.  The following is his full obituary from The Guardian:

Claudio Abbado, who has died aged 80, was not only among the greatest of conductors; in his last decade, after suffering from very severe illness, he raised a superband of players all gathered together for his sake, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, to heights that many listeners have never experienced in other orchestral concerts. A recording producer defined his special gift as a sense of “absolute pulse” – more precisely, an unerring sense of the right and natural tempo relations in a piece that could give shape and meaning even to the most seemingly amorphous of works, and within that a supple life to the individual musical phrases that no contemporary has equalled. He also rejected what he called the “ghettoisation” of music and refused to make a special case for “modern” music as a thing apart: he was as ardent a champion of many living composers as of Brahms or Debussy.
Reserved and economical of gesture in rehearsal, frequently inspirational in performance, he regarded conversation about his profession as a poor means of communicating about the act of music-making. He was surely right; his achievements at the head of the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic orchestras, which elect their chief conductors, and then of the Lucerne ensemble speak for themselves.

He was born into a musical family in Milan. His mother, Maria, gave him his first piano lessons when he was eight years old; his father, Michelangelo, was a violinist and teacher at the city’s Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory, where Claudio followed his older brother Marcello, now a distinguished pianist and composer, as a student of piano, conducting and composition. Graduating from the conservatory in 1955, he spent the next summer at the masterclasses of Siena’s Accademia Chigiana. There another promising student, Zubin Mehta, recommended him to his teacher at the Vienna Music Academy, Hans Swarowsky, whose mathematical approach Abbado was later to value for laying firm foundations and freeing him to concentrate on interpretation.
Abbado also benefited from the more general lessons of great masters in Vienna. In Milan, he had seen Furtwängler and Toscanini conduct; now he and Mehta joined the bass section of the Vienna Singverein exclusively to learn from the technique of Herbert von Karajan. In 1958, the year of his graduation from the academy, he travelled to Tanglewood in the US to participate in the Koussevitzky prize competition andon his own admission was astonished to come first.
Success, however, was still not immediate; after making his operatic debut that same year conducting Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges in Trieste and a first appearance at the Milan’s Piccolo Scala in a concert in 1960 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of Alessandro Scarlatti, he turned to teaching – partly to support his new wife, Giovanna Cavazzoni, and their two children, Daniele and Alessandra. As the post was to take charge of chamber music at the Parma Conservatoire, he learned invaluable lessons about listening to other musicians and lost no time in familiarising his Italian students with scores by Schoenberg, Bartók and Stravinsky.
Then, in 1963, he returned to America for another competition given in the name of Dimitri Mitropoulos; this time, he later declared, he conducted badly, the award of (joint) first prize was wrong and the whole experience revealed the iniquities of the competition system.
The real turning point came not with his subsequent appearance with the New York Philharmonic but two years later, when at Karajan’s invitation he chose to perform Mahler’s Second (Resurrection) Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic at the Salzburg Festival.
The large-scale late romantic symphony was to become one of the pillars on which his reputation was established, and launched his last Mahler series in Lucerne; two others followed in the shape of a contemporary opera – Giacomo Manzoni’s Nuclear Death – and Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi, both of which he subsequently conducted at La Scala. Milan was not slow to offer him the post of principal conductor there, which he took up in 1968; the titles of music director and artistic director followed in 1972 and 1976 respectively.
Strengthening the backbone of the Scala orchestra with an injection of non-Italian players, he encouraged it to look beyond the confines of Italian opera to the wider symphonic repertoire and even to chamber music. Even so, he never lost sight of its essential Italianate singing quality and refused to record Verdi with any other orchestra – a conviction to which his 1977 recording of Simon Boccanegra is perhaps the finest testament. At the same time, other opera houses were to benefit from his supremely flexible Verdi conducting; he made his debut at London’s Royal Opera in 1968 with Don Carlos.
Establishment infighting took its toll on the conscientious and introspective Abbado; he resigned several times in the 1970s when La Scala politics threatened to overwhelm him. A shorter course in opera-house politics came in 1991 when he gave up his two-year post as music director of the notoriously difficult Vienna State Opera on grounds of ill-health (though he continued to serve as artistic consultant). Yet his achievements here, too, were outstanding – above all new productions of Mussorgsky’s Khovansh- china and Berg’s Wozzeck, both recorded for posterity – and his relationship with the Vienna Philharmonic, which also serves as the opera’s orchestra, had been well established since 1971.
