On a High Note
Operatic supertenor Luciano Pavarotti enjoys a fine cigar.
From the Print Edition:
Claudia Schiffer, Jul/Aug 97
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If Pavarotti is not calculating, his manager certainly is. Herb Breslin was an adman before managing Pavarotti, and Michael Walsh, Time magazine's former music critic, calls Breslin's methods "a bread-and-circuses approach to art." A virtuoso breadwinner and marketer, Breslin is credited with masterminding Pavarotti's one-man shows and "arena" concerts around the world. While Pavarotti relies on Breslin's ability to calculate, many attribute the singer's longevity to the fact that he has paced his own career, selective about when to sing which roles and careful never to push his voice--renowned for a pure, open quality that presents the words with clarity-- beyond its limit. He does push the Casanova envelope. Famous for being a flirt, he was once interviewed on television by Pia Lindstrom, Ingrid Bergman's daughter. She made some reference to a critic's comment that Pavarotti's vocal chords were kissed by God. "I think He kissed you all over," Pavarotti replied without missing a beat.
Just five months after that first performance of La Bohème in 1961, he got married. It wasn't exactly unexpected--he and Adua Veroni had been engaged for eight years. Within six years they had three daughters: Lorenza (now 34), Cristina (32) and Giuliana (30). Adua, originally a school teacher from Modena, eventually started an agency for young singers called Stage Door Opera Management, with which she is no longer connected. She was involved with her husband's career until 1996, when they separated.
There had been scores of rumors over the years. Often seen with other women, the tenor had remained a family man, at least on the record. Last year when he left Adua after 35 years of marriage, it was for his secretary, Nicoletta Mantovani. Also from Modena, she is 34 years his junior. The press, particularly in Italy, has lambasted him for it. For his part, Pavarotti has said little about the issue, simply stating that he is in love. Famously protective of his privacy, Pavarotti politely dismisses the issue when I try to get him to elaborate.
In his second autobiography, Pavarotti: My World (written with William Wright, Crown 1995), Pavarotti wrote, "I love Ballo [Un Ballo in Maschera--The Masked Ball, a Verdi opera] for many reasons.... The tenor character, Riccardo, is a good man who is deeply in love with his friend's wife. I sympathize with him, not because I have ever been in love with a friend's wife, thank God, but because I know how powerful love can be and how it can make a man do things that he knows are wrong." Perhaps that is one of the disadvantages of being a dreamer.
"I care a lot about the people in my life--the ones who were my friends even before I started to sing, and have remained close all these years," says Pavarotti. "These are the friends in whom I have no doubt, whereas I might have doubts about the friends who have approached me since I've become a singer." Although he is one of the most outgoing, visible singers alive, he values his privacy. His greatest fear has always been "some-thing happening to the people that I love. And there are a lot of people that I love."
He's also loyal to Villigers, the Swiss cigars he's been smoking since he bought them on a whim at a London airport about 20 years ago. He turns to the humidor behind his desk, opens it and pulls out a Villiger. "These are my cigars--very simple. Gentle and dry, they are perfect for me, because they are just the right length and not too heavy for my delicate throat."
His cigars are the only small-scale component about the larger-than-life star. The big man has huge appetites for big audiences, big houses, big cars, big meals and big deals. He is big box-office fodder and makes big bucks.
He's been known to smoke a big Cuban cigar or two. At a New York Metropolitan Opera gala celebrating the opening of the '93-'94 season, Pavarotti sang Otello and Domingo sang Act I of Valkyrie. At the party afterwards, the renowned tenor José Carreras made a surprise appearance. In his pockets were Cohibas for all three tenors. "We had a big smoke on the Grand Tier!" exclaims Joseph Volpe, the general director of the Met, who is an aficionado of Cohiba Esplendidos and Partagas.
Pavarotti likes to smoke in the summer, during his annual August vacation at his sprawling beach house in Pesaro, a town on the Adriatic Sea. "After a meal, a cigar relaxes me. And, I like the smell," he says, dragging out the word "smell" as he might sustain a high note.
The smell was what got him started, but it was from a pipe rather than a cigar. "In 1962, in the second year of my career, I had just finished performing in Budapest, where I boarded a train for Vienna. I was to sing there next. I was seated alone in a compartment. At the second stop, a well-dressed man got on and entered my compartment. He had two pieces of luggage: a large one and a small 24-hour bag. He sat down, opened the small one and asked if I'd mind if he smoked a pipe. 'Well, I am a singer,' I protested. 'I just finished singing and I'm going to Vienna to sing the day after tomorrow.' He got up to change compartments, but I asked him to stay, because there was something very charming about him. After a while he asked if I'd like to see the pipe. He opened the smaller bag and it was full of 10 or 12 different pipes. The smell was wonderful. He was going to Vienna for a pipe competition. They give you a quantity of tobacco, and the longer you can keep it lit, the better. Very, very interesting," says Pavarotti, who is fascinated with competitions and endowed with a propensity for winning them.
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