September 6, 2007


Luciano Pavarotti, Italian Tenor, Is Dead at 71 (BERNARD HOLLAND, 9/06/07, NY Times)

Luciano Pavarotti, the Italian singer whose ringing, pristine sound set a standard for operatic tenors of the postwar era, died early this morning at his home in Modena, in northern Italy. He was 71. [...]

Like Enrico Caruso and Jenny Lind before him, Mr. Pavarotti extended his presence far beyond the limits of Italian opera. He became a titan of pop culture. Millions saw him on television and found in his expansive personality, childlike charm and generous figure a link to an art form with which many had only a glancing familiarity.

Early in his career and into the 1970s he devoted himself with single-mindedness to his serious opera and recital career, quickly establishing his rich sound as the great male operatic voice of his generation — the “King of the High Cs,” as his popular nickname had it.

By the 1980s he expanded his franchise exponentially with the Three Tenors projects, in which he shared the stage with Plácido Domingo and José Carreras, first in concerts associated with the World Cup and later in world tours. Most critics agreed that it was Mr. Pavarotti’s charisma that made the collaboration such a success. The Three Tenors phenomenon only broadened his already huge audience and sold millions of recordings and videos.

And in the early 1990s he began staging Pavarotti and Friends charity concerts, performing side by side with rock stars like Elton John, Sting and Bono and making recordings from these shows.

Throughout these years, despite his busy and vocally demanding schedule, his voice remained in unusually good condition well into middle age.

Italian opera star Luciano Pavarotti dies: He was hailed by many as the greatest tenor of his generation (Reuters, September 6 2007)
Discography (IHT, September 6, 2007)
Here is a selection of Luciano Pavarotti's classic opera recordings, as well as a few compilations and recital discs available on CD and DVD.

The Paradoxes of Pavarotti (BENJAMIN IVRY, September 6, 2007, NY Sun)

First among the paradoxes of Pavarotti was that this native of the northern Italian city of Modena, the industrial fiefdom for car makers like Ferrari, Bugatti, and Maserati, sold millions of CDs of Southern Italian songs. Unlike past popular singers of this repertory, like the Naples-born Enrico Caruso (1873–1921) or the American Mario Lanza (1921–1959), of Sicilian origin, Pavarotti remained a Northerner through and through in a country where a popular saying goes that "anything south of Florence is Africa." Yet to the outside world, Pavarotti managed to represent the caricature of a sunny Italian tenor, obsessed with vino, women, and pasta.

Of the three, his seductive force with women was perhaps the most extraordinary, despite heft which at times tipped the scales at 350 pounds. Charming, lively, and humorous, Pavarotti could convey the personal charm of a Latin lover onstage in frisky outings like Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'Amore" in which on a DVD from Deutsche Grammophon, he and the much-maligned American soprano Kathleen Battle make a convincing romantic duo. Opera is the art of transcending improbabilities through the magic of music, but Pavarotti added the special capacity to charm audiences out of preconceptions.

Another major paradox is the oft-cited accusation that Pavarotti could not read music, repeated in the bitter memoirs of the tenor's ex-manager Herbert Breslin, "The King and I: The Uncensored Tale of Luciano Pavarotti's Rise to Fame by His Manager, Friend and Sometime Adversary" (Broadway Books). Whatever Pavarotti's skills in sight-reading —according to many accounts he was a slow reader at best — his innate musicality should not be in question after hundreds of recordings. In a 1998 interview with Libération, he expressed his curiosity for 20th century music like Janáček's "From the House of the Dead," and confessed that he "loves and has a feeling for" works by Arnold Schoenberg. Still, he admitted, his own voice was "made for the 19th century."

In a range of demanding works from that era, Pavarotti would regularly rise to the occasion, especially when working with the finest conductors, a sure sign of musical command. Through convenience or commercial necessity, he agreed to record with unidiomatic podium mediocrities like Richard Bonynge, the husband of soprano Joan Sutherland who was contractually guaranteed to conduct all of her recordings, or the routine accompanist Leone Magiera. Yet on a legendary 1967 Deutsche Grammophon DVD of Verdi's "Requiem" conducted by Herbert von Karajan, Pavarotti shines alongside superhuman colleagues like the soprano Leontyne Price, in what remains one of the best-filmed classical performances ever, directed with entomological attention by Henri-Georges Clouzot. Pavarotti's Decca CD of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" with Karajan is also compelling in its uncommon spaciousness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 6, 2007 7:27 AM
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