Archive for Pavarotti

The Great Pavarotti!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Movie Reviews with tags , on June 27, 2019 by playthell

The Porcine Lothario of Grand Opera 

A Cinematic Homage to the Maestro

On father’s day my twin children, Samori and Makeda, took me out to the movies to see “Pavarotti,” a documentary on the great Italian tenor who dominated the Grand Opera stage for the second half of the 20th century, brilliantly directed by Ron Howard. I had chosen the movie when they asked what I wanted to do on my special day. It provided an opportunity for me to resume my efforts to tutor them in the complexities of fine art music; the two greatest examples of which are Jazz – a uniquely American classical music invented by Afro-American musicians – and European Classical concert music. Although I privilege instrumental music, the great singers in all genres often have the widest appeal to audiences. And in European music the highest form of vocal artistry is the Grand Opera, where the great composers collaborate with librettist in creating musical dramas that tell wonderful stories in song.

In a career that spanned two centuries – the 20th and 21st – Luciano Pavarotti dominated the Grand Opera stages of the world, and the movie captures his amazing career marvelously. One of the reasons for the success of the film is that we learn as much about the man as his music; which is to say that the film transcends the Opera stage. The artistic choices of the film makers does much to capture and hold the attention of an audience, who may not be opera buffs, by the way they jump-cut from the stage to real life in a seamless narrative.  And most of the music centers around  arias from Pavarotti’s most moving performances.

This is a wise choice because the non-opera fan who would become bored with large segments of an opera, are enthralled listing to the arias. The reason for this was explained by Robert Merrill, venerable baritone with the world renowned Metropolitan Opera. An avid baseball fan who sang the National Anthem at Yankee Stadium countless times, Merrill saw the game of baseball as a metaphor for the opera. He pointed out that baseball is often considered boring for the non-fan until there is a home run, or triple play, or spectacular catch in the outfield, Or acrobatic fielding by the short stop, or a strike out by the pitcher. For Merrill, these magic moments on the baseball diamond were the equivalent of the aria on the Grand Opera stage.

In the Italian opera, an art they invented, it is the tenor who most often sings the great arias with the soprano, and for those who know the score the most dramatic moment comes when the tenor is required to hit the high C. For fans with sadistic sensibilities, or are pissed because their woman has a crush on the tenor who is professing his love in heroic song, their fervent wish is that he will miss…. or at least crack the note. The movie reveals that Pavarotti was well aware of the possibility of disaster, and always took to the stage with great anxiety; announcing in the wings before taking the stage: “Now I go out to die!”

His fears proved fruitless, for The Maestro never missed a high C in performance. Two of the arias that present the greatest chance of failure is the challenging Ah! mes amis” from Daughter of the Regiment,” by Gaetano Donizetti, which contains nine high Cs!  And the hauntingly beautiful Nessum Dorma, from Puccini’s Turandot, in which the challenge is the high B, and Pavarotti is featured in flawless performances of both. In discussing the ever present possibility of a spectacular failure in attempting to perform these operatic masterpieces with the Maestro, who says he is never confident he will succeed singing the great arias, the audience is provided with deep insights into the difficult art of classical singing.

We learn that all great singing is produced in the diaphragm not the throat, and that this is an art where few will succeed, even after many years of rigorous training. And we can count on one hand those who have reached the heights traversed by the great Pavarotti, whose sudden rise to international stardom in 1963 was serendipitous. He was hired to fill in for Guiseppe de Stefano in the role of Rudolfo in Puccini’s La Boheme, at London’s renowned Covent Garden, and overnight a star was born.

Finally, there is the arresting and insightful portrait of Pavarotti the man that emerges from this film. Through footage of the Maestro, supplemented by 53 interviews with those who knew and worked with him in a variety of capacities, we see a man who possessed a zest for life that few among us will ever know. He was a loving devoted father that found real joy in the role; he was an admiring son who honored his father by following in his footsteps as a tenor voice and winning the acclaim that was denied to his father; who made his living as a baker and sang on the side. We see his gluttonous love for wine, food and women – which showed in his generous girth – and his mutual adoration with his audiences reveal a generosity of spirit as abundant as his physique. But we also see his unpalatable side alas.

With multitudes of finely clad voluptuous beauties flashing ‘come hither” smiles and “fuck me” body language, responding as if their ears were connected to the clits, it would require an impotent pooty pop or a righteous Saint with a greater will than David, Samson and Solomon to have resisted such temptations. And although a miraculous singer with a heavenly voice, Pavarotti was no Saint. Indeed, from all appearances he was a potent stud. Given the amount of time spent on the road performing around the world, he was bound to stray. This eventually led to the break-up of his family when his wife had had enough of his prolific philandering. But he would be married again to a beautiful younger woman; although she had no talent or interest in music, she was smitten by Pavarotti and proved to be an excellent business partner and soulmate.

Perhaps the thing that best revealed The Maestro’s expansive love of music is the series of concerts he performed billed as Pavarotti and Friends, and his stint with The Three Tenors, in which he shared the stage with the great Spanish tenors Placido Domingo, who could also credibly claim to be “the greatest tenor in the Grand Opera, and Jose Carreas.” This act was so wildly popular that a documentary was made on them and all three stars set records for earnings with Jose Carreras amassing a net worth of 250, million dollars, Pavarotti 275 million and Placido Domingo – who is also a conductor, 300 million!

This is big time Rock Star and Hip Hop mogul money, and the fact that they could accumulate these sums singing Classical Music is a testament to their unique appeal.  Although Opera, especially the magnificent Italian tenor of the early 20th century Enrico Caruso, was once quite popular.  For instance, the first record to sell a million copies was Caruso’s performance of Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” in 1907.  Pavarotti’s  performances in the Pavarotti and Friends concerts, which were dedicated to raising money for charity, put Pavarotti on stage with the world’s biggest stars of popular music. He performed with Rock megastars like Sting and Bono, plus Rhythm&Blues icons such as Barry White and James Brown.

White, a singer/songwriter who was an overweight sex symbol with a girth comparable to Pavarotti’s, sold 100 million records, including 106 gold albums, with 41 becoming platinum. He also had 20 gold and 10 platinum singles. Which makes him one of the most beloved singers of all times worldwide; yet at 20 million dollars White’s net worth is a fraction of Pavarotti’s, who at one point was the most popular singer in the world. This wonderful film captures the complexity and presents an unvarnished narrative of the Maestro’s life, with all his vices and virtues, that’s more than worth the price of the ticket!  

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Watch Pavarotti Perform Nessum Dorma at the MET

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMsqjXv9aJk

Hear Pavarotti sing “Ah! mes amis”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASXYB_TQjpc&list=RDASXYB_TQjpc&index=1

Watch: The Three Tenors Sing “O Sole Mio”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvLZSgP0QMY

Watch The Overweight Lovers: Pavarotti and Barry White

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5z02F9Bbbw

Watch Pavarotti and James Brown Sing “It’s A Man’s World

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gb-B3lsgEfA