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

Copyright

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The Last Verista’s Pick of the Week on Met Opera Radio: Remembering Salvatore Licitra

This week, Met Opera Radio is offering some pretty impressive broadcasts.  I especially recommend: the 1963 Sonnambula with Sutherland, the 1957 Gioconda with Milanov, and the 1989 Aida with Domingo and Millo.  In honour and memory of the young tenor who passed away, tragically, on Sept 5th, 2011, Met Opera Radio is broadcasting a 2006 production of Licitra in Verdi’s La Forza del Destino. It is the last Verista’s Pick of the Week in honour of Mr. Licitra and his love of opera.

Licitra in Verdi’s Forza with Nina Stemme

Monday, September 12, 2011

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6am: Verdi: La Forza del Destino

3/11/2006-Noseda; Voigt, Licitra, Delavan, Ramey, Komlósi, Pons

9am: Bellini: La Sonnambula
3/30/1963-Varviso; Sutherland, Gedda, Flagello, Scovotti

12pm: R. Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier
1/29/2000-Levine; Graham, Fleming, Hawlata, Murphy, Ketelsen

3:20pm: Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin
2/23/1985-Järvi; Nucci, Griffel, Raitzin, Jones, Plishka

6pm: Ponchielli: La Gioconda
4/20/1957-Cleva; Milanov, Poggi, Rankin, Warren, Siepi

9pm: Gounod: Roméo et Juliette 4/13/1968-Molinari-Pradelli; Gedda, Freni, Macurdy, Baldwin, Reardon

12am: Verdi: Aida
1/7/1989-Levine; Millo, Toczyska, Domingo, Milnes, Plishka

Aprile Millo as Verdi’s Aida

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

6am: Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

12/18/1971-Leinsdorf; Thomas, Nilsson, Dooley, Dalis

12am: Verdi: Rigoletto
3/7/1992-Santi; Nucci, Swenson, Leech, White, Rootering

3pm: Handel: Rodelinda
1/1/2005-Bicket; Fleming, Blythe, van Rensburg, Relyea, Daniels

6pm: Rossini: L’Assedio di Corinto 4/19/1975-Schippers; Sills, Verrett, Theyard, Díaz

9pm: Puccini: Tosca
1/4/1997-Badea; Guleghina, Larin, Morris

12am: Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro

4/22/2006-Wigglesworth; Relyea, Rost, Mattei, Isokoski, Coote, Muraro

The great Zinka in Gioconda

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

page2image1688

6am: Meyerbeer: Le Prophète
1/29/1977-Lewis; McCracken, Scotto, Horne, Hines

9am: Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin
2/23/1985-Järvi; Nucci, Griffel, Raitzin, Jones, Plishka

12pm: Ponchielli: La Gioconda
4/20/1957-Cleva; Milanov, Poggi, Rankin, Warren, Siepi

3pm: Gounod: Roméo et Juliette 4/13/1968-Molinari-Pradelli; Gedda, Freni, Macurdy, Baldwin, Reardon

6pm: Verdi: La Forza del Destino
3/11/2006-Noseda; Voigt, Licitra, Delavan, Ramey, Komlósi, Pons

9pm: Bellini: La Sonnambula
3/30/1963-Varviso; Sutherland, Gedda, Flagello, Scovotti

12am: R. Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier
1/29/2000-Levine; Graham, Fleming, Hawlata, Murphy, Ketelsen

Sutherland as Amina

Thursday, September 15, 2011

6am: Verdi: Rigoletto
3/7/1992-Santi; Nucci, Swenson, Leech, White, Rootering

9am: Handel: Rodelinda
1/1/2005-Bicket; Fleming, Blythe, van Rensburg, Relyea, Daniels

12pm: Rossini: L’Assedio di Corinto

4/19/1975-Schippers; Sills, Verrett, Theyard, Díaz

3pm: Puccini: Tosca
1/4/1997-Badea; Guleghina, Larin, Morris

6:00 PM ET Verdi: Aida
1/7/1989-Levine; Millo, Toczyska, Domingo, Milnes, Plishka

9:00 PM ET Wagner: Tristan und Isolde
12/18/1971-Leinsdorf; Thomas, Nilsson, Dooley, Dalis