Three collaborations with younger ensembles brought out the best in Abbado, as they were to do in Lucerne when he conducted the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. He united the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and an outstanding roster of international singers in Rossini’s effervescent but then-neglected Il Viaggio a Reims at the 1985 Pesaro festival; the resultant recording proved a bestseller and remains a desert-island set for many opera lovers. When he took over as music director of the European Community Youth Orchestra in 1977, the astonishing results they achieved together came from a training and dedication few other international conductors would be willing to offer. The orchestra’s organiser, Joy Bryer, has spoken about his concern for the individual welfare of the young players and his tireless attempts to help them in their careers after their time in the ECYO. In 1986 he established another ensemble for whom no allowances of age and inexperience ever needed to be made, the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra; their Mahler Fourth and Ninth Symphony performances are, happily, preserved on DVD.
Abbado would have been the first to place his concerts with the ECYO as equal in importance to his long-term work with three major orchestras. In 1979 he celebrated his appointment as principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra with a typically electrifying concert of Brian Ferneyhough, Brahms – the First Piano Concerto, with his long-term concerto partner Maurizio Pollini – and Tchaikovsky, to whose symphonies he always brought a bel canto beauty of line. His programmes in the orchestra’s Mahler, Vienna and the Twentieth Century series were both eclectic and logical; on one evening, the Adagio from the Tenth Symphony and Debussy’s Nocturnes shared an elusive tonal incandescence that will never be forgotten by those who heard it.
Even so, the Vienna Philharmonic remained Abbado’s ideal instrument for Mahler, and in 1990 he moved on to the greatest challenge of his careerr at that time – moulding the life of the Berlin Philharmonic after the Karajan years. On the face of it, the changes in Berlin were obvious – to extend the orchestra’s repertoire beyond the late romantic core which had been Karajan’s element. Although Abbado would voice his reservations about visiting conductors who expected to shine in the standard works for which the orchestra had become famous rather than to challenge audiences with anything new, he was in a unique position to do both. His intensive work with promising musicians continued in the Berlin Encounters concerts of the annual Berlin festival, created in conjunction with the cellist Natalia Gutman – who later, and surely uniquely for the finest of soloists, played in his Lucerne orchestra – to bring together young instrumentalists with established professionals.
Musical life in Berlin was not always plain sailing; Abbado was wounded, as ever, by critical campaigns against his integrity and his work with the orchestra. There was sometimes a feeling in his later performances and recordings that the old, familiar sense of challenge had gone gentle; his Mahler Eighth Symphony in Berlin, for example, proved a surprisingly soft-grained conclusion to a Mahler cycle on disc that had begun with a far greater sense of dynamism (it was the only Mahler symphony he would later fail to conduct in Lucerne, where an advertised performance was pulled and replaced by the Mozart Requiem). On the other hand, the Brahms Third Symphony that he brought to London with his orchestra in 1998 still revealed a masterly control of ebb and flow in a work which Abbado had always regarded as one of the most difficult to conduct from the technical point of view. His turning back to Beethoven at the end of a musically rich career was characteristic of the way he was able to blend a self-renewing personal vision of familiar music with a close examination of textual scholarship (in this case Jonathan Del Mar’s painstaking edition of the symphonies).
After radical treatment for cancer, Abbado took on a new lease of life by recreating the ideals of a Festival Orchestra in Lucerne in 2003. Not only did this usually laconic figure speak eloquently about how music had given him a burning will to live and how he felt his approach had now deepened; the players he gathered around him raised the whole notion of orchestral solidarity, at a time when the structure was coming under question, to a whole new level.
There were string quartets starting with the Hagen Quartet, top players from the Berlin Philharmonic and other world orchestras and a core of the youth he valued so much in the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. When I met the MCO conductor Daniel Harding at the 2005 festival, he described the big orchestral collaboration as resulting in “not so much a concert as a love-in”, treasuring its uniqueness while questioning whether such a situation could possibly last.
It did, through to a Mahler Ninth in 2010 which I cannot be alone in unhesitatingly naming the greatest concert that I have ever heard. There were also a concert Fidelio, and a Bruckner Fifth which the ensemble brought to London in 2011. Sadly, Abbado was too ill to conduct further concerts planned in London. I count myself lucky to have seen a collaboration between the Orchestra Mozart and the Orchestra of Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, where Abbado wrought supernatural magic in Tchaikovsky’s The Tempest and was warmly embraced at the end by president Giorgio Napolitano. It came as no surprise when last August Napolitano appointed him senator for life.
Abbado’s breadth of interests and curiosity remained a constant: a start had been made on planting the 90,000 magnolias that he suggested for Milan in 2008; later, deeply impressed by Michael Haneke’s film The White Ribbon, he earmarked him as the ideal collaborator for a putative production of Berg’s Wozzeck.
The awards and honours garnered throughout the conductor’s life would be as impossible to list as the number of truly outstanding performances with orchestras and opera companies throughout the world. What remains are the films and the discs, equalling in their mastery and outshining in their breadth those of his equals, Furtwängler and Toscanini.
Abbado’s first marriage ended in divorce. He is survived by his second wife, Gabriella Cantalupi, and their son, Sebastiano; by Daniele and Alessandra; by Misha, his son with the violinist Viktoria Mullova; and by his brothers, Marcello and Gabriele, and his sister, Luciana.
• Claudio Abbado, conductor, born 26 June 1933; died 20 January 2014

