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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 5)

At the half, you could buy a Three Tenors silk scarf for $40, a watch for $65, a baseball cap for $25 or a glossy program for $15. You could nibble on Hebrew National hot dogs and popcorn and sip Budweiser. The Three Tenors package seems strangely reflective of the wide-ranging preferences of Pavarotti himself.

"My goal is to sing until 2001, to complete 40 years in the profession," he says, sipping cold mineral water with lemon. In 2001, he will be 65. "I want to do about three or four new roles, but only ones that make sense for me. An opera that is new for the theater, and therefore new for the audience--like the Fedora production at the Met--would be interesting for me to do. Otherwise, to do an opera not new for the audience but new for me would put me at a disadvantage, and I don't like that," he says with a sigh.

Much has been said about his aging, darkening voice. In 1992, he got caught lip-synching at an outdoor multi-artist pop concert in Modena, and a few months later was booed when his voice cracked at an opening-night performance at Milan's La Scala. He hasn't sung there since. "One time he cracked, but hundreds of other nights he has sung in a truly divine manner," opines a Milanese La Scala subscriber.

"I am a workaholic now," says Pavarotti. "Since one of my best friends died a few years ago, I have become more professional. He was a cousin of my wife's, and he always told me to focus more on being professional. He told me I would find an incredible pleasure, and he was right--I have." Despite harsh criticism to the contrary, and accusations that he is "squandering his talent," those close to the tenor attest to his hard work ethic.

Pavarotti is booked through 2000. Scheduled for this year: four Three Tenors concerts in Europe (one was scheduled for Modena on June 17, a benefit concert to raise funds to rebuild La Fenice, Venice's landmark opera house that burned in 1996), performances of Turandot and L'Elisir d'Amore during the Metropolitan Opera's 1997-'98 season, L'Elisir at the San Carlo Opera in Naples, a huge special for television and a possible deal with Disney. This is an ample workload for a tenor of any age.

There is also teaching, and the competition for young singers he sponsors in Philadelphia, for which he hears 2,000 singers every three years. "I initiated this competition because winning a competition changed my life, so I know how valuable this can be for new singers," he says. "I find myself so patient with these kids. I will do anything for a singer if I feel there is material to work with."

A few nights later in his dressing room backstage at the Met, after a performance of Andrea Chenier, there is the usual long line of starstruck well-wishers. Pavarotti sits on a stool in the center of the small room. Still in makeup, he wears knickers (the bottom half of his costume), a red shirt and an oversized printed shawl.

A young man dressed in a suit waits patiently until it is his turn to shake the big man's hand. He mumbles something and Pavarotti smiles. The man moves away, and suddenly Pavarotti bellows, "Oh, yes. I remember your voice very well. I remember what you sang for me. Where are you singing now?" The young man, flattered at having been recognized by the star, tells him. As Pavarotti continues to autograph programs and shake fans' hands, smiling his big, toothy smile, he gives the young tenor a word of encouragement: "That's good--at least you're working. Keep it up. Don't give up, it will come."

One of the most important moments in Pavarotti's life occurred when he was 12. The great tenor Beniamino Gigli, 57 years old at the time, was "vocalizing" on the stage in Modena. "I was watching from below," Luciano recalls, "and when he came down into the audience, I said, 'I, a contralto now, want to become a tenor. What do you, as a tenor, think my chances are?'

'Certainly if you are a contralto, you will become a tenor,' Gigli responded. And then I asked, 'How long did you have to study?' And he told me, 'My child, I just finished five minutes ago.' He meant, clearly, if you intend to follow this profession, you will have to study always, until you don't sing anymore. But I think I will continue to study, even when I stop singing in public."

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