Friday, September 16, 2011

6am: R. Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier

1/29/2000-Levine; Graham, Fleming, Hawlata, Murphy, Ketelsen

9:20am: Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro
4/22/2006-Wigglesworth; Relyea, Rost, Mattei, Isokoski, Coote, Muraro

12:15pm: Verdi: La Forza del Destino
3/11/2006-Noseda; Voigt, Licitra, Delavan, Ramey, Komlósi, Pons

3:15pm: Bellini: La Sonnambula
3/30/1963-Varviso; Sutherland, Gedda, Flagello, Scovotti

8:00pm: Verdi: Il Trovatore (2010-2011 ENCORE BROADCAST)

4/23/2011-Armiliato; Álvarez, Radvanovsky, Hvorostovsky, Zajick, Kocán

12am: Meyerbeer: Le Prophète
1/29/1977-Lewis; McCracken, Scotto, Horne, Hines

Saturday, September 17, 2011

6am: Handel: Rodelinda

1/1/2005-Bicket; Fleming, Blythe, van Rensburg, Relyea, Daniels

9am: Gounod: Roméo et Juliette 4/13/1968-Molinari-Pradelli; Gedda, Freni, Macurdy, Baldwin, Reardon

12pm: Verdi: Aida
1/7/1989-Levine; Millo, Toczyska, Domingo, Milnes, Plishka

3pm: Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

12/18/1971-Leinsdorf; Thomas, Nilsson, Dooley, Dalis

9:00 PM ET Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin
2/23/1985-Järvi; Nucci, Griffel, Raitzin, Jones, Plishka

12:00 AM ET Ponchielli: La Gioconda
4/20/1957-Cleva; Milanov, Poggi, Rankin, Warren, Siepi

Sunday, September 18, 2011

6am: Rossini: L’Assedio di Corinto 4/19/1975-Schippers; Sills, Verrett, Theyard, Díaz

9am: Puccini: Tosca
1/4/1997-Badea; Guleghina, Larin, Morris

12pm: Meyerbeer: Le Prophète
1/29/1977-Lewis; McCracken, Scotto, Horne, Hines

3pm: Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro
4/22/2006-Wigglesworth; Relyea, Rost, Mattei, Isokoski, Coote, Muraro

6pm: Verdi: Rigoletto
3/7/1992-Santi; Nucci, Swenson, Leech, White, Rootering

9pm: The Met on Record: Wagner: Das Rheingold (1988) Levine; Morris, Ludwig, Jerusalem, Wlaschiha, Moll, Rootering, Zednik

12am: Verdi: La Forza del Destino
3/11/2006-Noseda; Voigt, Licitra, Delavan, Ramey, Komlósi, Pons

This week on Sirius/XM Radio from the Metropolitan Opera

Monday, Feb. 1, 8pm:  Carmen

Olga Borodina

ConductorAlain Altinoglu
MicaelaJennifer Black
CarmenOlga Borodina
Don JoséBrandon Jovanovich
EscamilloMariusz Kwiecien

Production: Richard Eyre
Set & Costume Designer: Rob Howell
Lighting Designer: Peter Mumford
Choreographer: Christopher Wheeldon

Tues. Feb. 2, 8pm:  Simon Boccanegra

Marcello Giordani

Sirius/XM Radio Broadcast

ConductorJames Levine
AmeliaAdrianne Pieczonka
GabrieleMarcello Giordani
SimonPlácido Domingo
FiescoJames Morris

Production: Giancarlo del Monaco
Set & Costume Designer: Michael Scott

Thur. Feb. 4, 8pm:  Ariadne auf Naxos

Sarah Connolly

Live on MET RADIO/Real Player/Sirius/XM Radio

ConductorKirill Petrenko
AriadneNina Stemme
ZerbinettaKathleen Kim
ComposerSarah Connolly
BacchusLance Ryan
Music MasterJochen Schmeckenbecher

Production: Elijah Moshinsky
Set & Costume Designer: Michael Yeargan
Lighting Designer: Gil Wechsler

