There's something mysterious about the strip of land that goes from Modena up to Parma: the land where you breathe opera in the air, where Verdi was born and Bergonzi was born and Pavarotti and Freni and so many, many others -- Franco Zeffirelli, a "foreigner", a Tuscan old boy that has learnt to understand the spirit of this place so well, yesterday said that it's no coincidence that Pavarotti was born here in Emilia. That Pavarotti couldn't be from anywhere but here.
And the more Opera Chic thinks about it the more she knows Zeffirelli's right, it isn't a coincidence, it had to be here, in this Emilia, this land of rich soil and big hopes and hard work, a magical place of deep white thick fog that appears suddendly at night and hides one's face, one's house, one's town from sight, and fills one's lungs with coldness, a fog so insane that when it finally dissolves you could see a deer, or a rhino, or an elephant or even Rigoletto appear out of that whiteness and you wouldn't be that surprised, not really.
This magical land haunted by stormy passions the way old deserted houses are ruled by ghosts -- a land where even the illiterate -- especially them -- knew their Verdi by heart because he wrote his music for the people here, about them -- Opera Chic likes to think that they knew his music even before Verdi was born, they probably dreamed him out of that fog, they needed him to give shape and sound to the music they felt pumping through their hearts.
Just like Pavarotti, Mirella Freni is from here, and, you know this little thing kills me, Freni calls Verdi "verdolino", little Verdi, the way one would give a nickname to one's baby. Because she knows he's hers; she knows he talks to her. It's in her blood.
Mad props to newspaper Il Resto Del Carlino, that ran a wonderful interview today with la signora Mirella Freni, the greatest Mimì ever, and Mimì to Pavarotti's Rodolfo. Signora Freni met Luciano as a baby: in the day care of center of the factory where their mothers both worked.
"Yes, our mothers worked at the same tobacco factory, they worked all day so they took us there. I was a few months older than Luciano but he was my big brother, my fratellone: I loved him at first sight, we truly grew up together"
"Unbelievable, how we ended up singing together, everywhere in the world. Very often journalists would ask us about our friendship and Luciano laughed out loud with that laughter of his and said, 'Yes, we did everything together, except making love!'. He was always ready to crack a joke. Sometimes, working abroad, when we didn't want other people to get what we said, we spoke our local dialect, Luciano and I, and nobody would understand"
"We studied together, rehearsed together, but we mostly gave each other courage -- we healed each other that way. I was with Luciano for his debut at the Met, November 23, 1968. We did Bohème. I had already sung there, it was his first time, he was so emotional. Despite his stage frights, it was an awesome night for me. And unforgettable for him"
"Bohème is the opera we appeared in the most and the one that impressed the audience the most. Well, we were pretty good, bravini... Luciano and I did dozens of concerts, records, operas... A life together, literally"
"Perhaps it was destiny. I, a soprano, he a tenor. Had he been a bass, we'd have had a much narrower repertoire together. I think it was destiny, yes".
"Our last Bohème together happened in Turin, 1996, for the opera's 100th year celebration. I'll be frank, we were speechless: we told each other, here we are, two senior citizens, still here doing Rodolfo and Mimi'? For the centenario? We laughed so hard"
"We spoke often, sometimes on the phone, we bickered, we made fun of each other. Two weeks ago, at the hospital, he cracked up: 'Mirella, don't be a dunce...'. He impressed me, until the very end, with his way of looking me in the eyes, with affection and respect, it was so special. We argued a lot. We're both stubborn, but we have so much admiration for each other. Now I feel that a part of me is going away with him"
We have only listened to his records -- the luckiest among us have heard him sing in the opera house -- and we're affected so deeply by his passing. One can only imagine the sense of loss of la signora Freni, who has actually spent more time with Pavarotti than both of his wives combined. She was Pavarotti's twin in so many ways that her sense of loss must be truly shattering.