Luciano Pavarotti

Luciano Pavarotti singsLa bohème: Che gelida manina, with audience participation (La Scala 1969)

Luciano Pavarotti demonstrating his "secure technique" once more in La bohème: Che gelida manina
In RA format

Luciano Pavarotti singsDon Carlo: Sire, egli è tempo ch'io viva, with Samuel Ramey, Paolo Coni, Daniela Dessì and Nuccia Focile
Another beautiful crack.
In RA format

Luciano Pavarotti singsLa fille du régiment: Ah mes amis
The King of the High C – with no High C, for once. A fiasco.
In RA format
I wish to thank Daniele Godor for providing the recordings.

Luciano Pavarotti singsIl trovatore: Di quella pira

Luciano Pavarotti singsTurandot: Nessun dorma

Pavarotti's first record, a 10" 45 rpm
Picture of Pavarotti's first record
I first heard Pavarotti in the early 1960s in Zürich. The local opera house has a seat capacity of about 1200 people. In such an environment, Pavarotti sounded pleasant, his voice filling the house well. However I must say that his Duke in Rigoletto was much inferior to the one sung by Alfredo Kraus in the same house. After that I encountered him in San Francisco as Edgardo in a huge house. There, he sounded small and unexciting. His Edgardo was well below the one I heard sung by Vanzo at the Paris Opéra and Vanzo was not a Tamagno type tenor. Vanzo also characterized the role much better than Pavarotti. Pavarotti sang Rodolfo at the Paris Opéra and there he also could not be heard. With me, some friends went to hear him (or rather see him since he already had his elephantine size) based on the well orchestrated publicity on the merit of the big man. They were very disappointed. In their youth, they used to listen to Franz, Burdino, O'Sullivan, de Trévi, Thill, etc... I witnessed his Radames in London. He was a small scale hero with the voice to go with it and had an impossible stage presence due to the handicap of his size that he could not overcome. When I moved to New York, I went to hear him as Manrico. Hear is a big word, since I was only barely able to hear a tread of voice. I left at the intermission, disgusted by his singing. During other times, Pavarotti would have been, at best, limited due to the size of his voice to what French call Opéra-comique roles and to theatre sizes going with it. The argument we hear is that he has a beautiful voice. Well, he was not the only one, what about Gigli, Caruso, Schipa, Cortis, Di Stefano, Thill, etc.? None of these singers had the small voice of Pavarotti. He is the perfect home tenor for people who do not wish to go out to hear him live, but sit at home to listen to the miracle of electronics that makes him sound robust. Pavarotti la voce di topolino.
Luciano Pavarotti, the great illusionist, by Daniele Godor

It's probably tedious to recount Pavarotti's world career, from his studies in Modena together with Mirella Freni, to his early artistic partnership with Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge, and to his position as the world's greatest operatic star since Maria Callas, particularly at a time when his voice was on the decline, and when he primarily sang semi-classical, semi-pop concerts, either with Domingo and Carreras as the Three Tenors, or with actual pop stars at the annual Pavarotti and Friends concerts in Modena.

Just a few facts perhaps that were unknown to myself, and may be unknown to some others, as well. I was always aware that he studied in Modena with Arrigo Pola (together with Freni, see above); what I didn't know is that after three years, he switched to legendary Ettore Campogalliani in the same town for another four years.

That already his 1961 debut (Rodolfo in Reggio nell'Emilia) was recorded is more than well-known among collectors, but it's probably less noted how come: the son of writer Vladimir Nabokov, Dmitrij, was a budding basso, and sang Colline on the evening of Pavarotti's debut; it was he who brought the recording equipment, because he wanted to make his absent father hear his performance. (Dmitrij Nabokov's career went nowhere, for the record.)

The stage director of that Reggio Bohème was ex-soprano Mafalda Favero, and so her husband was in the audience: Alessandro Ziliani, meanwhile long retired as a tenor, and one of Italy's most important bookers. He immediately took Pavarotti under his wing, and for several years (or until Pavarotti became too famous to listen), he carefully directed the young man's career, and wisely chose his roles – only belcanto, and a bit of Mozart. The rest of Pavarotti's life unfolded in front of the world...

Personally, I heard Pavarotti six times, all at the Vienna Staatsoper. He was excellent in April 1984 as both Nemorino (not quite appropriate in style, but beautifully sung and charming nonetheless) and as Radames (and no, on that occasion, his voice was – contrary to François Nouvion's experience recounted above – not to small for the role), and in 1986 as Riccardo. In Luisa Miller, in 1986 as well, he was ill-disposed and disappointing (and caused a scandal among the Staatsoper habitués since he had a microphone hidden in his wig, something that was not nearly as common back then as it is today), and in Tosca (1994) and Andrea Chénier (1996), he was terrible, the voice was small, yes, but above all way too thin and lyrical, even for Cavaradossi.

From live recordings, it's obvious that his technique was always a bit shaky: at all stages of his career, he could be great (above all vocally, not so much in terms of musicality and interpretation), or a complete failure. My impression is that it was connected to his physique – the "bigger" Big P. was, the better worked his voice; when he lost weight, his support vanished. Of course, in later years (cf. my Tosca and Chénier experiences), nothing helped, and he could be as fat as imaginable, and disappointed nevertheless.

Reference: Enciclopedia Treccani

La bohème – Modena, Comunale, 29 April 1961
Rigoletto – Carpi, Comunale, 1 November 1961
La traviata – Belgrade, National, 3 December 1961
Lucia di Lammermoor – Amsterdam, Nederlandse Opera, 18 January 1963
Madama Butterfly – Belfast, Grand Opera House, 7 May 1963
Idomeneo (Idamante) – Glyndebourne, 24 July 1964
La sonnambula – London, Covent Garden, 26 May 1965
L'elisir d'amore – Melbourne, Her Majesty's, 15 July 1965
I Capuleti e i Montecchi – Milano, Scala, 26 March 1966
La fille du régiment – London,Covent Garden, 2 June 1966
I puritani – Catania, Bellini, 22 March 1968
Manon – Milan, Scala, 31 May 1969
I lombardi alla prima crociata – Rome, Opera, 20 November 1969
Un ballo in maschera – San Francisco, Opera, 27 October 1971
La favorita – San Francisco, Opera, 7 September 1973
Luisa Miller – San Francisco, Opera, 23 November 1974
Der Rosenkavalier – New York, Met, 8 March 1976
Il trovatore – New York, Met, 11 October 1976
Tosca – Chicago, Lyric, 26 November 1976
L'elisir d'amore – Hamburg, Staatsoper, 18 June 1977
Turandot – San Francisco, Opera, 30 December 1977
La Gioconda – San Francisco, Opera, 7 September 1979
Aida – San Francisco, Opera, 12 November 1981
Idomeneo (Idomeneo) – New York, Met, 14 October 1982
Ernani – New York, Met, 18 November 1983
Otello – Chicago, concert, 16 April 1991
Don Carlo – Milano, Scala, 7 December 1992
Andrea Chénier – New York, Met, 6 April 1996
Reference: Martin Mayer, Gerald Fitzgerald Grandissimo Pavarotti, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1986.

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