Sat. Feb. 6, 1pm: Simon Boccanegra

Sirius/XM Radio Broadcast/Live on HD Telecast

ConductorJames Levine
AmeliaAdrianne Pieczonka
GabrieleMarcello Giordani
SimonPlácido Domingo
FiescoJames Morris

Production: Giancarlo del Monaco
Set & Costume Designer: Michael Scott

This week on Sirius/XM Radio: from the Metropolitan Opera


Conductor, James Levine


Monday, Jan. 25:  Sirius/XM Broadcast of Simon Boccanegra (8pm)

ConductorJames Levine
AmeliaAdrianne Pieczonka
GabrieleMarcello Giordani
SimonPlácido Domingo
FiescoJames Morris

Production: Giancarlo del Monaco
Set & Costume Designer: Michael Scott

Thursday, Jan. 28:  Sirius/XM/Listen Live Broadcast of Turandot (8pm)

Conductor: Julien Salemkour

TurandotLise Lindstrom
LiùGrazia Doronzio
CalafFrank Porretta
TimurHao Jiang Tian

Production: Franco Zeffirelli
Set Designer: Franco Zeffirelli
Costume Designers: Dada Saligeri, Anna Anni

Lighting Designer: Gil Wechsler ,Choreographer: Chiang Ching

Saturday, Jan. 30:  Sirius/XM Radio Broadcast of Stiffelio (1pm)

ConductorPlácido Domingo
LinaSondra Radvanovsky
StiffelioJosé Cura
StankarAndrzej Dobber
JorgPhillip Ens

Production: Giancarlo del Monaco

Set & Costume Designer: Michael Scott
Lighting Designer: Gil Wechsler

Anne Midgette of the Washington Post and Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times take Placido to task

Domingo as Simone

The critical world is really taking on a life of its own these days, especially where opera is concerned.  Just yesterday, I was immersed in very early critical reviews that were written in Milan during the 1850s and 60s–yes, Verdi’s time–and I couldn’t help but admire the manner in which these critics understood, spoke, and wrote about opera.  Their reviews left one aching to hear or see the work discussed, or rightly provided critical dialogue that was not invasive but critical in a musical sense, where aesthetics, style, genre, and national identity were concerned.  Newspapers like the Corriere della Sera, with its section on “spettacoli” or Il Giornale della Societa del Quartetto, among others, are so enlightened that they have remained in circulation until today.

The birth of music criticism, as we know it, actually began with Schumann and Berlioz, who felt that music could and should be discussed openly, critically, and that a critic must learn how to accurately describe what music is in words, a difficult task then and now.  This last week, two critics have followed one another’s ideas and while the main focus of their articles is Mr. Domingo, they really provided no criticism on the music, as it were.  I have provided a link to Anne Midgette’s article, that started quite a ruckus where Mr. Domingo is concerned.  And today, Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times provided a musical review that left much to be desired.

What ever happened to talking about voices and singers with intelligence about aesthetics, fach, and historical truth?  It is not just about what one hears and whether it’s good or not, but how what we present today remains authentic, true, and accurate to the composers wishes.  Whether or not Mr. Domingo sings Baritone or Tenor is not what should be being discussed but, rather, was he true to the style and did he sing aesthetically correct.  Did the other performers?  Moreover, I find it more than farcical that the words “a real Verdian voice” are being thrown around when, in fact, no one has any idea what a Verdian voice is, was, or is supposed to be. Is it enough for a singer’s voice to simply move swiftly through notes but sing completely without aesthetic understanding of this style and be called “Verdian?”  I guess nowadays this is acceptable or it wouldn’t be at the Met, but it is not acceptable for me and certainly not for those who have studied the historical properties of this man’s music.  Let me pose my point in a question.  Would you perform in a modern string quartet and use Baroque stylization and perform on a Viola da Gamba?  That’s exactly what is happening here and yet…it continues to happen.  To me, this question is more important than whether Mr. Giordani’s voice “throbs” or not. In fact, if we were being true critics we would be asking whether he was able to present a viable, historical, and believable performance as his character in the style of Verdian singing.  While I withhold my own opinion on this matter, for now, I have chosen to present Ms. Midgette and Mr. Tommasini’s reviews.  You forge your own opinion.

