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On a High Note

Operatic supertenor Luciano Pavarotti enjoys a fine cigar.
Nancy Wolfson
From the Print Edition:
Claudia Schiffer, Jul/Aug 97

(continued from page 4)

"There are two ways to get a good lambrusco. You can make it at home, which I did for many years with my grandfather. We bought the grapes, using some from here and some from there, and then I squeezed them with my feet. But because it is so fragile, it is difficult to do it well," he says. About 25 years ago he bought a vineyard in Modena, but sold it shortly thereafter. "Wine must be made by people who know how to make it. Like the opera must be done by people who know how to sing," the tenor says.

Hence the second, and Pavarotti's preferred way to get a good lambrusco, is through one of the local cooperatives. "If you are a member of an organization of local wine producers, you can buy some of their limited-production wines. I'm not a member anymore, but I get them through a friend who is," he says. "I've been buying the same lambrusco from Correggio [a town between Reggio-Emilia and Modena] since 1965."

Other passions have been soccer, horses and tennis. Knee and ankle injuries preclude Pavarotti from playing sports anymore, so these days he has begun practicing yoga. For a brief time in the '70s, painting was a very powerful passion. "One night in 1978 I was dreaming about color. I woke up at four in the morning and painted until three in the afternoon, when the painting was finished. This was really a rapture," he says, pointing to a picture hanging over the fireplace in his New York living room. It is a bright-colored rendition of a fishing village, Portofino, in winter. There are no people, just beached boats, buildings, a cupola and a multihued blue sky that fills most of the canvas. The style is naïf. "That is who I am [naïf]," Pavarotti says. "I did about 38 acrylic paintings in the space of five months, mostly in hotel rooms. And then I stopped." The painting is signed "Lupa" (the first two letters of his first and last name), which also means "she-wolf" in Italian.

It is appropriate that his initials are LP, as in Long Playing. He has made more than 90 records, five of them Grammy winners. Carreras, Domingo and Pavarotti (Decca), recorded live at the first Three Tenors concert at Rome's Baths of Caracalla in July 1990, has become the best-selling classical album of all time. The telecasts and TV specials are too numerous to count. He's made a movie and given his name to a fragrance. On Forbes magazine's most recent annual "Top 40" highest paid entertainers list, Pavarotti placed 28th, with an estimated total gross earnings (before taxes) of $25 million in 1996. These are no small potatoes. Forbes described him as "without a doubt the world's most marketable voice."

"I don't classify myself--I let the others do that," says the singer. "If you sing all the roles put in front of you, you are a tenor [as compared to a lyric tenor or a light lyric tenor]. Punto [period]. If you are also an actor, or a good driver of your voice, if you have personality and a stage presence, personality in life, you become something more than a tenor, more than just a voice."

Indeed, Pavarotti has been labeled a "phenomenon." "Popera" is the term coined by Forbes to describe the mass popularization of opera for which he is almost singlehandedly responsible. Thanks to his rendition of the Turandot aria, "Nessun Dorma," he has become the "O Sole Mio" of opera. "I want to bring people good music and make them happy," he says, chomping on a thick grissino. "Music, like sport, should be for everybody."

One fifth of the world's population is a good beginning. The July 1994 Three Tenors "Encore!" concert was broadcast live from Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles to about 1.2 billion people in some 107 countries. The 1996-'97 World Tour consisted of 12 shows (each tenor is said to pocket more than $1 million per concert, before royalties), spanned four continents and played to 650,000 people. The question, among critics, is to what extent music, and opera in particular, should be like sport.

Pavarotti, who captivates crowds with his ability to hit the high notes, has compared the "business of top notes for a tenor" to a bullfight. "You are not allowed one mistake," he writes with William Wright in his first autobiography, Pavarotti: My Own Story (Doubleday, 1981). "I suppose there is something undeniably exciting about a grown man singing full out those difficult, unnatural high Cs. It creates a wild, almost animal excitement."

On the evening of July 20, 1996, at New Jersey's Giants Stadium (77,716 capacity), the pre-concert excitement for another Three Tenors performance was reminiscent of the anticipation before a football game. In the stadium parking lot, people began picnicking at 5 p.m., four hours before the concert's scheduled start time. Putting a new spin on tailgating, stretch limousines parked alongside the tables-for-12 they'd brought, covered with linen tablecloths, silver, china and crystal. Typical of the fans' fare: grilled filet mignon and lobster salad, washed down with Taittinger on ice.

The night sky, notably devoid of stars, was also devoid of noise, a result of the concert organizers' successful diversion of all normal air traffic during the concert, establishing it as a "no-fly" zone. Down on the 21,600-square-foot megastage, Carreras, Domingo and Pavarotti each warmed up the crowd with a solo. After each tenor performed, he exited the stage as the next singer entered. They met on the edge and gave each other a high-five, like triumphant teammates. "We are friends and we admire each other," Pavarotti insists. "I'm sorry if people are disappointed by that."

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