Pavarotti: nice voice, shame about the knees

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The Independent Online
LAST NIGHT'S Tosca at the Royal Opera House was designed for Luciano Pavarotti, arguably the world's greatest voice but unarguably an orthopaedic surgeon's nightmare, writes David Lister.

The flamboyant 56-year-old tenor, weighing about 20 stone, has had continual problems with his knee joints and is becoming less and less mobile. In the opening scene last night at Covent Garden in which the painter Cavaradossi usually leaps up a ladder to examine the huge Mary Magdalene he is painting, Pavarotti stayed at ground level, working instead on a sketch.

His dressing room was the one normally allotted to the soprano. It is the nearest to the stage and saves having to climb any stairs.

Asked about his mobility problems last week, the former footballer said: 'I have always been a bit like this on stage. I was never a runner. I have had problems with my knee but they are getting better. And I am on a diet and hope to lose 85 pounds.'

A senior Royal Opera House source said last night: 'The lack of mobility is a worry. We desperately want him to keep coming back and hope it won't be pasta permitting.'

In last night's production, which opened the new Covent Garden season, he fell to the ground in one of the most curious execution scenes in the history of Puccini's opera.

Apart from pondering the mechanical difficulties of how he would rise again for his numerous curtain calls, the sharper- eyed in the pounds 250 top price seats at the front might have noticed that the firing squad clearly missed.

The great Italian tenor had a nasty moment with a rifle in a production of Tosca years ago, when some wadding from the blank cartridges embedded in his skin just above the eye and by his knee. Producers are told firmly now that guns are never to be aimed at him. So the firing squad aimed awry, giving an overlay of irony that even Puccini could not have foreseen to an execution that is meant to be fake but turns out to be genuine.