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A tribute to Luciano Pavarotti,
who died this week,


In 1990, when the three tenors appeared for the first time for the soccer world championships, I was working in the States as a journalist. And I remember seeing many people sitting in front of their televisions, watching the three tenors perform. For a while, they forgot the world around them, even the people in the slums, the dirty little houses that characterized the less affluent areas of Los Angeles. People who had no sensitivity to opera suddenly discovered what classical music could do for them, to lead them, albeit temporarily, to a better place where everything was structured and ordered according to the laws of harmony and counterpoint, and these laws reached into people's souls and created some sort of order in there, as well.

Pavarotti was many different things to many people. To the critics, in his last years, he was an ageing tenor who couldn't let go. But even on his final goodbye tour in 2005, he found his crowds, crowds who didn't care that his high C may have come a bit more strenuous than it did in the past. For what people, masses of people, will remember about him was that, even long after he was past his prime, he will always stay the man who opened the world of classical music to them. He did not shy away from appearing at soccer stadiums or with pop stars, and he had one goal in mind: to broaden the interest of the masses for classical music in general and opera in specific. 'I want as many people as possible to hear me,' Pavarotti said in a 1996 interview. '20 years ago, I sang before 1000. A year later, it was 2000. A year after that, at Carnegie Hall, at my 3rd recital, it was already 3000. And then, at Central Park, it was an audience of 500,000 people, who were so happy to hear me that, for a while, they could forget the bad world out there. What more can a person like me possibly want?'

This was what constituted part of Pavarotti's personal charm: he was not satisfied with pleasing only a select audience of elite classical music connoisseurs. He wanted more, he wanted everyone, even the poor, the uneducated, the downtrodden, to enjoy and find solace in his music and for that, he was not afraid to lay himself open to the critics, many of whom could not understand what he was doing and why. Born on 12 October 1935 in Modena, Italy, he rose to become one of the most famous tenors in the world, but he always played by his own rules. The audiences loved him for it, whether he sang popular or 'serious' opera. In Vienna, in 1991, he received the longest applause ever of any opera singer in history, a solid one-and-a-half hours! In 1972 at the Met, he sang nine high Cs in the famous aria from Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment -- because he had a bet going and wanted to prove he could pull it off. He could and did, and the audience burst into spontaneous applause that didn't seem to want to end. It should mark the start of what became one of the most interesting and widely ranging tenor careers in the history of opera.

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Copyright © 8 September 2007 Tess Crebbin, Munich, Germany


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