06 September 2007


There were a number of opportunities to see Pavarotti in his later years at the Met, just when I picked up the habit of going to a gazillion evenings per season, but for various reasons things didn't align. Of course I had to be out of town during the week of the now-historic Licitra Tosca in 2002, which many thought would be his farewell to the city and to the house that loved him immensely. Reading about Licitra's last-minute rescue (via Concorde) and surprise success back then, I could sense the gloom in everyone's hearts that a proper farewell didn't come to pass. Two seasons later however, Pavarotti is put in the schedule for three Toscas, and I had two immediate thoughts: no way would I miss this, and no way will Pavarotti make it to any of them.

But he did. All three. And I was there for every one of them. The rest, as they say, is bitchy Opera-L history. Below are my sophomoric words from the pre-Sieglinde era. Bitchy and sophomoric, I repeat. This was what I said about the first of the three farewell evenings:

Still recovering from the trauma of Saturday's morbid Met Tosca, so I'll be brief. Declamation with a suggestion of tone is what passes as Pavarotti singing these days, which is entirely to be expected: his superior sense of the Italian style is still evident, but not enough to sustain a hint of life in his Cavaradossi. But what shocked me more was the current state of Carol Vaness' voice: I am absolutely appalled that this kind of singing is tolerated at all by the house. Pavarotti's wistful farewell circus is easy to stomach and somehow forgive, but what pained me Saturday was the unnecessary layer of torture added courtesy of Vaness, who made me do the unthinkable and actually wish for Sylvie Valayre, who at least had a working Vissi d'arte ...
I can't believe I wrote that. The weird thing about the internet is that it makes you think it's an ephemeral, always in-the-now thing, but it's really unforgivingly permanent. I'm still learning. Anyway, I don't know if I should apologize to Vaness or to Valayre ... 2004, three years ago, I was young(ish) back then ... and, to my defense, three years is equivalent to thirty blogger years.

Anyway, after the second evening, I wrote:
OK, so I didn't eBay off or scalp my family circle box ticket, and the thought of just throwing it away when record numbers turned out for the standing room line borders treason, and what else is there to do on a cold Wednesday evening ... Thankfully, things were a bit cleaner tonight (but with a twist at the end, which we'll get to in a bit): having proven Saturday that he can still wow an audience, Pavarotti tonight seemed much more at ease, filling his Act I love-in with Vaness with cute/scary little antics (groping and kissing his Tosca at every opportunity, winking at his adoring audience, violating the fourth wall, etc.), and musically more even (tonight he was at least trying). Even Vaness seemed to have mellowed as well ...
Still bitchy, but I'd like to think that I mellowed quite a bit too. Then, after the third and last evening, I had a lot to say, including the following:
The ovation after "E lucevan le stelle" lasted about three or four minutes, during which cameras flashed and some wall-banging ensued amidst thunderous bravos: all this touched Luciano so much that he picked up his glass of water and gestured a toast to the audience before taking a sip. During the curtain calls after each act, the stage was illuminated by thousands of flashbulbs, including ones from the orchestra pit, and so the next time an usher approaches you to remind you of the "official rules", direct them to their own orchestra members, who probably need a rules refresher themselves.

Reading recent weeks' posts in this list, with all the caustic vitriol directed towards our beloved Met singers (Fleming, Don Giovanni stars, etc.), one wonders if we even need casting directors to drain all passion and love from our beloved art when we do a good job of it ourselves. Then, nights like this last Tosca happen, which (while of dubious artistic merit) evince the humanity and enduring emotional legacy of opera despite its temporal nature, and which provide lovers of the art a venue to express their gratitude for those who sweat blood and bitter tears to indulge our petty enjoyment and pleasure. To me, Saturday served as a reminder to be even more generous to these artists who have achieved much more than we all could even imagine for ourselves.

Goodbye, Luciano!
Farewell, Pavarotti. I didn't hear you in your prime, and when I finally had a chance to hear you, I was excessively arrogant and immature. (I still am, folks, don't worry.) But I guess I managed to learn something from those three evenings. This morning, I had the TV on during The View, and the ladies had many things to say about you and your voice, icky cliches oozing from the dials. Then they played a clip of your visit to the show a few years back, and you were singing Ave Maria, and you transcended the cheesy set, the TV, the ordinary morning, this trivial world. I'm in awe of the natural beauty of your sound, and I wonder at the power of music when it comes from the heart.