Rusalka at the Met

With exciting news that Ms. Fleming is set to sing the American National Anthem at the upcoming Super Bowl, reviews for her Rusalka at the Met were mixed.  Here are a few reviews, but of course, go to the opera house and judge for yourself.  Unquestionably, Ms. Fleming has one of the  more “pretty” voices in opera but interestingly, she is having some difficulties which I think are less due to ability and more to the fact that she is singing less.  She’s frankly not old enough to be singing less but it is all about what you let people tell you…in the Golden Age of singing, singers sang until they were 70 and those techniques seemed to last just fine. I’m not sure I understand this newfound “youth age” of opera.  I’d so much rather see a seasoned performer who has been on the stage for years perform opera, rather than the “let’s find the next best thing” attitude that seems to be permeating the art form today.  It’s one thing to look for talent, but another entirely to dismiss singers whose voices work just fine because they’re (gasp) middle aged!  I mean seriously!

Zachary Woolfe’s Review (The New York Times)

Wilborn Hampton (The Huffington Post)

Anne Midgette on Fleming at the Super Bowl (The Washington Post)

Weight/Voice? What is Opera really about?

The following article appeared in the London Telegraph today and really infuriated me and will likely infuriate many opera supporters and aficionados of the authentic art.

Danielle De Niese: New generation of opera stars to combat ‘fat lady sings’ parody (Hannah Furness)

First of all, the photo accompanying this article is laughable.  Is THAT what we’re going to see at the opera?  There are a few strip clubs in my home town or a few shows in gay Paris that would offer the same view without the singing.  Geez!  If we’re supposed to be seeing this, then why on earth didn’t Renata Tebaldi, Renata Scotto, Leontyne Price, Kiri Te Kanawa (who is mentioned in the article), Tatiana Troyanos, Teresa Stratas, Claudia Muzio, Rosa Ponselle, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Christa Ludwig….do you want me to go on?….dress like this on-stage.  Lord knows half the world would have killed to see that!  I mean really!  Is that what we are combating ‘the fat lady sings’ with?!!

