Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A giant starts to fall

News from northern Italy isn't good on one of the greatests artists of all time. Luciano Pavarotti, the 71-year-old tenor who became the ordinary gal's image of what an opera singer should/would/could be, is failing fast.

Pavarotti, who has been treated off and on for pancreatic cancer in recent months, is more than a name on a marquee, more than an obscure footnote in musical history. He was operatic pop culture, referenced in everything from sitcoms to newspaper columns as an example of someone who did something so well, so unique, he stood alone in recognition of his craft. For so many people who never imagined they'd like opera, Pavarotti was a way to appreciate beautiful music and identify with it. Before there were The Three Tenors -- of which he was one -- he was simply Pavarotti, and you'd have to be an idiot not to know who he was.

His later concerts, of which I was lucky enough to attend in 2001, didn't have the range of his earlier recordings. The drama wasn't there, and the supporting musicians and cast brought more technically to the performance than he did. What Pavarotti brought, however, was the sense of fun and realism that eludes so many High Culture performers. We had fun that night in November, five rows back at the BJCC. He led a sing-along to end the night, and it was great to listen, sing and soak in a moment that felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.