Thursday, September 27, 2007
It's been a lousy summer for opera singers! Beverly Sills's death in July was a shock. Worse still was the suicide of American tenor Jerry Hadley. He had it all. A wonderful voice, a smart, well trained handsome man who still had lots to offer. His death sucked.
Pavarotti had been ill with cancer for over a year. His death wasn't a surprise and the last years of his career, hampered by his weight, bad knees and failing strength weren't happy. But the legacy! That voice, the Italian sunshine on a rainy day, the wonderful -almost arrogant ease of the high register, the colors he kept in his voice all around the range, the technique that allowed him to sing so well for so long, with no breaks in the voice. Behind the weight problems and the women and the inability to read music, here was a great voice superbly trained. (Sorry, but nobody applauds an atist because he can read music) But there was more. We remember Sills thirty yeas after her last performances and we'll remember Luciano again, because they connected. They reached out. They had something-I don't know exactly what-that drew audiences to them. Certainly vocal prowess was a lot of it but there was something else. Luciano was a big sweet teddy bear who fought with his weight, yes, but like Eleanor Steber in an earlier generation he so loved to sing that you loved it too.
I first heard him in his breakout performance, Tonio in The Daughter of the Regiment. He was a big boy even then-this was 1972, but ran around like a kid. And those nine high Cs! Nailed, nailed and nailed. In Bellini's I Puritani with Joan Sutherland the two of them playing love struck teenagers weighed about 600 lbs between them and both had grandchildren and who cared? Vocal miracles the pair of them. Young singers today are short changed in language training in schools. No matter. Go to the library and listen to Luciano sing Italian. Its like living in Florence for a year.It was only after 2000 that he became a sad figure, limping on the stage, remaining seated during the most passionate scenes of Tosca. But he never lost that voice. Not to my ears. God bless him.