The Singer's Spirit
©Lisa Houston 2022
“If you consider that I was born in a family where everyone was singing ‘Di quella pira,’ my mother, father, grandmother, you can understand that the responsibility of my job is very heavy, but not a big pain. It’s very good to have this. It’s exactly what I was looking for when I was born. It’s so natural for me, not complicated.”
Pavarotti loved Mario Lanza movies and said he spent hours in front of the mirror. “I stood there all the time singing ‘La donna e mobile,’ and ‘di quella pira.’ Why not? Everybody in my country did that at the age of six or seven. The TV wasn’t invented yet. The opera was the most important thing our city.”
Indeed, the opera company of Modena, founded in 1841 in Modena was renamed after the tenor’s death as “Teatro Comunale Luciano Pavarotti.”
Pavarotti’s debut role was Rodolfo in “La bohème” at Reggio nell’Emilia in 1961. It would become a signature role for the tenor. In 1977, Pavarotti sang Rodolfo opposite Renata Scotto’s Mimì for the Met’s premier Telecast. Other signature roles include Alfredo in “La traviata”, Radames in “Aida,” and Cavaradossi in “Tosca.”
In 1990, soccer and opera collided when FIFA chose Pavarotti’s 1972 recording of Calaf’s aria from Puccini’s Turandot as its theme song for the World Cup. That same year saw the famous Three Tenors concert in Rome, welcoming Pavarotti’s friend and colleague José Carreras back to the stage after successfully battling Leukemia. The concert, featuring Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Carreras, raised money for Carreras’s International Leukemia Foundation. The three later toured, bringing opera to the mainstage of popular culture to a degree it had not enjoyed for decades.
I heard Pavarotti live only once, as Rodolfo in San Francisco in 1989. His Mimì? Mirella Freni. It was the night I became an opera fan.
That production is available on DVD. Pavarotti left so many outstanding recordings. My recent favorite is his Traviata under Levine, with Cheryl Studer as Violetta (available on DVD, Spotify etc.) Here is Pavarotti in fine form with one of his greatest and most frequent partners, Joan Sutherland in the duet from Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor."
*Some of the information for this post, including this quotation, was found in an enjoyable collection of essays "The Tenors," edited by Herbert H. Breslin. The Pavarotti essay is written by Stephen E. Rubin. Other tenors included: John Vickers, Richard Tucker, Franco Corelli and Placido Domingo.