There is no question, opera is about singing, about voices, or at least it ought to be….frankly, I don’t think anyone has gone to the opera to see someone’s face but to hear their voice and to be touched by it, to be pierced by the live human instrument, to be affected by the story, to exist in a world “other” than our own for a little while before returning to the often heavy reality of our lives.  When Birgit Nilsson sang, you didn’t go to see her face or to see her parade around in her skivvies, you went and you barely breathed as that voice began its ascent into the stratosphere…what she did with sheer human power and a God-given gift was what caused the sensation.  You would attend to hear Price, whose face was glorious I might add, begin her regal floating, spinning lines of gold thread and everything stood still.  These women weren’t waifs and their intension was never to parade around in a corset!!  I think if they had been asked to in this day and age, they wouldn’t have even sung because so many things are becoming disrespectful to an art that has long existed as a vocation and an obligation, not a social party to look at pretty girls and see who can get more naked on stage (I think Catharine Malfitano wins that award for her portrayal of Strauss’ Salome, in which she stripped down to the nude during the dance of the seven veils….mind you, she was a fabulous Salome vocally so her nakedness on stage wasn’t to detract from the fact that she couldn’t sing.  It was done in a dramatic impetus).

Weight, by the way, has NOTHING to do with technique.  If you know how to sing, you can sing well heavy and you can sing well thin, or in between.  There is so much being placed on this issue today that it disgusts me, and you know what the long and short of it is:  the argument is only coming from singers (and directors, casting and otherwise) who seem obsessed with worry that the fat lady is going to come and blow them off the stage because they can sing better.  1. That is not the case because you “should” be able to sing just as well thin; 2. I kind of hope she does come and blow you off the stage!!!  GROW UP!!!  WHY ARE WE DISCUSSING THIS!!!?

Opera should be about music, about stories, about drama, about VOICES.  If we wanted to hear an opera without voices we’d go to the symphony.  We go to the opera to hear VOICES!  The show of skin and the display of sex on stage nowadays does nothing except to detract the audience from what they’re really there to see.  I wonder how people would react to Maria Callas today?  Do you think she’d agree to pose in that picture that Ms. De Niese is in?  I think not!  In recent days, I had the pleasure of being in the company of one of opera’s most important and highly respected impresarios, and one of the most brilliant men about singing.  I was wide eyed like a little girl as he recounted how he and his group of aficionadi used to stand outside at the Met smoking and then would run up the stairs to hear Renata Tebaldi or Franco Corelli sing their scene, and when they were done, they’d travel back downstairs to discuss the event and smoke some more (Needless to say, this group would’ve been the pride and joy of someone like Arrigo Boito who felt that smoking was a matter of intelligencia!).  I thought about what he said a lot.  I thought about how that could happen in this day and age. Was there the possibility of a singer who would cause the aficionadi to run into the theatre and only when they sang….perhaps now they’d be running into see Anna Netrebko in her bathing suit on her terrace in the middle of a snowstorm (not kidding…true story…check the internet and no I will not post).

Some food for thought on this brisk Sunday morning.  Grab a cup of coffee and maybe put on an old recording of Price or Nilsson, or Schwarzkopf…even Flagstadt…if you’re lucky Tebaldi or Muzio….and go listen to a voice…naked in its own glory and true to the art of opera.

Happy Sunday everyone!



Six Years Gone and Still His Voice Gleams Brilliant: In Tribute to Luciano Pavarotti

By Dr. Mary-Lou Vetere

Pavarotti End

The Greatest

His voice is unmistakable, individual, a ray of sunshine that gleams brighter even on the sunniest day, a thread of gold that blessed our lives for the limited time he was here.  Six years ago, the radio suddenly stopped its regular program and his voice began playing over the airwaves.  Who would have known the next information would be that this voice would now remain silent.  Luciano Pavarotti was simply the most beautiful voice in the world and then…in a fleeting moment, it was over.  What remains is a gaping hole that is meagrely filled by recordings and videos, pictures, and memories of those who heard and saw him live, but these things can never capture the larger-than-life essence that was this man.

Young Luciano 1

Young and handsome

Luciano Pavarotti was born in 1935 on the outskirts of Modena in Northern Italy, the son of Fernando Pavarotti, a baker and amateur tenor, and Adele Venturi, a cigar factory worker. Although he spoke fondly of his childhood, the family had little money; its four members were crowded into a two-room apartment. According to Pavarotti, his father had a fine tenor voice but rejected the possibility of a singing career because of nervousness. World War II forced the family out of the city in 1943. For the following year they rented a single room from a farmer in the neighbouring countryside, where the young Pavarotti developed an interest in farming.

