B1354. MARTIN MAYER. Grandissimo Pavarotti. Garden City, Doubleday, 1986. 224pp. Discography; Exhaustive Recital, Concert & Opera Chronologies, 1960-86; Numerous Photos, some in color; DJ in mylar. Elaborate, Quarto Edition. First Edition. Choice copy has written salutation on half-title page. - 0-385-23138-5
“Like Enrico Caruso and Jenny Lind before him, Luciano 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.
Although he planned to spend his final years performing in a grand worldwide farewell tour, he completed only about half the tour, which began in 2004. Physical ailments limited his movement on stage and regularly forced him to cancel performances. Yet his wholly natural stage manner and his wonderful way with the Italian language were completely intact. Mr. Pavarotti remained a darling of Met audiences until his retirement from that company’s roster in 2004. All told, he sang 379 performances at the Met, of which 357 were in fully staged opera productions.
In the late 1960s and ’70s, when Mr. Pavarotti was at his best, he possessed a sound remarkable for its ability to penetrate large spaces easily. Yet he was able to encase that powerful sound in elegant, brilliant colors. His recordings of the Donizetti repertory are still models of natural grace and pristine sound. The clear Italian diction and his understanding of the emotional power of words in music were exemplary.
Mr. Pavarotti was perhaps the mirror opposite of his great rival among tenors, Mr. Domingo. Five years Mr. Domingo’s senior, Mr. Pavarotti had the natural range of a tenor, exposing him to the stress and wear that ruin so many tenors’ careers before they have barely started. Mr. Pavarotti’s confidence and naturalness in the face of these dangers made his longevity all the more noteworthy. The most enduring symbol of Mr. Pavarotti’s Midas touch, as a concert attraction and a recording artist, was the popular and profitable THREE TENORS act created with Mr. Domingo and Mr. Carreras. Some praised these concerts and recordings as popularizers of opera for mass audiences. But most classical music critics dismissed them as unworthy of the performers’ talents.
His frequent withdrawals from prominent events at opera houses like the Met and Covent Garden in London, often from productions created with him in mind, caused administrative consternation in many places. A series of cancellations at Lyric Opera of Chicago — 26 out of 41 scheduled dates — moved Lyric’s general director in 1989, Ardis Krainik, to declare Mr. Pavarotti persona non grata at her company. A similar banishment nearly happened at the Met in 2002. He was scheduled to sing two performances of TOSCA — one a gala concert with prices as high as $1,875 a ticket, which led to reports that the performances may be a farewell. Mr. Pavarotti arrived in New York only a few days before the first, barely in time for the dress rehearsal. On the day of the first performance, though, he had developed a cold and withdrew. That was on a Wednesday. From then until the second scheduled performance, on Saturday, everyone, from the Met’s managers to casual opera fans, debated the probability of his appearing. The New York Post ran the headline ‘Fat Man Won’t Sing’. The demand to see the performance was so great, however, that the Met set up 3,000 seats for a closed-circuit broadcast on the Lincoln Center Plaza. Still, at the last minute, Mr. Pavarotti stayed in bed.
Pavarotti’s his first breakthrough came in 1961, when he won an international competition at the Teatro Reggio Emilia. He made his début as Rodolfo in Puccini’s LA BOHÈME later that year [OP2566]. In 1963 Mr. Pavarotti’s international career began: first as Edgardo in Donizetti’s LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR in Amsterdam and other Dutch cities, and then in Vienna and Zürich. His Covent Garden début also came in 1963, when he substituted for and Giuseppe di Stefano in LA BOHÈME. His reputation in Britain grew even more the next year, when he sang at the Glyndebourne Festival, taking the part of Idamante in Mozart’s IDOMENEO. A turning point in Mr. Pavarotti’s career was his association with the soprano Joan Sutherland. In 1965 he joined the Sutherland-Williamson company on an Australian tour during which he sang Edgardo to Ms. Sutherland’s Lucia. He credited Ms. Sutherland’s advice, encouragement and example as a major factor in the development of his technique. Further career milestones came in 1967, with Mr. Pavarotti’s first appearances at La Scala in Milan and his participation in a performance of the Verdi REQUIEM under Herbert von Karajan. He came to the Metropolitan Opera a year later, singing with Mirella Freni, a childhood friend, in LA BOHÈME.
A series of recordings with London Records had also begun, and these excursions through the Italian repertory remain some of Mr. Pavarotti’s lasting contributions to his generation. In 1981 Mr. Pavarotti established a voice competition in Philadelphia and was active in its operation. Young, talented singers from around the world were auditioned in preliminary rounds before the final selections. High among the prizes for winners was an appearance in a staged opera in Philadelphia in which Mr. Pavarotti would also appear. He also gave master classes, many of which were shown on public television in the United States. Mr. Pavarotti’s forays into teaching became stage appearances in themselves, having more to do with the teacher than the students.
In his later years Mr. Pavarotti became as much an attraction as an opera singer. Hardly a week passed in the 1990s when his name did not surface in at least two gossip columns. He could be found unveiling postage stamps depicting old opera stars or singing in Red Square in Moscow. His outsize personality remained a strong drawing card, and even his lifelong battle with his circumference guaranteed headlines: a Pavarotti diet or a Pavarotti binge provided high-octane fuel for reporters. ‘I’m not a politician, I’m a musician’, he told the BBC Music Magazine in an April 1998 article about his efforts for Bosnia. ‘I care about giving people a place where they can go to enjoy themselves and to begin to live again. To the man you have to give the spirit, and when you give him the spirit, you have done everything’.
Mr. Pavarotti’s health became an issue in the late 1990s. His mobility onstage was sometimes severely limited because of leg problems, and at a 1997 TURANDOT performance at the Met, extras onstage surrounded him and helped him up and down steps. In January 1998, at a Met gala with two other singers, Mr. Pavarotti became lost in a trio from LUISA MILLER despite having the music in front of him. He complained of dizziness and withdrew. Rumors flew alleging on one side a serious health problem and, on the other, a smoke screen for his unpreparedness. The latter was not a new accusation during the 1990s. In a 1997 review for The New York Times, Anthony Tommasini accused Mr. Pavarotti of ‘shamelessly coasting’ through a recital, using music instead of his memory, and still losing his place. Words were always a problem, and he cheerfully admitted to using cue cards as reminders.
He published two autobiographies, both written with William Wright: PAVAROTTI: MY OWN STORY in 1981 and PAVAROTTI: MY WORLD in 1995."
- Bernard Holland, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 6 Sept., 2007
"Luciano Pavarotti? . . .The overhype tenor of the century.”
- Martin Bernheimer, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 2 Oct, 2019
“From 1952 to 1975, Martin Mayer critiqued classical recordings for ESQUIRE, and from 1985 to 2004 he was the New York critic for OPERA magazine. He wrote THE MET: ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF GRAND OPERA (1983), reviewed concerts and opera for MUSICAL AMERICA magazine, and wrote articles for HIGH FIDELITY and OPERA NEWS.
In THE TIMES magazine, he profiled Igor Stravinsky, Herbert von Karajan, George Szell, Rudolf Bing and Marilyn Horne. His article on Andrés Segovia and his Spanish guitar vibrated with insights: ‘Like Dolmetsch (who resurrected the recorder), Landowska (who restored the harpsichord) and Casals (whose revisions in the technique of the cello made Bach’s suites for that instrument playable in an age of exact intonation), Segovia in effect invented an instrument’.”
- Robert D. McFadden, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 1 Aug., 2019