Pavarotti? So what

Judy Meewezen fears no warm welcome awaits the tenor on his return to Wales

It was in a small Welsh field that Luciano Pavarotti abandoned plans to become a primary teacher. He was there in 1955 with his village choir, which won a prize in the Ninth Llangollen International Eisteddfod. So entranced was the young Luciano by singing to an audience rather larger than he was used to back home in Modena that no other future seemed viable. A star was born.

Gethin Davies, chairman of the 49th Eisteddfod, has completed negotiations for the great tenor's return to Llangollen this week. "We didn't go into too much detail about his last visit, but Pavarotti's enthusiasm for Llangollen is undeniable," says Mr Davies, whose involvement with the Eisteddfod began in 1953.

Pavarotti will find the small town very much as it was 40 years ago, snuggling up to the River Dee, its population of 3,000 now heavily dependent on tourists attracted by the picturesque scenery, steam trains and canal boats and the legendary second-hand bookshop on Castle Street. But if he emerges from the vast machinery that surrounds him, he might be saddened to find that his visit is not uniformly welcome. It's nothing personal, they whisper, he's probably very nice, but the enormity of it all is at odds with the heart and purpose of the Eisteddfod.

Founded in 1947 to develop new relationships with Europe, the International Musical Eisteddfod has developed into a masterpiece of community effort, planned by an army of committees and boards drawn from Llangollen and environs. Though still dependent on the goodwill of local people, the festival has changed since the days when any sight of a foreigner sent a thrill through the valley and the floral committee sought high and low for ammunition boxes to hold its posies of foxgloves and cypress.

The white marquee where Pavarotti first sang has been replaced by a pounds 3.5m pavilion, a white elephant of steel and canvas that can hold 4,500 people, but does so only once or twice a year. Around the pavilion, blue and white tents appear during Eisteddfod week with facilities and craft shops that help visitors, but make town shopkeepers bristle. Down on Castle Street, Gwyn Davies, quality butcher, scarcely notices Eisteddfod week apart from the bunting and extra traffic.

"We used to have a window at the front and people couldn't get enough of our pies," his wife, Heather, says, "but visitors to the Eisteddfod don't come into town like they used to, so we don't bother these days." And Pavarotti? "His visit is bound to be good for Llangollen. I've heard that he and his entourage are taking over three hotels in the valley. But I don't know what he's like as a singer. There's a guy who delivers meat here in a van; now he's got a voice on him!"

The official voice of Llangollen is one of gracious welcome to its famous visitors but there is scepticism at large about Pavarotti's visit, and a sadness in committees that run the Eisteddfod. Mary Evans, church organist and director of the Llangollen Chorale, would rather hear a good Welsh tenor any day: "I've got a season ticket, but I shan't go to see him."

The trouble is that a season ticket isn't enough. You need pounds 85 extra, plus booking fee, to see Pavarotti. "My guest house is full for the week, as usual," says Mrs Evans, "but nobody will have any money left to spend in the shops".

In part, the discontent is connected with the quality of local music. Three of the country's best male choirs are within a few miles of the town. Here, a good voice is treated as a valued gift, but with all the modesty of the Methodist tradition, nobody makes a fuss about it. A leading tenor in the Froncysllte choir is John Haddy, keeper of sheep and horses and owner of a guest house. Mr Haddy is on the musical committee of the Eisteddfod and his responsibility is to record every choir in every session so cassettes can be on sale three hours after the applause has died down. With 61 groups from all over the world performing non-stop from Tuesday to Saturday, things can get hectic. Tapes will be rushed to the gymnasium, where digital editing facilities have been installed. Mr Haddy, who has access to a port-hole in the side of the pavilion, may be the only person to see every event. Will he record Pavarotti?

"Oh, no. The promoters will bring their own engineers, and I believe tapes will be available for our archive. We are trying for 90 seconds for our video round-up. We'd like to film him doing a walkabout among volunteers, but I'm not overly optimistic."

If there is a conflict in Llangollen this week, it has nothing to do with Pavarotti the individual, nor even Pavarotti the star. It's the collision between the machinery that accompanies a star and the goodwill and endeavour that create the event. Even Gethin Davies says it's not the music that's important. "What matters to people, what keeps them going," he says, "is their devotion to the idea of a community working together."

Apart from some marketing people, nobody at the Eisteddfod is paid. Visitors pay for their fares and receive free accommodation. Mr Haddy will play host to the choir from Pavarotti's home town. Such is the international music business these days, however, that few of them will see the concert by their former member.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

    £40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor