Thursday, September 06, 2007
Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007)
Pavarotti has died of cancer. I never heard him live, but who hasn't heard his singing dozens of times? While some people scoffed at his stadium gigs and pop adventures, he, Placido Domingo and Beverly Sills probably did more to promote opera to the public than any other figures of the past fifty years. Most people first get drawn to opera not through a specific work, but through a singer. Pavarotti's voice, and his gift, were unmistakable, and he drew many, many people to classical music.
The piece below, "Nessun Dorma," is from Puccini's last opera, Turandot. While Pavarotti always had a magnificent voice, here, in one of his signature arias, he seems quite emotionally invested as well.
This aria is one of my favorites. Here is the translation. If you hear a good tenor singing it live, it will send chills down your spine. (I would have loved to have heard Pavarotti sing this one live.) I find it a striking piece because even though the Prince, the character singing, faces daunting odds, he is astoundingly optimistic, singing "I will win!" His faith is so strong he has put his life in the hands of a cold, cruel woman - but he believes he can reawaken her humanity. The music is stirring. And the Prince's passion is inspiring.
It's pieces like this that put the lie to the notion that art is a garnish to life, something extraneous, or meant merely to entertain or distract. It can be those things, but it can also be something vital and important. It can stop one cold, stir the soul, reawaken emotion, provoke thought, invite reflection, spur a re-connection to one's own life force, or merely stun one with its beauty or passion. This aria is more powerful in the context of a full performance, arriving late in the opera with the weight of all that proceeded it. It's impossible, even irrational hope in the middle of a dark, dangerous night. And no one hit it like Luciano Pavarotti. Goddam, listen to how he hits that last line. We call it "soul." The Italians call it il fuoco sacro, the sacred fire.
Rest in peace, Luciano. Grazie e Bravo!
(I've used this clip before for a Club Blue pick at Blue Herald, and am reprising it tonight.)