After abandoning the dream of becoming a soccer goalkeeper, Pavarotti spent seven years in vocal training. Pavarotti’s earliest musical influences were his father’s recordings, most of them featuring the popular tenors of the day – Beniamino Gigli, Giovanni Martinelli, Tito Schipa, and Enrico Caruso. Pavarotti’s favourite tenor and idol was Giuseppe Di Stefano. He was also deeply influenced by Mario Lanza, saying, “In my teens I used to go to Mario Lanza movies and then come home and imitate him in the mirror”. At around the age of nine he began singing with his father in a small local church choir.

After what appears to have been a normal childhood with a typical interest in sports—in Pavarotti’s case soccer above all, he graduated from the Scuola Magistrale and faced the dilemma of a career choice. He was interested in pursuing a career as a professional soccer goalie, but his mother convinced him to train as a teacher. He subsequently taught in an elementary school for two years but finally allowed his interest in music to win out. Recognising the risk involved, his father gave his consent only reluctantly.

Pavarotti began the serious study of music in 1954 at the age of 19 with Arrigo Pola, a respected teacher and professional tenor in Modena who offered to teach him without remuneration. In 1955, he experienced his first singing success when he was a member of the Corale Rossini, a male voice choir from Modena that also included his father, which won first prize at the International Eistedfodd in Llangollen, Wales. He later said that this was the most important experience of his life, and that it inspired him to become a professional singer. At about this time Pavarotti first met Adua Veroni. They married in 1961.

When his teacher Arrigo Pola moved to Japan, Pavarotti became a student of Ettore Campogalliani who at that time was also teaching Pavarotti’s childhood friend, Mirella Freni, whose mother worked with Luciano’s mother in the cigar factory. Like Pavarotti, Freni was destined to operatic greatness; they were to share the stage many times and make memorable recordings together.

Just like many young singers, during his years of musical study, Pavarotti held part-time jobs in order to sustain himself – first as an elementary school teacher and then as an insurance salesman. The first six years of study resulted in only a few recitals, all in small towns and without pay. When a nodule developed on his vocal chords, causing a “disastrous” concert in Ferrara, he decided to give up singing. THANK GOD HE DIDN’T!!! Pavarotti attributed his immediate improvement to the psychological release connected with this decision. Whatever the reason, the nodule not only disappeared but, as he related in his autobiography, “Everything I had learned came together with my natural voice to make the sound I had been struggling so hard to achieve”.

Young Luciano 2

Getting ready with that mischievous smile

Pavarotti began his career as a tenor in smaller regional Italian opera houses, making his debut as Rodolfo in La Boheme at the Teatro Municipale in Reggio Emilia in April 1961. He made his first international appearance in La Traviata in Belgrade. Very early in his career, on 23 February 1963, he debuted at the Vienna State Opera in the same role. In March and April 1963 Vienna saw Pavarotti again as Rodolfo and as Duca di Mantova in Rigoletto. The same year saw his first concert outside Italy when he sang in Dundalk, Ireland for the St Cecilia’s Gramophone Society and his Royal Opera House debut, where he replaced an indisposed Giuseppe Di Stefano as Rodolfo.

With Sutherland

With the great Joan Sutherland

While generally successful, Pavarotti’s early roles did not immediately propel him into the stardom that he would later enjoy. An early coup involved his connection with Joan Sutherland (and her conductor husband, Richard Bonynge), who in 1963 had sought a young tenor taller than herself to take along on her tour to Australia. With his commanding physical presence, Pavarotti proved ideal.The two sang some forty performances over two months, and Pavarotti later credited Sutherland for the breathing technique that would sustain him over his career. He made his American début with the Greater Miami Opera in February 1965, singing in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor opposite Joan Sutherland.  The tenor scheduled to perform that night became ill with no understudy. As Sutherland was traveling with him on tour, she recommended the young Pavarotti as he was well acquainted with the role.

