Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bye, Pav

For anyone growing up in the 80s with parents who were casual opera listeners, Pavarotti was the king of the big time opera stars one recognized on the sleeves of recordings and in PBS telecasts. His voice is like mother's milk for all of us who were introduced to opera in that period.

I got to see him in person once, when singing in the children's choir for Solti's farewell gala from the CSO, in a concert performance of Otello with an 80s all-star cast of Pavarotti, Kiri Te Kanawa, and Leo Nucci. He wasn't an immaculate opera star to be sure--he had a special armchair onstage, dedicated prompter, and proceeded to litter the ground with fruit peels throughout the dress--but getting his autograph afterwards was nonetheless like meeting a minor deity.

There will be a lot of tired sentences about how he "democratized the art form" in his obits, but Pavarotti's appeal really has nothing to do with high or low culture. For whatever opera may or may not be, opera-singing is about using the beauty of the human voice in the service of expression, something anyone with ears can appreciate. And Pavarotti made that exceptionally clear to novice and expert alike.

I don't have anything good to play on hand, so I'll just direct you to the podcasts La Cieca put together for Pav's 70th birthday--a 1969 Boheme with Mirella Freni, plus amazing bonus tracks from his prime after each act. If one could wear out the grooves on a podcast, I would be in need of a serious trip to the podcast store to pick up new copies of these. Go to this archive page and search "Boheme".