Friday, September 7, 2007

The Voices That Have Gone, Part 3: In Memoriam Luciano Pavarotti

As I was getting my son dressed yesterday morning, I switched on WQXR. They were broadcasting Pavarotti singing “Nessun dorma,” live from his concert in Central Park in the summer of 1993, and I wondered briefly if he had died. My premonition did not lessen my shock and grief when the announcer related the news. I sat down in the rocking chair and wept. I was at that concert, incidentally, with my then-husband, who came to love opera in the course of his endeavor to understand his perversely elusive wife, and a young, up-and-coming character tenor, K., who shortly thereafter had a mid-career flame-out when his repressed memories of childhood abuse began surfacing, bringing with them the realization that, like so many of us, he had thrown himself into singing as a way to save himself. How many like us were among the hundreds of thousands gathered on the Great Lawn that summer night long ago?

Pavarotti’s death is another terrible loss to the world of music. It is not as tragic, perhaps, or as shocking as the death of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson last year, or Jerry Hadley’s suicide earlier this summer. But somehow, the world will not be the same without Big Luciano, one of the greatest singers of the twentieth century, and one of the last of a breed of Italian lyric tenors. His incredible musicality in, say, the Act III duet from La Bohème in the famous von Karajan recording with his townswoman from Modena, the divine Mirella Freni– the way that he almost whispers, “Che? vai?” when he realizes Mimì is really leaving – is an object lesson to artists of all kinds everywhere: the verisimilitude of grief, sadness, tenderness, resignation, and regret in that brief, half-sung phrase captures all the ironic fleetingness of youth and the bitterness of youth’s impossible love affairs. Those who have read the Mürger stories on which the opera is based know that Rodolphe eventually drifts away from Bohemia and enters the world of the comfortable middle class, with nary a thought for the great loves and adventures of his impoverished salad days. I am going to listen to the von Karajan recording again and try to determine whether that, too, is in the phrase. R.I.P., Big Luciano.


Andy said...

He truly was an amazing talent. For someone who was not really an "actor," his ability to pour his heart into his singing and his natural -- possibly unconscious -- power to inflect the text with such clarity of intent was really incredible. It was a superior technique matched with a miraculous voice, all housed in the same body with a personality that just lit up in front of an audience. I am sad that he is gone, but also grateful that his suffering is at an end. Thankfully we have his enormous recorded legacy by which to remember him.

Pentimento said...

Andy, I like your suggestion that Pavarotti's musicality was unconscious. It's often been said that he couldn't really read music all that well, and had to have his roles taught to him by his accompanist. I always wonder about great artists who seem to tap into some kind of universal consciousness, like Dickens or Mozart -- did they know it, or was it accidental? I think Pavarotti falls into that category.