Shortly after, on 28 April, Pavarotti made his La Scala debut in the revival of the famous Franco Zeffirelli production of La Bohème, with his childhood friend Mirella Freni singing Mimi and Herbert von Karajan conducting. Karajan had requested the singer’s engagement. After an extended Australian tour, he returned to La Scala, where he added Tebaldo from I Capuletti e i Montecchi to his repertoire on 26 March 1966, with Giacomo Aragall as Romeo. His first appearance as Tonio in Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment took place at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on 2 June of that year. It was his performances of this role that would earn him the title of “King of the High Cs”.

Being nasty

Being a tad nasty with Renata Scotto.  That mischievousness latent here.

He scored another major triumph in Rome on 20 November 1969 when he sang in I Lombari opposite Renata Scotto. This was recorded on a private label and widely distributed, as were various recordings of his I Capuleti e i Montecchi, usually with Aragall. His major breakthrough in the United States came on 17 February 1972, in a production of La fille du régiment at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, in which he drove the crowd into a frenzy with his nine effortless high C’s in the signature aria. He achieved a record seventeen curtain calls. Pavarotti sang his international recital début at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri on 1 February 1973, as part of the college’s Fine Arts Program, now known as the Harriman-Jewell Concert Series. Perspiring due to nerves and a lingering cold, the tenor clutched a handkerchief throughout the début. The prop became a signature part of his solo performances.

With Price

With the fabulous Leontyne Price

He began to give frequent television performances, starting with his performances as Rodolfo (La bohème) in the first Live from the Met telecast in March 1977, which attracted one of the largest audiences ever for a televised opera. He won many Grammy awards. In 1976, Pavarotti debuted at the Salzburg Festival, appearing in a solo recital on 31 July, accompanied by pianist Leone Magiera. Pavarotti returned to the festival in 1978 with a recital and as the Italian singer in Der Rosenkavalier in 1983 with Idomeneo, and both in 1985 and 1988 with solo recitals. In 1979, he was profiled in a cover story in the weekly magazine Time. That same year saw Pavarotti’s return to the Vienna State Opera after an absence of fourteen years. With Herbert von Karajan conducting, Pavarotti sang Manrico in Il Trovatore In 1978, he appeared in a solo recital on Live from Lincoln Center.

Mirella Freni, Luciano Pavarotti

With the lovely Mirella Freni, his childhood friend and lifetime devotee

At the beginning of the 1980s, he set up The Pavarotti International Voice Competition for young singers, performing with the winners in 1982 in excerpts ofLa bohème and L’elisir d’amore. The second competition, in 1986, staged excerpts of La bohème and Un ballo in maschera. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of his career, he brought the winners of the competition to Italy for gala performances of La bohème in Modena and Geneoa and then to China where they staged performances of La bohème in Beijing (Peking). To conclude the visit, Pavarotti performed the inaugural concert in the Great Hall of People before 10,000 people, receiving a standing ovation for nine effortless high Cs. The third competition in 1989 again staged performances of L’elisir d’amore and Un ballo in maschera. The winners of the fifth competition accompanied Pavarotti in performances in Philadelphia in 1997.

In the mid-1980s, Pavarotti returned to two opera houses that had provided him with important breakthroughs, the Vienna State Opera and La Scala. Vienna saw Pavarotti as Rodolfo in La bohème with Carlos Kleiber conducting and again Mirella Freni was Mimi; as Nemorino in L’elisir d’amore; as Radames in Aida conducted by Lorin Maazel; as Rodolfo in Luisa Miller; and as Gustavo in Un ballo in maschera conducted by Claudio Abbado. In 1996, Pavarotti appeared for the last time at the Staatsoper in Andrea Chénier.

With Millo

With his beloved and devoted friend Aprile Millo, Luciano

and she recorded one of the greatest Ballo in Maschera’s in history.

In 1985, Pavarotti sang Radames at La Scala opposite Maria Chiara in a Luca Ronconi production conducted by Maazel, recorded on video. His performance of the aria “Celeste Aida” received a two-minute ovation on the opening night. He was reunited with Mirella Freni for the San Francisco Opera production ofLa bohème in 1988, also recorded on video. In 1991, he recorded with his dear and devoted friend, American Soprano Aprile Millo, one of the greatest Ballo in Maschera’s in history, with James Levine at the podium and Leo Nucci.  In 1992, La Scala saw Pavarotti in a new Zeffirelli production of Don Carlos, conducted by Riccardo Muti. Pavarotti’s performance was heavily criticized by some observers and booed by parts of the audience.

