Dear Luciano Pavarotti

A great tenor you may be, but if you really want to be regarded as a musical ambassador, you'll have to do more than please the masses
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The Independent Online
Well, you've just turned 60 and I have to say you look pretty good for your age. Despite all the talk about how much you weigh and how long that magical tenor voice of yours can be expected to hold out against the passage of time, you're still in pretty fine fettle. You are blessed with an almost full head of jet-black hair, rosy cheeks and a decent set of teeth, too. What's more, with all that gossip recently about the exact nature of your relationship with your attractive young assistant Nicoletta Mantovani, nobody is in a position to doubt your continuing virility.

But then you've got every reason to feel pretty good about yourself. Not only have they always loved you on the opera circuit, but, thanks to the World Cup and that dewy-eyed look of adoration from Princess Di on a rainy summer evening in Hyde Park, you've also become a bit of a teenage heart-throb. Who could have envisaged you, waving your hanky like some outsize Venetian trattoria owner, sharing a stage with the likes of U2 and the Chieftains, as you did last month in a benefit for the children of Bosnia, or, planning a rock-style aria fest with your mates Domingo and Carreras at Wembley?

You like to think of yourself as the great world ambassador for opera and classical music. And, in one sense, you've done pretty well. Thanks to you, thousands of British housewives run around humming "Nessun Dorma", thinking that it's all about Maradona missing the crucial penalty shot in extra time. Thanks to you, millions have now heard of Giuseppe Verdi, although they may be unsure whether he's one of the other two tenors you sing with periodically or if he plays left-back for Juventus.

Come on, Luciano, is this really the way to teach the world about opera? It's so easy for you to pull out one of your perennial crowd-pleasers. But why don't you give people a bit of food for thought as well? Remember the way Leonard Bernstein used to talk about music as well as play it, how he got his audiences passionate about what really counted: the music, not just his own virtuosity. Trotting out aria after aria is like serving up spaghetti sauce without the spaghetti - feeding your audiences dollop after dollop of intense emotion without the context to make it digestible. It's demeaning to a man of your talents.

You call yourself a man of the people, but if the people had wanted to see you do the whole of Un Ballo in Maschera at Covent Garden this year, they would have had to fork out pounds 267 for a ticket.

You clearly aren't interested in cultivating other people's talents; even your occasional co-performer Placido Domingo you eye with jealous rivalry. A man in your position could so easily be the classical equivalent of the late Art Blakey, who was forever renewing the line-up of his Jazz Messengers as old recruits took off on their own and new ones came in. But then Luciano Pavarotti isn't really a musical ambassador at all; the only thing that Luciano Pavarotti has ever promoted is Luciano Pavarotti.

ANDREW GUMBEL

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