Anne Midgette from the Washington Post

MUSIC REVIEW | ‘SIMON BOCCANEGRA’

For Verdi, Masquerading as a Baritone

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI

In 1959, when he was 18, Plácido Domingo auditioned for the National Opera in Mexico City as a baritone. The jury was impressed but told Mr. Domingo that he was really a tenor. Two years later he sang his first lead tenor role, Alfredo in Verdi’s “Traviata” in Monterrey. And so began one of the great tenor careers in opera history.

On Monday, three days before turning 69, Mr. Domingo returned to his vocal roots. For the first time at the Metropolitan Opera he sang a baritone role, the title character in Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra.” Some of his tougher critics would say that Mr. Domingo has been a quasi baritone for years, since he has increasingly asked conductors to transpose parts of the tenor roles he sings down a step or two.

But he sounded liberated as Boccanegra, a tormented doge in 14th-century Genoa. At times his voice had a worn cast. And when he dipped into the lower baritone register, he had to fortify his sound with chesty, sometimes leathery power. Still, this was some of his freshest singing in years.

Maybe taking on Boccanegra is a self-indulgent exercise for Mr. Domingo at this stage of his career. I almost hesitate to praise him, since I do not want him to get ideas. Right now the two companies he is running — the Los Angeles Opera and the Washington National Opera — are struggling financially. So he has big responsibilities.

That said, he earned an enormous ovation on Monday night. Over the last decade, when a role took him to the upper register of his tenor voice, he often sounded cautious and calculating. But as Boccanegra, he could not wait, it seemed, for the line to soar into the baritone’s high register, now his comfort zone.

Yet that auditioning committee of 1959 was right: Mr. Domingo was a tenor. Whether a singer is a tenor or a baritone is not just a matter of range. The coloring and character of a voice also identifies its type. There have long been dusky, baritonal qualities to Mr. Domingo’s singing, but the overall colorings and ping in his sound were those of a tenor.

Inevitably, he made Boccanegra seem like a tenor role. The long scene in which Boccanegra discovers that Maria, who goes by the name Amelia Grimaldi (don’t ask), is his long-lost illegitimate daughter, did not have the contrast of baritone and soprano colorings that Verdi intended. Still, Mr. Domingo brought vocal charisma, dramatic dignity and a lifetime of experience to his portrayal. Purists will complain, but Mr. Domingo’s performance was an intriguing experiment.

A week earlier Mr. Domingo was in the pit at the Met to conduct the first performance of Verdi’s “Stiffelio” this season, a run that continues. He did an able job. But what a difference to hear a similarly complex Verdi score withJames Levine in the pit. Mr. Levine, who conducted on Monday night, has often spoken of how much he reveres this score, and his respect came through in the somberly beautiful, nuanced playing he drew from the orchestra.

“Simon Boccanegra” is a hybrid in the Verdi canon. It was a flop at its premiere in 1857 in Venice. Almost a quarter-century later, in 1881, Verdi extensively revised the score, which combines elements of impassioned middle-period and magisterial mature Verdi.

The plot, however, is one of the most convoluted in opera. Verdi was drawn to the story because it allowed him to portray an imperfect man, once a ruthless pirate, who is conscripted into a leadership role for which he feels unfit, yet who tries to reconcile the conflicts between the plebeian commoners and the aristocracy; a man who made a mess of his personal life but eventually does right by his daughter. But do not try to untangle the strands of the plots and the multiple identities of the characters.

As Maria/Amelia, the Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka was splendid, singing with clear, shimmering, pitch-perfect sound and lovely phrasing. The tenor Marcello Giordani can be a sloppy singer. But the role of Gabriele Adorno, the hotheaded aristocrat who loves Maria, suits him, and he sang with ardor and big, throbbing top notes.

The bass-baritone James Morris’s voice is weather-beaten these days. But as Fiesco, Maria’s father, he conveyed grave dignity and moving authority. Paolo, the villain (that much seems clear), was the bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi, whose strong voice flagged as the night went on.

Giancarlo del Monaco’s tastefully grand production was introduced in 1995, when Mr. Domingo sang the tenor role of Gabriele. Even with all his drive to notch records in the opera annals, Mr. Domingo could not have imagined then that he would be singing the title role at 69.