Friday, August 30, 2019

Pavarotti Sings Again

The movie  Pavarotti captures the sheer delight that Luciano Pavarotti inspired during his career as the reigning tenor of his times. The film is a documentary of sorts directed by Ron Howard, who has already succeeded in a second career as a director following his acting days, when, most memorably he played Andy Griffith's son in the TV series of the 60s.

It reminded me of just how fantastic Pavarotti was. His voice was absolutely beautiful and he seemed adept in using it to give extra quality to the famous operatic arias he sang. He first appeared of course in his native Italy and then Covent Garden. When he came to the Met in the early 70s, he costarred with Joan Sutherland, the Australian soprano who made singing bel canto scales and trills as easy as he made the great challenges of the tenor repertory.

We saw them in a grand performance of Donizetti's The Daughter of the Regiment, a show-off bauble that exists today, or should exist, to be revived only when singers of the calibre of Sutherland and Pavarotti are available. Sure, there are nine High Cs for the tenor and likely a similar challenge for the soprano, but the special appeal of this duo was the ease with which they appeared to produce these amazing sounds. No one wants to see a singer show the difficulty of performing these arias; Pavarotti always seemed to be holding notes for amazing lengths and Sutherland negotiated the exposed coloratura of Lucia di Lammermoor's Mad Scene without seeming to try.

The reason I called the film a documentary of sorts is that it mostly presents a wholly positive view of Luciano. Even his affair with a far younger woman in his later years, which led to his divorce from the mother of three of his children, is treated sympathetically--while pointing out that this did diminish his popularity in Italy, his first wife seemed understanding about what happened. I also chuckled about the omission of his disastrous solitary venture into starring in a movie.

But the high point of the picture is definitely the famous Three Tenors concert in the Baths of Caracalla in Rome on the eve of the World Cup football (soccer) final. Aside from the gorgeous singing, what is most enjoyable is the sheer joy that Pavarotti, Domingo, and Carreras, along with Zubin Mehta, exuded while producing incredibly wonderful music. The indulgence of those three magnificent voices doing O Sole Mio was complemented by their extraspecial rendition of Nessun Dorma

There were shots and snippets of Caruso, but although Caruso's fame was heightened by his making some of the first recordings, the somewhat limited quality of those early preserved sounds couldn't compare with modern technology. There was also a clip of DiStefano, who also came off as a lesser singer. It probably would have been the same with others--Gigli, Bjoerling, Martinelli--and we'll never really know how they would stack up with Pavarotti, Domingo, and Carreras.

I also learned from the film. I had never credited Pavarotti with his knowledge of singing technique derived from his two excellent teachers. To me, he just seemed to be a natural, needing no training, but that wasn't true. He had worked hard to be able to perform at the exceedingly high level he achieved. The film included many of his most famous and favorite operatic pieces and reminded me of just how extraordinary he was. We were so fortunate to be able to hear him in person and also on recordings and on television for all those years.

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