Archive for March, 2008

Pavarotti: The Ultimate Collection

 Luciano Pavarotti
The Ultimate Collection: Italian opera arias and popular songs.

An immense voice, in an immense man. His voice rich and full going low, and still rich and ringing when soaring impossibly high, seemingly without effort…. little inflections, changing the tone of his voice to dramatise the words… wonderful clarity of diction…. starting a phrase early to create tension…. the seriousness of the great performer…. volume sufficient to sound clear and strong above a full orchestra… When the song is ended, a beaming face delights in the acclaim, without vanity or pretension. Over a career of some 40 years, he became one of the best-known performers, rivalling pop stars in his popularity and appeal. And withal, a lovable, warm personality, tied to his home town, his family, friends, pasta, enthusiastic about painting, horse-riding, cooking, driving fast cars, always charmed by every woman, young or old. Battling with diet, celebrating a reduction from 150 to 130 kg…. listening to and encouraging young singers…. singing to audiences of thousands. This is Luciano Pavarotti.

Luciano Pavarotti was born in 1935 in Modena , Italy, in a family of modest circumstances. Both parents worked to earn their living – his father was a baker and amateur tenor – and his grandmother Giulia was the largest influence in his upbringing. In fact, he grew up in the community of the families in his apartment block and his neighbourhood friends, to the point where his family had to insist he have supper with them rather than in another family. His father loved vocal music, and would bring home records of the great Italian singers – Gigli, Martinelli, Schipa, Caruso – and play them over and over. His family survived the war years with its privations and horrors, but at age 12 he became seriously ill, and everyone thought he would not survive. As Pavarotti writes in his book with William Wright “… such an encounter with death has made me value life enormously ever since. I know that life is good – even life with much trouble… so I am optimistic and enthusiastic and do everything I do with all my heart.”

When he was 19, Pavarotti agreed with his family that he would try and make singing his career. He took singing lessons in Modena with Arrigo Pola, and embarked enthusiastically on years of exercises on voice production and pronunciation. He then studied with Ettore Campogalliani in Mantova, but after another four years still had no professional engagements and became discouraged. When he told Adua (his girlfriend, later his wife) in 1960 that a concert in Salsomaggiore would be his last, suddenly everything came together, and he and the audience were thrilled with his singing. Then came the long search for professional engagements, and it was not until he substituted di Stefano in a Covent Garden production of La Bohème in 1963 that he came to notice, and started receiving invitations.

The voice as a profession
Pavarotti has clear views about how the voice should be produced – and he himself acknowledges his debt to Joan Sutherland, the Australian soprano with whom Pavarotti learnt a lot on tour in 1965. With her, he learnt that first among the basics is support and breathing. Since the vocal chords are small delicate membranes in the throat, the work of making them vibrate in the right way has to be transferred to the column of air which comes from the diaphragm (a strong muscle, particularly if supported by a strong torso): “If you support the voice correctly from below, you can sing far longer – in one evening and in one life – without signs of strain”. The column of air must be automatically sent up with the correct force and without restrictions. Then add in concentration, enunciation, and work on evenness of tone throughout the range. (These are Pavarotti’s views from his book).

Grand Opera occupies rather a peculiar place in the cultural world, An opera requires soloists with very special, highly trained voices, plus chorus, orchestra, elaborate sets and costumes – and a certain production may run for only a handful of live performances (no amplification) spaced days apart. The audience would be at most a few thousand for each performance, forcing reliance on other funding.

In this environment, the strains on top performers, like Pavarotti, become enormous. The voice can be affected by a cold, or an emotional shock, or perhaps too-intense air conditioning. All that personal training, and all that production effort could fail to reach expectation, as the result of some trivial factor. But buoyed by his upbringing, training, and personality, Pavarotti showed he could handle all this, and rise to super-star status.

Living with Fame
Although he conquered fame in the world of Grand Opera, Pavarotti in the 70s began giving solo recitals as concerts. While the music may be largely similar – arias from opera – the costs go right down (sometimes accompaniment is by piano only) and the programme can be adjusted to the audience. However, the personality of the artist has to be sufficient to carry this off, and in this Pavarotti was supreme. While his discipline and artistry guaranteed a great performance, his modesty, spirit of fun, enormous girth, and his evident delight in pleasing his audience, all combined to make them receive him with wild enthusiasm.

But fame brings attendant demands – interviews, chat shows, scheduling, receiving fans and visitors – but these Pavarotti would handle with great warmth and spirit. Once he was interviewed on US television by a very attractive lady Pia Lindström (Ingrid Bergmann’s daughter) who referred to a quote that his vocal chords had been kissed by God. Quick as a flash, Pavarotti said “I think He kissed you all over”…. That’s our man!

During the 80s Pavarotti devoted considerable time to concerts of arias and popular songs – some open-air concerts would attract audiences of 100,000 or more. One legendary concert in Hyde Park in 1990 attracted a huge audience, including royalty, and in spite of drenching rain and cold, they remained spellbound to the end.

Expanding his audience into the frontiers of pop, concerts of Pavarotti and Friends in the 90s, with such artists as Bon Jovi, Stevie Wonder and Elton John raised money for social causes. At the World Cup of 1990, the first concert of the Three Tenors (Placido Domingo, José Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti) proved hugely popular, and the first disk sold 10 million copies, absolutely unprecedented for classical music.

The CD
This CD opens with Nessun Dorma, the aria from Turandot which became so associated with Pavarotti. Other famous arias are mixed with more popular songs, like O Sole Mio
Torna a Surriento
Santa Lucia.

For me, a high point is Che Gelida Manina, from Puccini’s La Bohème, where the poet, rich in castles in the air, has his fortune stolen by two pretty eyes… but the loss doesn’t anger him, for their place is taken by hope – on a glorious high C!

But whether it’s on CD, DVD, or YouTube, it’s definitely worthwhile appreciating the art of this famous Italian tenor.

Good Listening!

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