With his buddies

With his buddies, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras

Pavarotti became even better known throughout the world in 1990 when his rendition of the aria Nessun Dorma from Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot was taken as the theme song of BBC’s TV coverage of the 1990 FIFA World CUp in Italy. The aria achieved pop status and remained his trademark song. This was followed by the hugely successful Three Tenors concert, held on the eve of the World Cup final at the ancient Baths of Caracalla in Rome with fellow tenors Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras and conductor Zubin Mehta, which became the biggest selling classical record of all time. A highlight of the concert, in which Pavarotti hammed up a famous portion of di Capua’s “O Sole Mio” and was mimicked by Domingo and Carreras to the delight of the audience, became one of the most memorable moments in contemporary operatic history.  In June 1993, more than 500,000 listeners gathered for his free performance on the Great Lawn of New York’s Central Park, while millions more around the world watched on television. The following September, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, he sang for an estimated crowd of 300,000.  On 12 December 1998, he became the first (and, to date, only) opera singer to perform on Saturday Night Live, singing alongside Vanessa Williams.  In 1998, Pavarotti was presented with the Grammy Legend Award.

Amidst the successes, the type of talent that Pavarotti possessed was also the cause of bitter attacks, as is often the case when people are either jealous of someone’s success or simply when something is so remarkably different and stands out so drastically that the only way to deal with it is to criticize it.  For example, In 2004, one of Pavarotti’s former managers, Herbert Breslin, published a book, The King & I. Seen by many as bitter and sensationalistic, it is critical of the singer’s acting (in opera), his inability to read music well and learn parts, and his personal conduct, although acknowledging their success together.  How petty that someone who worked for this wonderful man had nothing better to do but write sensationalistic material for his own gain.  One can imagine how Pavarotti must’ve felt having to hear this type of news…and yet he handled it with persistence and always a kind smile.  I write this for those singers who think that someone who performed at Pavarotti’s level was not without controversy, strife, and criticism.  The criticism only gets more volatile at that level and unfortunately comes with the territory.  

He received an enormous number of awards and honours, including Kennedy Center Honours in 2001. He also holds two Guinness World Records: one for receiving the most curtain calls and another for the best-selling classical album (In Concert by The Three Tenors).

Pavarotti began his farewell tour in 2004, at the age of 69, performing one last time in old and new locations, after more than four decades on the stage. On 13 March 2004, Pavarotti gave his last performance in an opera at the Metropolitan Opera for which he received a long standing ovation for his role as the painter Mario Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca. On 1 December 2004, he announced a 40-city farewell tour. Pavarotti and his manager, Terri Robson, commissioned the Worldwide Farewell Tour. His last full-scale performance was in December 2005.

On 10 February 2006, Pavarotti sang “Nessun Dorma” at the 2006 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies in Turin, Italy, at his final performance. In the last act of the opening ceremony, his performance received the longest and loudest ovation of the night from the international crowd. For many of us…this was the last time we saw him or heard him.

While undertaking an international “farewell tour,” Pavarotti was diagnosed with pancreatic in July 2006. The tenor fought back against the implications of this diagnosis, undergoing major abdominal surgery and making plans for the resumption and conclusion of his singing commitments. He died at his home in Modena on 6 September 2007. Within hours of his death, his manager, Terri Robson, noted in an e-mail statement, “The Maestro fought a long, tough battle against the pancreatic cancer which eventually took his life. In fitting with the approach that characterized his life and work, he remained positive until finally succumbing to the last stages of his illness”.

Pavarotti’s funeral was held in the Modena Cathedral.  The Frecce Tricolori, the aerobatic demonstration team of the Italian airforce, flew overhead, leaving green-white-red smoke trails. After a funeral procession through the centre of Modena, Pavarotti’s coffin was taken the final ten kilometres to Montale Rangone, a village part of Castelnuovo Rangone, and was entombed in the Pavarotti family crypt. The funeral, in its entirety, was also telecast live on CNN. The Vienna State Opera and the Salzburg Festival Hall flew black flags in mourning.Tributes were published by many opera houses, such as London’s Royal Opera House. The Italian soccer giant Juventus F.C, of which Pavarotti was a lifelong fan, was represented at the funeral and posted a farewell message on its website which said: “Ciao Luciano, black-and-white heart” referring to the team’s famous stripes when they play on their home ground.

