It was five years ago today: The Three Tenors sing their football songs

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The Independent Culture
`What's the connection between the working man's game of football and opera - the music beloved by nobs?" asked the Mirror prior to the Three Tenors' 1994 World Cup singalong. It then quoted Luciano Pavarotti, the operatic dream team's largest third, as saying that it was "all about passion. The passion that is in football and the passion that is in opera." And it was - and is - also about money.

The unlikely symbiosis between high culture and the beautiful game began during the 1990 World Cup in Italy. The BBC's choice of "Nessun Dorma" as its signature tune made Puccini the sound of the summer and propelled Pavarotti to No 2; the Italian tenor then joined his Spanish counterparts Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras at Rome's Baths of Caracella prior to the final.

The one-off performance was ostensibly to raise money for Carreras, who was financially crippled after a life-threatening bout of leukaemia. The singers accepted pounds 350,000 each to sing in front of 8,000 people, and signed away the rights to Decca. As a business decision, it was far from shrewd: the concert was broadcast to a global TV audience of 800,000; the recording sold over 10 million, the biggest-selling classical album ever; the video shifted two million copies. The three tenors didn't see another tenner.

Their high-profile reunion in 1994 was a different story and this, rather than the unprecedented convergence of interests in 1990, was to be the turning point in the packaging of classical music. Promoter Tibor Rudas negotiated a $22m deal with Warner for the concert at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on 17 July, the eve of the World Cup final. Of this, $10m was allocated for marketing. "Dough Re Mi," said the LA Times.

The tenors received $1m each - and were in line for a projected $3.5m in royalties - for a two-hour show. The celebrity-studded audience of 56,000 had handed over $13.5m. Over 1.3bn TV viewers were treated to the sight of Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly leaping from their seats at Latin- tinged renditions of "My Way" and "Singin' in the Rain", in a programme of arias, medleys and show-tunes aimed, according to Rudas, at those who "wouldn't know whether Aida is a spaghetti or a swear word". The broadcast ended with a plug for the forthcoming album. It sold more than the first.

In 1996, the franchise took to the road, singing to 680,000 people in 10 cities around the world. Takings hit $200m, with the tenors earning $1m a night. At Wembley, those in the cheap (pounds 30) seats avoided soaking in the rain. Many in the exposed, pounds 1,000 corporate seats left before the end. As the tour rolled on, punters joined the purists in voicing disquiet at the musical presentation, the production quality and the prices. In the Standard, Norman Lebrecht called it "virtual music, as proximate to the thrill of live opera as buying a Three Lions shirt is to playing for England".

Football and opera met again last year, when the trio made it a World Cup hat-trick by singing - for free - to a million people in front of the Eiffel Tower. Last night, they were in Detroit; there, the most expensive ticket was $750.

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