Deal W. Hudson
September 6, 2007
We all awakened this morning to the news that the greatest voice of our generation, Luciano Pavarotti, had died.
The sound of his voice is something that I have carried inside my head since my early 20s, when I first heard him sing La Boheme at the Metropolitan Opera. I heard him sing at the Met several times in the early 70s when he was beginning to become a superstar. There are several of his Puccini arias I can hear from beginning to end without playing an LP, VCR, CD, DVD, or MP3. I just close my eyes and listen.
I had already discovered him from his first recordings, the obscure opera L’Amico Fritz on Angel Records (now EMI) and the Italian singer’s aria from Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier (did he ever sing anything more beautiful than this?). From that time forward, until the kitschy “Three Tenors” Concert, I never missed a Pavarotti CD or televised concert. His recorded La Boheme, Turandot, and Tosca did not disappoint.
I’m one of few people who defend the film he made with Kathryn Harrold, Yes Giorgio, which I thought was very entertaining and presents the voice in its prime. The title song, written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, is a great Mario Lanza-type of crossover piece (before it was called “crossover”) and should be reissued in commemoration of his death.
After I watched the 1990 “Three Tenors,” I stopped following Pavarotti. The voice was in decline, though the passion and concentration were still there. His glorious rendition of “Nessun Dorma” reminded me of the more youthful singer I had heard at the Met and earned him fame in the world of popular music during the 1990 World Cup.
It’s wrong to say, however, as I saw in one headline this morning, that Pavarotti was the last of the “great voices.” Yes, he stands in a line of recorded tenor voices from Caruso through Tauber, Pertile, Gigli, Corelli, Schipa, Schmidt, Martenelli, McCormack, Melchior, De Stephano, Del Monaco, Wunderlich, Bjoerling, Bergonzi, and Domingo (among many others). We have great voices with us today.
Check out the recording of the Mexican tenor Rolando Villazon who, in my opinion, is the best of the present generation. Marcelo Alvarez, Joseph Calleja, Juan Diego Florez, and Ramon Vargas are also worth hearing, too. For the pure visceral thrill of the man who died yesterday, Villazon comes the closest. For pure beauty of the voice, try the Maltese singer, Calleja.
(By the way, you can see and hear some of these great singers of the past and present for free on www.youtube.com. I took a spin through their classical videos the other day, then suddenly realized a few hours had passed by and I hadn’t noticed.)
But Pavarotti had everything – power, beauty, thrill, and meaning. He embodied each aria, each song, and every character he played (in spite of his girth).
I hope retrospectives of his career will focus on the period from the late 60s up until 1990 and treat the rest as a footnote. Surprisingly, some of his best performances from that period are not available on DVD and CD. One DVD that is available is the stunning Verdi Requiem, conducted by Herbert von Karajan, from 1967.
Pavarotti’s “Ingemisco” from the Latin Requiem is what I will watch today as I pray for his soul.