Lockdown musings continued: a larger-than-life character who brought opera to the world

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
He ate the spaghetti and signed the photo. Luciano Pavarotti enjoying life. Picture: Getty Images

Continuing my occasional musings on art and music during quarantine in Florence, I’ve been thinking about Luciano Pavarotti, the larger-than-life character (in all senses of the word) who helped popularise opera, or at least bring to a larger audience many of the wonderful melodies of the great composers like Verdi and Puccini.

It was said that in Verdi’s day, Italian grocery delivery boys whistled the tunes of the latest arias as they peddled their bicycles, but in the last 50 years or so opera has become something of a cult, enjoyed by the few but spurned by the masses. I think that was particularly true in Britain.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Nessun dorma : Let no-one sleep!

There is one tune, however, that just about everybody knows, even in Britain, and that’s Nessun Dorma. Pavarotti’s version of this rousing Puccini aria was adopted by the BBC as the theme tune for its coverage of the 1990 World Cup (held in Italy) and became so popular that it reached number two in the hit parade. And the eve of the World Cup final saw the first of the Three Tenors concerts, which became the biggest selling classical record of all time. But it was Pavarotti’s smiling personality and captivating voice which really appealed to non-opera lovers and which frequently filled concert halls and open-air venues alike.

I was reminded of Pavarotti’s genius by watching a short YouTube video in which Antonio Pappano celebrates the tenor’s skills and explains why he is so good. You can see it by clicking here. Pappano’s knowledgeable comments add to the spine-tingling enjoyment.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Nessun Dorma comes from Puccini’s Turandot, the composer’s last, and unfinished, opera. There is a rickety plot with fantastic characters, but the opera enables Puccini, my favourite composer, to heighten our emotions and tug at our heartstrings. And heartstrings were definitely pulled at the opera’s debut performance in 1926, at La Scala in Milan, conducted by the incomparable Arturo Toscanini. In the middle of the last act, the orchestra paused, Toscanini put down his baton and turned to the audience. His precise words are now disputed, but I find this version the most satisfying. Toscanini said: “Here the opera ends, because at this point the Maestro laid down his pen.”  The curtain was lowered slowly.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

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