For VPR’s Peter Fox Smith, opera has been a passion since childhood. Since 1977 he has been the host of Saturday Afternoon at the Opera. Today he remembers the great tenor Luciano Pavarotti.
(PETER) My first memory of Pavarotti is from the early 1960’s. My father, who chose to remain an amateur singer in spite of being a fine singer and an excellent musician, brought home a recording of a young Italian tenor. We loved to listen and to share comments. The big, round, warm voice we heard had immediate appeal. It was also a thrilling sound, so effortlessly tossing off high C’s, that soon he became, for an entire generation, "The King of the High C’s". My huge collection of Pavarotti recordings had begun. One of my favorites is "Oh Holy Night", recorded at Notre Dame in Montreal.
I never met Pavarotti, but I once had the opportunity to watch him direct a master class in New York City, I believe it was in the early 1970’s. He was calm, totally in control and quite humorous. A master at putting young singers at ease, especially the beautiful young soprano, Pavarotti taught more by example than by explanation and criticism. When he wished to hear more bel canto technique from a candidate, Pavarotti simply delivered the bel canto phrase and then said "Like that".
I was far away from Hanover when Luciano Pavarotti filled the Hopkins Center on January 28th, 1975 with a full house eager to hear the glorious voice – that also filled the house. I didn’t want to hear from friends what I had missed, but their unrestrained enthusiasm was too much to curb the tongue. To this day, I regret not being in that hall, on that night.
Pavarotti, a big man, perspired profusely in concert – especially under the bright, hot lights. After the song or aria, out came the big white handkerchief for mopping the brow. The handkerchief seemed to grow larger and larger with the passing of years, eventually taking on the proportions of a bed sheet.
There have been, through centuries of the art of song, those many great singers who achieve stardom, who age gracefully and pass on, in time forgotten by all except aficionados, experts and record collectors. Then on rare occasions there appears a legend, a Caruso, a Callas, a Bjorling…the voice that is with us forever, the voice that never dies.
Luciano Pavarotti is such a legend.
And here, a brief phrase from Carlo Tosti’s L’ultima Canzone…
Peter Fox Smith is producer of Saturday afternoon at the Opera. He will present a special tribute to Pavarotti on Saturday September 22nd. His is author of the book "A Passion for Opera."