The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Why does Pavarotti – the man and now the movie – fascinate us?

June 8, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend a lot of people nationwide will go see the movie “Pavarotti,” the documentary by Ron Howard about the legendary Italian tenor who died 12 years ago.

Luciano Pavarotti (below) was and remains a superstar, a major cultural phenomenon, which is why Decca Records is cashing in by releasing not only the soundtrack to the documentary film but also a new 3-CD compilation of Pavarotti’s best singing.

It’s all so curious, especially if you compare Pavarotti’s artistic accomplishments against those of, say, Placido Domingo.

Pavarotti couldn’t read music.

He couldn’t act very convincingly.

The roles he learned were relatively limited in number.

He made major personal and professional missteps.

Yet we remain deeply drawn to Pavarotti.

Why?

It certainly has to do with his extraordinary voice, the tone and power of which could make your neck hairs stand on end, give you goosebumps, bring tears to your eyes and make you sob out loud.

Just listen to his singing of Puccini’s “Nessun dorma,” the crowd-pleasing signature aria from “Turandot” that Pavarotti performed over and over again in concerts, operas and at the famous “Three Tenors” stadium concerts. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

But there is more to Pavarotti as a cultural phenomenon, much more, that tells us about ourselves and about the appeal of opera in general.

Without question, the best cultural analysis of Luciano Pavarotti that The Ear has ever seen or heard came recently from the critic Zachary Woolfe in The New York Times.

As Woolfe deconstructs “this hulking, sweaty man with stringy hair, a patchy beard and an unforgettable sound,” you learn much about the popular appeal – both high and low — of opera as well as the commercial and artistic appeal of Pavarotti.

Here is a link to Woolfe’s “Critic’s Notebook” analysis, which is well worth reading on its own or either before or after you see the new film.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/03/arts/music/pavarotti-ron-howard.html

And here is the official trailer for the film, with comments from many of his colleagues, which gets mixed reviews:

What do you think of Zachary Woolfe’s analysis of Pavarotti?

Why do you think the singer was so popular?

What is your favorite performance of his?

And if you saw the film, what did you think of it? Do you recommend seeing it?

Leave a comment.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Twenty years ago, The Three Tenors created “popera” and changed the history of opera singing. Did it help or hurt opera? And who was the greatest tenor of the three? Plus, Madison Opera’s FREE Opera in the Park is Saturday night.

July 20, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This past Wednesday marked the 20th anniversary of The Three Tenors phenomenon -– a blockbuster “crossover” concert (below) that was held outdoors on July 16, 1994 in Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles to mark the FIFA World Cup final.

three tenors 1994 dodgers stadium

The concert, which featured a mix of light, popular and serious music, took something of a drubbing from the serious classical music critics.

But it didn’t matter.

The public loved it –- and then some.

And the public kept on loving it and still does. Which is while you still see it on TV and hear it on radio, even two decades later, and why it has spawned so many imitators.

The event turned opera singing into a rock concert-like stadium event for the masses and the popular media, and brought to singing a huge global audience. Talk about genius in marketing and branding!

The event no doubt also helped pave the way for such mass outdoor concerts as the Madison Opera’s 13th annual FREE “Opera in the Park” (below),” with this year John DeMain conducting soloists plus members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera Chorus. It will take place this coming Saturday night, July 26, at 8 p.m. in Garner Park on Madison’s far west side.

Here is a link to the upcoming Madison Opera event, which previews the coming season and which usually attracts more than 10,000 listeners each summer. You can find information about directions, seating, artists and repertoire:

http://madisonopera.org/performances-2013-2014/park/

Opera in the Park

The 1994 event also dramatically changed the careers of the original Three Tenors -– Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras.

It brought all of them – and also conductor Zubin Mehta – unbelievable amounts of money for a one-night stint. And that, in turn, translated into astronomical fees for future individual tours by each of them.

You can relive the 1994 event through a sound sample in the story as well as through a YouTube video, which has almost 3 million hits, at the bottom of The Ear’s favorite aria, by Giacomo Puccini, from the event. It is in a terrifically comprehensive story, filled with lots of facts big and small, that Anastasia Tsioulcas researched and wrote for the outstanding “Deceptive Cadence” blog on NPR or National Public Radio.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/07/16/330751895/how-the-three-tenors-sang-the-hits-and-changed-the-game

What do you think of The Three Tenors and its impact on the classical music scene and the opera scene? On the culture in general?

Did it help or hurt the cause of great singing and staging serious opera?

And who do you think was the greatest tenor of the three?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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