Thursday, 6 September 2007


cyntillating sounds opus eleven

On the occasion of his death, the world mourns, remembers, and most especially, tears into tenor Luciano Pavarotti. I am immediately reminded of Jackie Kennedy’s sentiments on the occasion of her husband’s assassination: her fear of how historians and journalists would start to size him up even in the early days of extreme mourning. And so with Pavarotti, the huge tenor with the massive international following. Detrimental comparisons to Domingo and Carreras, chuckles at his physical and vocal demise: how completely expected and how completely ill-timed and inappropriate.
Unused corporate tickets for the Metropolitan Opera productions got tacked to the bulletin board of the music department, Marshall Field House, at Sarah Lawrence College. As an undergraduate I kept constant tabs on that bulletin board. Decked out in theatre costumes and rhinestones, the subway regularly took those of us who paid attention downtown to sit in truly first class seats in the days when the Met audience inevitably showed up in black tie attire. The ushers would spot us a mile away and you could see it in their eyes that these college kids were suspect for sure.
Pavarotti was mesmerizing back then; every first note sung came with a warm recognition: there it is again, that sound. We weren’t there for anything else except that sound, compelling, unique. The rest of ‘his’ productions immediately faded away, we were no longer aware of any sets, staging, acting, world class soprano’s or choirs, just him.
In 2005 he flew the world on a farewell tour. I was one of the few who were thrilled that he would perform in Rotterdam, and even with the first class Philharmonic Orchestra I was then working for. Pavarotti: that sound was coming to town! Of course the entire circus came with him: press, his make up artists, his little scooter to get him around, the flashy fans, all of it. The Rotterdam Philharmonic had the thankless task of instrumental backing to the phenomenon that sold seven thousand tickets.
It was a long and complex day. Keeping everyone happy in this woolly production was no easy task. You never knew he would actually sing until he actually sang in his later years, and the tension was palpable all round. A huge curtain hid his entrance from the hall. All of a sudden there he was, seated, made up, with the famous scarf and accompanied by a truly marvellous soprano whose name most would not recall the next morning.
It took quite some time: warming up, nonsense repertoire, orchestral fillers. But all of a sudden, there it was. My husband and I instinctively sought each other’s eyes: we both wiped away just a few but completely unexpected tears. It was back, if only in a flash, but we had both heard it, for sure. There is was, after all those years and all the circus, the pop stars and the football extravaganzas.
Pavarotti, that sound.