Pavarotti: The final curtain

He was the Maestro, Il Divo, the greatest. In this special issue, Peter Popham chronicles Luciano Pavarotti's life and times, his former manager Herbert Breslin spills the beans on the singer's legendary appetites, and James Jolly and Geoffrey Wheatcroft debate his artistic legacy
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The Independent Online

Also in this article:
Extract: My Life With The Big Man by Herbert Breslin
Comment: The Greatest Tenor of All by James Jolly
Comment: A Wasted Talent by By Geoffrey Wheatcroft

His life and times
By Peter Popham

Italy woke up yesterday to find a Pavarotti-sized hole in the national life. The biggest tenor of them all, the simple, cheerful man from a working-class family in Modena, northern Italy, who taught in primary school and sold insurance before breaking into opera, passed away at 5am, one month shy of his 72nd birthday. At his bedside were his second wife Nicoletta Mantovani and his four daughters.

The tributes came pouring in. "A voice of platinum," remembered the operatic soprano Katia Ricciarelli. His one-time rival and "Three Tenors" comrade Placido Domingo recalled "his divine voice, with its unmistakeable timbre and complete vocal range". "He was the last represententative of 'canto Italiano'," lamented musicologist Bruno Cagli, "the last of the tenors who gave the world the true colours of the Italian voice."

Their words would have been music to the big man's ears. Because it was for the singing that he wanted to be remembered. In a recent note on his website, interpreted by Italian commentators yesterday as his last testament, Pavarotti wrote: "I hope to be remembered as an opera singer, as the representative of a form of art that has found its greatest expression in my country, and furthermore I hope that [a] love of opera will remain forever of central importance in my life."

Remember me for that, Pavarotti seems to be saying to us; don't hold me to account for all the other stuff. Because if Pavarotti brought the beauty of great operatic singing to the attention of more people than anyone in history, it is also true that he made a very great ass of himself in the process. Without appearing to care one hoot about it. He was a brilliant singer, and a loveable clown, with the childish weaknesses of one who believed the world's love and devotion were his for the asking. And for many years they were.

Pavarotti was a great opera star, but first and foremost a great star. He had the charisma to bring a tough, demanding opera house like the New York Met to its feet, and to sing into the individual ears of every punter in it. But the same vast, beaming, ingenuous charisma also enabled him to burst through the barricades of taste, class, repertoire and media that separate classical music from pop and carve as big a name for himself in the world of mass entertainment as any rock star.

If either of his Three Tenors colleagues, Domingo or José Carreras, had stood alongside the likes of Elton John, George Michael or the Spice Girls, belting out pop songs, the effect would have been grotesque: they would obviously have been slumming it, the only conclusion to draw being that they must be desperately in debt. When Pavarotti did the same at his annual " Pavarotti and Friends" events in Modena, the effect was still grotesque – but somehow it made sense. Pavarotti was big enough, simple enough, expansive enough to carry it off. His huge pink shirts and vast rainbow-coloured silk scarves were the match for the popinjay finery of any of his pop-star friends. Like them he basked in and lapped up the love of vast crowds. Like them he had his gargantuan appetites to gratify, the simple but insistent demands of his conscience to appease (all the proceeds of the Modena gigs went to charity).

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His amazing career had a slow and uncertain beginning. Modena, where he was born in 1935, has an austerely beautiful historic centre dominated by a Romanesque cathedral, but is more famous today for the Ferrari and Maserati car factories on its outskirts. Like the city itself, the Pavarottis were embedded in the commercial life of modern Italy: his father was a baker who served as a cook in the army, his mother an assembly-line worker in a local tobacco factory. But as with so many working-class Italian families before and after the war, "la lirica", the opera, was a great passion. Pavarotti's father, Fernando, was a keen amateur tenor, whose voice ignited Luciano's desire to sing: years later it was as singers in the same choir that Pavarotti père et fils enjoyed their first taste of success, at a choir festival in Wales, and many years later Pavarotti liked to bring Fernando on stage at the Met so they could perform the encores together.

As a child Pavarotti quickly showed his musical aptitude, avidly listening to the likes of Enrico Caruso on the radio and performing comical impersonations of contemporary stars for his family's amusement.

Yet for a family of such modest means, a career in music seemed out of the question. "Our family had very little," he said once, "but I couldn't imagine one could have any more." After graduating as a primary school teacher Pavarotti taught for a couple of years then sold insurance while entering opera competitions. His special ability came to the attention of the Modena tenor Arrigo Pola, who taught him for nothing, and Ettore Campogalliani from the city of Mantova: two teachers on whom Pavarotti continued to heap gratitude for the rest of his life.

Finally in 1961 things began to go right. He won his first international competition in that year at the Teatri di Reggio Emilia, not far from Modena. Slowly his horizons expanded, but all these years he was just another young hopeful, the great gleaming voice somewhat compensating for his improbable and ungainly bulk. He took roles in small opera houses in Amsterdam, in Vienna, in Zurich. Then in 1963 the tenor Giuseppe di Stefano, playing the part of Rodolfo, fell sick before a performance of La bohème at Covent Garden and suddenly London, too, became aware of this "rather large young man" who possessed an oceanic voice and majestic, effortless range. Pav was on his way.

Slowly the opera world became aware that an incredible new Italian talent had appeared amongst them. In The King and I, a hilariously bitchy memoir of their 36 years together, Pavarotti's hard-bitten, shrewd New York manager Herbert Breslin pulls few punches about the client from who he parted acrimoniously. "When it comes to things like sight-reading, or counting time so he knows when to come in, or any of the other technical things that make up the craft of musicianship," Breslin wrote, "Luciano is a little bit challenged. It doesn't help that he can't read music."

