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The white marquee where Pavarotti first sang has been replaced by a pounds 3.5m pavilion, a white elephant of steel and canvas that can hold 4,500 people, but does so only once or twice a year.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.

Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Arts and Entertainment
tvChristmas special reviewed
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

    Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

    £70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all