He might have just released a pop album but there's none of your promotional touring for Luciano Pavarotti. Why should he? An old-fashioned recital the same as the great tenor has given for decades, will do very nicely. Result, one packed Royal Albert Hall, the rows of arena seats jammed together with all the leg room of a charter plane.
The experience isn't quite the same as it was, though at nearly 68, the Pavarotti voice is still one of the wonders of the Western world. He arrived on the platform looking eager, boyish and, before the professional manner took over, even slightly nervous. In the last year he has been through bereavements but he was looking in better health than he did for his Hyde Park concert in the rain back in the 1990s. As well he might: his baby daughter Alice, seen wide-eyed in the auditorium before the show, nearly stole the evening.
The voice itself has aged with grace. Certain limitations have to be accepted. The gut thrills of a tenor pushing against the extremes have mostly gone. So, to the disappointment of football fans, has the aria that he made into an anthem of the World Cup, "Nessun Dorma''. But it's still the real thing, not a mere reminder of the astonishing instrument it was for so many years, and he should certainly see out the two seasons planned to his retirement.
It took a while to warm up and in the early numbers with piano there were a few approximations of tuning, a heavy wobble and plainly some hard work on the top notes. They tended to come before a break and needed a certain amount of heaving up, like a weight lifted building up to his winning hoist. Once into Bellini the voice floated much more easily the manner was more relaxed. The half-voice he now uses more is a ravishing vehicle in its own right. A full scene from Puccini's La Boheme had real go, even when it needed effort, and every so often a sign phrase would rise up as of old. The duet was half acted - soprano Carmela Remigio leaning on him, he leaning on the piano - and willed into the heights but achieving passion with apparent spontaneity.
Pacing himself well, Pavarotti stayed mostly in early 20th-century Italy until he reached the inevitable high point in a set of popular Italian songs. Remigio's difficult act as support band was handled with aplomb and in a number from the Merry Widow drew one of the evening's biggest cheers. Leone Magiera did the right thing and accompanied on piano and as conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, with spirit and elegance.
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