Pavarotti was not my tenor. In fact from him I only have La Boheme and a rather cheap compilation that I got because no one has done a better "Mattinata"(1). Oh, he certainly was good but he never clicked for me, too Italian (he could only sing in Italian), too commercial, too much of a static clown.
But he deserves my full admiration and sincere farewell because one can argue that he kept up Opera as a living art almost single handedly. It is because Pavarotti came to the Met to sing the repetitive staples that the hoi poloi wanted, and paid for, that the Met could earn the needed revenues for the Operas that snobs like me wanted to see. And even in my student years near New York where my meager budget melted in a single trip to the nose bleeds of the Met, as I watched Peleas et Melisande, or Lulu, I knew that I had to give thanks to Pavarotti.
My Tenor is Domingo and I have stopped counting the CDs with his name on my shelves. But Domingo was right tonight in L.A.: he said that Pavarotti career would not have been the same without Pavarotti, as Pavarotti would not have been the same without Domingo. A perhaps unusual but fabulous send off that perhaps only opera lovers truly could understand. Pavarotti gave to the masses the sensual and sexual stirring of Italian Opera, in all its artificial splendor, while Domingo, who can sing in French and German in addition to his native Spanish gave his fans that intellectual thrill while he left the Verdian hero ravish you in a way that only Domingo can do. When Domingo sings to you di quella pira you know he is about to rescue you from your life of misery. And let's not even talk about Domingo as the Puccini hero! Straight or gay it does not matter: when Domingo sings to you Nessun dorma you now why that damned sadistic princess will yield. You are about to do the same.
I saw Pavarotti once. When I lived in Baltimore and my income had become barely better than starving graduate student, I went to the Met to see Un ballo in Maschera. Pavarotti was singing and I had my doubts. But I also thought that well, I should watch him at least once. Thus, with whom was the great love disaster of my life (who did not care much for Pavarotti either but was a total Opera freak) we took a room in Manhattan and for fun, dressed to kill, we went for a night at the opera (we had been lucky to get very decent side seats). For the record, our relationship started going South that very night when we went for drinks at some sleazy but fashionable Soho bar.
The Met staging was a disaster. It included gyrating potted plants whose possible symbolism was totally lost in our painfully repressed laughter. And Pavarotti, already overweight and with great mobility problems was sitting through the whole presentation while everyone else circled around. Making the mental break from the vigorous and young and dashing King of Sweden to this differently abled Tenor was, well, quite a feat. And yet... Pavarotti talent was big enough that after a while I started forgetting about his chair, about the gyrating potted pants, about the lost in space chorus. Pavarotti became the opera and the rest was accessory. Not that I really liked him, but there was something in his voice, something in his style that slowly but surely managed to force you to let the music take over. I suppose that this was the strength of Pavarotti: suddenly you thought that you understood opera.
As I say goodbye to Pavarotti and thank him for the gift of opera until the XXI century I cannot help but also note that Pavarotti was all that chavismo is not, could never be. Besides rekindling the glamor of opera, a snobbish and intellectual and elite activity if any, an art form so far from the huddled and cattle driven chavista masses, an art which is now frowned upon in the bolivarian conception of art where any stick and drum hitting together are termed great art of the people, Pavarotti was also a sponsor of all sorts of other talents. And Pavarotti, even as a divo extraordinaire, was not above sharing, really sharing, the stage. Can anyone conceive of a situation where, say, the three tenors of Evo, Correa and Chavez will have equal billing when Chavez attends? Can anyone imagine Chavez nurturing young political talents with the sincere hope that one day they will be better, brighter, smarter, more educated than the teacher, allowing the teacher to retire? The comparison is not an idle one: Chavez is much more of an entertainment artist than a ruler. Politics for him are a continuous vaudeville, a permanent "Sabado Sensacional"; he is a Don Francisco that read Chomsky during an insomnia bout.
So good night sweet pasta lover prince of Opera. After all, maybe I was not mature enough, not sensual enough to understand your art. Maybe one day I will "get" you and I will finally relent and buy the three Tenor DVD.
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1) I could not find a free Pavarotti recording of Mattinata. But I found better, in a way. One of his proteges, Andrea Bocelli singing it. With Pavarotti introducing him. I never cared for Bocelli either, but he certainly is a show case of what Pavarotti could do to help people out. It would have been tacky tonight to have a video of Pavarotti singing, so we will have to do with Bocelli.