Sunday, September 9, 2007


This commentary is an imperfect attempt to express my sorrow at Pavarotti’s passing, gratitude at his incredible gift of music to humanity and perhaps response to another cathartic moment. At any rate, my emotions tell me I have to do this, for me.

Ever since Luciano Pavarotti passed on last Thursday, I’ve found myself humming, whistling and singing Nessun Dorma, that wonderful aria from the final act of Puccini’s opera Turandot and what evolved into Pavarotti’s signature song. Appropriately, Nessun Dorma was the song Pavarotti sang in his final performance, the finale of the Opening Ceremony of the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics in his home country. No one interpreted it better than Luciano.

I also especially remember that incredible televised 1988 concert in Montreal at the Notre Dame Cathedral where in this ethereal setting Luciano sang Christmas carols with Les Petits Chanteur du Mont-Royal and the Disciples de Massenet. Of special note was that great Gesu Bambino duet with the young soprano chorister that brought back many memories for me. Those of you that have the VHS tape of the concert consider yourselves very lucky! Pavarotti was wonderful in that venue.

In fact, Pavarotti was for me, and a great many more, probably the greatest tenor of all time whether they be lyric, spinto, dramatic or Wagnerian tenors. I’m not diminishing the accomplishments of all the other great tenors that include but are not limited to The Great Caruso, Di Stefano, Lanza, Corelli, Del Monaco, Giacomini, Wunderlich, Domingo, Carreras and no, while I enjoy him immensely, not Bocelli. In my opinion Mario del Monaco or Fritz Wunderlich probably most closely approached Pavarotti with their ringing voices though they failed like the others to manifest the subtlety, richness or range of Pavarotti and his interpretations. In deference to Wunderlich, he died young in a pre-Nazi Germany.

It’s obvious that I’m not a music scholar or academic. I just know what I like, period. For me, these other great artists failed with more exaggerated, fleshy, labored vibratos; blurred intonations/diction and an emotional detachment that relegated them all to a grand second place. Many failed to properly enunciate, slurring like a novice ventriloquist stumbling over his “b's” and “d's”. Having said that, each have had their day in the sun with almost flawless performances that approached perfection.

Luciano was, however, the absolute best in his prime. Without getting drawn into the wonderful descriptive superlatives I am not qualified to employ, I can state unequivocally that, for me, Luciano Pavarotti most eloquently interpreted the music of the M
asters. His honey voice, range, emotion, timing, diction, projection, richness, power and charisma comprise the total interpretation I continue to embrace.

Who couldn’t get drawn into Pavarotti’s exuberant interpretation of Nessun Dorma that left him breathless, eyes high, mouth agape and totally drained of emotion. He left it all on the table and one couldn’t help but to admire his commitment though some of that emotion might have been melodrama for the masses. No mind.

Luciano was the common man who lived life to it fullest. He tried many occupations including elementary school teacher, insurance salesman and others and failing those and his passion, football (soccer to us Americans), he engaged an up and down singing career that saw him ultimately succeed under the tutelage and guidance of that classic dramatic coloratura soprano Joan Sutherland. He did return to the football pitch but to sing in hugely popular concerts prior to the World Cup in 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002. Yes, he also loved tennis.

Pavarotti’s personality literally exploded on every stage he occupied bringing music and rescuing opera for the masses, enriching our lives. His flirtatious and sometimes stubborn attitude got him in trouble but an adoring public (He fiercely reciprocated those feelings) forgave these foibles as the eccentricities of genius and greatness. They adored him.

He endeared himself to people around the world including this Volunteer, by raising money for many charities especially including the Red Cross for which he received the International Red Cross Award for Services to Humanity. He supported the United Nations raising money on behalf of refugees worldwide and Princess Diana’s charity and efforts to eliminate the use of land mines.

I shed a tear or two when I learned that Luciano passed but find solace that in our modern age we are blessed with a huge library of his performances. We will miss his fresh and beaming personality and that mouthful of teeth that never tried to hide a smile.

Thousands of admirers said their final good byes to their native son by filling the piazza outside the Romanesque cathedral in Modena, Italy and watching the funeral service on the big screen. The solemn service included a more mature Andrea Bocelli singing Ave Verum as a tribute to his great Friend, mentor and teacher. A final, tearful standing ovation erupted from the thousands inside and out of the cathedral following the recording of Pavarotti singing a duet of Panis Angelicus. There would be no encore as Luciano had sung that duet with his Father at this same cathedral in 1978. As a postscript, a newer more recent video of the Father-Son Pavarotti duo graphically demonstrates the enduring love of a son for his father who by that time was diminished with age.

The crowd in the piazza erupted in enthusiastic applause when Pavarotti's casket was carried outside by his pallbearers. Thousands more who filled the route to the Montale Rangone Cemetery cried and applauded respectfully as the black hearse bearing Pavarotti’s body slowly passed by.

As the famed Italian film and opera director Franco Zeffirelli stated the other day, "There were tenors, and then there was Pavarotti."

Thanks, Luciano, Aye

Ned Buxton
Choirboy – Soprano to Baritone
St. Mark’s, St. Dunstan’s & Lenox School

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