Luciano Pavarotti died two hours ago of pancreatic cancer, around 5AM this morning Italian time (11PM Wednesday night New York time) in his homewtown of Modena in Northern Italy. He was 71.
Italian newspaper La Repubblica's website headline is "The World Mourns" and it is indeed difficult to name a contemporary Italian who is more famous around the world than Pavarotti.
The fact that Pavarotti owes a sizable chunk of his worldwide fame to his later projects, from the Three Tenors to the crossover concerts with pop artists, does not change -- can not change -- the fact that in a 30-year-long career Pavarotti has left behind recordings, from the mid-1960s to the late 1980s, that are unmatched, and will probably remain so.
Whenever we mention a phenomenon such as Juan Diego Florez, and his sometimes uncanny ability to produce a sound that we consider similar to the Platonic ideal of a tenor voice -- such as Tito Schipa's was -- we sometimes forget that Pavarotti's voice will be remembered as another gold standard just like Schipa's, and Gigli's, and no other -- the clear-as-a-bell sound, the natural beauty of the timbro, the truly awesome power, let me repeat, the unmatched power, the perfect diction, the apparent effortlessness of that heavenly sound.
Listening to vintage Pavarotti is truly to be exposed to a sound that -- for all its limitations in technique, for all the lack of width in his repertorio, that never moved beyond the classic Italian opera roles -- has no match in the history of recorded music.
Opera Chic never had the privilege to meet il maestro in person, but knows people who have: and they remember the warm man, quick to laughter, conscious of his fame but unwilling to throw tantrums because of the still-present memory of his humble origins as a ragazzo di paese, a smalltown young man. A man of great appetites -- for food, obviously, for fame, for money, yes, and for life -- a man capable of engineering his career with great vision and determination but also capable of great acts of generosity -- we do not know of many international stars who would spend an entire day personally on the phone, with great urgency, flying in the best specialist vet in Europe from the UK to Italy to try to save a friend's dying family dog.
Opera Chic wants to remember his performances, his recordings, his special grace, his bravery when struck by illness, his refusal to commiserate himself after all the success and the blessings of a good life -- he was even blessed with a baby in old age with his second wife Nicoletta -- and his insistence of celebrating life, still, even in illness (a recent dinner at the end of July with Juan Diego Florez who found the maestro in high spirits is the most recent evidence) -- these are the things she wants to remember him by. These are the things we will remember him by, in the end, more than the Three Tenors, and the crossover "Pavarotti & Friends" stuff with U2 and James Brown and others (an initiative that at least raised much money for charity, another example of the late maestro's generosity).
As a New Yorker, Opera Chic wants to remember Big Luciano, a huge NYC lover, walking down Central Park South -- where he still keeps an apartment -- in the wintertime, right before Xmas, his golden voice wrapped in layer upon layer of the silk scarves he loved so much and he considered his lucky charms, a smile on his face, and all that wonderful music ready to be created by his voice.
Opera Chic bets he was thinking of dinner, too.
Now, Opera Chic is no fan of YouTube posts for the sake of, you know, whatever -- but this is why we say that OC doubts that even her grandchildren will have the opportunity to listen to another voice such as this one:
"Sometimes they ask me, tell me the most significant performance of your life". Pavarotti and his father, with a vintage clip of young Luciano with Freni:
And by the way, you might be familiar with that obscure, seldom-heard aria from an obscure opera; it's called "Che Gelida Manina". We've heard, what, a million of them? And we'll hear millions more. Well, this is how it's done.
***** "Prendi per me sei libero", with another natural phenomenon, la signora Kathleen Battle. Because we don't want to commemorate Pavarotti in a minor key.