How many lives he touched, and not just singers and opera aficionados.  People the world over who were in horrible situations, marital strife, dying children, world suffering, stopped to hear the voice of this man because it soothed something that nothing else could soothe.  No alcohol, cigarette, drug, or sex could tame the soul like Pavarotti’s sunny, warm, and soothing voice.  It might’ve been an interesting idea to bottle him up and sell him as a tonic.  The proverbial saying is that one never appreciates something until it is gone, and although Luciano Pavarotti was appreciated in life, I think he is appreciated more today than ever. 

Why is it that two little folds of skin in the throat, met by air from the lungs, can manifest the insanity that overcomes an audience and send them into a complete frenzy?  Not to be overly religious here, but God just made it this way and he certainly put something extra special in the throat of Luciano Pavarotti.  When he was trying to play soccer or worked as a math teacher, did he ever imagine that in 2013, six years after his death he would be the standard by which all tenors are evaluated? Every tenor in the world is compared to this man and although there are some fabulous voices singing today, none can quite match the glory that came from that throat.  Not to be morbid, but when he died, I did not sleep well for days because I could not rid myself of the thought that now entombed, that throat would slowly decay…I often wonder if it ever did or if like the relics of the saints, his was kept intact. No one will ever know. Yes, I adored this man almost obsessively.  I recall getting thrown out of a historical conference once because he had been spoken of poorly. I almost ate the speaker alive for doing so, and I would do it again.  For all he was, and for what he gave, for the tears that would slowly and quietly fall down the face of my great-grandfather, who had been an Italian POW kept prisoner in Africa during WWII, whenever he heard Pavarotti’s voice, for the warmth he made at every Christmas when mom would put on his O Holy Night, for the inspiration that he was and remains for me and anyone who attempts to make the “sound” from those two folds of skin, there aren’t words. 

We wait every day for another voice like yours to appear, and like yours there will never be another.  

You were the solitary, singular spirit of true love manifested in sound.

God rest your soul forever, Luciano Pavarotti


Rising Soprano, Latonia Moore to make Metropolitan Opera Debut as Aida

Latonia Moore makes her Met debut as Aida at 1pm, March 3rd, 2012

Every now and again, the opera world gets to marvel in the thrill of excitement when a young singer makes their debut…but not any debut.  A debut at the Metropolitan Opera is probably the most exciting of them all.  In a few hours, young soprano Latonia Moore will make her debut in a role that established many a great singer; Zinka Milanov, Renata Tebaldi, Leontyne Price, and Aprile Millo: Verdi’s magnificent Aida. In this historical and political opera, Verdi created three roles that are powerhouses of vocal prowess:  Aida, Amneris, and in my mind, Amonasro, even more than Radames.  This afternoon, Ms. Moore will sing Aida to Stephanie Blythe’s Amneris, Marcello Giordani’s Radames, and Lado Ataneli’s Amonasro.  The performance will be conducted by Marco Armiliato.  In Bocca al Lupo to Latonia!

Born in Houston and raised in Texas, Latonia Moore began her study at the University of North Texas, originally planed to study Jazz. Fortunately for opera lovers, one of her teachers convinced her to study classical music. She continued as a student of Bill Schuman at the Academy of Vocal Arts, Philadelphia where she graduated in 2005.

She has won:

  • Richard Tucker Foundation Grant (2005),
  • first price and audience award at Concours International d’Opéra in Marseille (2003)
  • special price “Kammeroper der Internationalen Hans Gabor Belvedere Gesangswettbewerbe” (2003)
  • first price and adiance award “Internationalen Gesangswettbewerbs der italienischen Oper Dresden (2002)
  • Metropolitan Opera’s National Auditions (2000)

Here is a link to a “Sneak Peak” of Latonia’s singing from La Cieca on Parterre Box

“Cieli Azzurri” from Aida