He was unpopular with conductors, he added, always trying to tell them the right tempo for a piece. Yet even Breslin, furious at the split from his prize client, moaning to music writer Norman Lebrecht about the " hundreds of millions of dollars" that were never going to be made now they had gone their separate ways, could not disguise his amazement and joy at the Pavarotti voice. "He makes beautiful music, and has a beautiful voice, and phrases the music he sings so gorgeously that your heart stops," he declared.

"Vincero!" ("I will conquer!") became Pavarotti's catchphrase and one great operatic centre after the other fell to the sweet thunder of the huge voice. Finally came the turn of New York's Metropolitan Opera House, in a performance that entered history: when, on 17 February 1972, he played the peasant Tonio in Donizetti's La fille du régiment opposite Joan Sutherland, and wowed the house with his fluid and natural singing of nine successive top Cs in the introductory aria. At the opera's conclusion he was called for a record 17 curtain calls, and the mighty career of Luciano Pavarotti was well and truly launched.

In New York, Pavarotti had not merely found his ideal audience: he had also found his place, his career path, his manager. Like the Frank Sinatra song tells it, he had arrived at the place where he needed to arrive – "if I can make it there I'll make it anywhere..." – and now there was no looking back. "Luciano knew what success was," Breslin told Lebrecht. "He wanted to be the best. The idea was to find someone who could help him do that... In the dressing room before a concert he used to say, 'I will bring them to their feet.' And he did it, he knew how to do it, that was his secret. He appealed to women and to men with that voice of his. When he sang certain things, people swooned."

But Breslin understood, and Pavarotti quickly digested, that the swooning ranks of opera lovers was merely the launch pad for the sort of success they had in mind. "I didn't create Luciano Pavarotti," Breslin said. "He created himself I helped to take that creation and achieve a great notoriety."

Thanks to Breslin and New York, Pavarotti soon became famous as no opera singer since his hero Enrico Caruso had been famous – for reasons only tangentially connnected to the voice and the repertoire. He made television commercials for American Express. Riding a horse (one of his passions in his prime), he led New York's Columbus Day Parade. His record company promoted him as "the King of the High Cs", and he appeared on the Johnny Carson show to demonstrate his prowess. He made one bid for stardom in Hollywood, fooling around improbably as the sexually irrestible Italian lead in a film entitled Yes, Giorgio. Fortunately for all of us, and probably for Pavarotti too, it flopped. Making hay from his great girth, he posed for photographs before mountains of pasta. Any other opera star you can think of would have died of shame first. Big Luciano was too big for shame. No wonder New York took him to its heart.

"I want to be remembered as an opera singer," Pavarotti told the world. But once Breslin had made him a celebrity to rank alongside Michael Jackson or Elton John, Pavarotti had no inhibitions about mixing things up musically, too. In the 1980s the Three Tenors concept was dreamed up, a classical take on the pop supergroup idea, bringing together what were claimed to be the world's three top tenors, giving them the world's most popular arias to sing, and letting them rip before mass crowds.

Domingo was always Pavarotti's great rival as the world's premier tenor, but they were very different artists. Domingo, an accomplished pianist as well as a singer, has an analytical mind, high intelligence, and a solid devotion to the craft of singing. He also has the ability to enter the character of an opera part to a degree unknown to Pavarotti, a ham actor at the best of times. Yet there was no doubt that Pavarotti was the glue that held the Three Tenors together, the charisma that made them vastly popular. The first Three Tenors record has sold more than 15 million copies, making it far and away the most popular classical disc of all time. Among the tunes the three men recorded, of course, was "Nessun Dorma", the ravishing aria from Puccini's opera Turandot that became the most famous operatic recording of all time when it was adopted as the theme tune for Italy's World Cup in 1990.

So, as is often claimed, Pavarotti brought knowledge and appreciation of the beauty of classical opera to a far greater audience than ever in history. "The word commercial is exactly what we want," he once retorted to a journalist who had used that dirty word. "We've reached 1.5 billion people with opera. If you want to use the word commercial, or something more derogatory, we don't care. Use whatever you want."

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But the sad, perhaps inevitable corollary of his vast commercial success was that Pavarotti's legitimate career as a serious operatic tenor suffered, and went on suffering throughout the last 20 years of his life. He became notoriously lazy about learning new roles. During a concert in Modena he was caught out miming to a pre-recorded aria instead of singing it. His limited ability to read music, mocked by his former manager, got him into trouble at a gala performance in the Met in 1998 when he became hopelessly lost, complained of dizziness and left the stage. The previous year The New York Times' critic accused him of "shamelessly coasting" through a piece which he had not prepared for properly and proved unable to sight-read.

Always a large man, in his youth Pavarotti had been a keen amateur football player, but once he hit the big time his athletic days were behind him: a gargantuan lover of food according to Breslin, he was also addicted to dieting, and his weight yo-yoed between 250 and 350lb, once hitting an alleged high of 396. But that figure may be guesswork as he would never be pinned down about his weight.

Breslin claimed that he always travelled with shirts that were too big around the neck even for him – so that, if challenged, he could demonstrate how much weight he had just lost. The weight problems led to increasing problems with mobility on stage, with groups of stage-hands sometimes having physically to lift him up steps during the action of operas. They were also partially responsible for his increasing tendency to simply not show up. He was banned for life from Chicago's Lyric Opera when he cancelled for a 26th time. At the Met in 2002 he was scheduled to sing two gala performances at $1,875 (£900) per ticket, and so great was the interest that the company set up a 3,000 seats for a closed-circuit performance at the Lincoln Centre Plaza. To the Met's consternation, Pavarotti cancelled anyway.

"Pavarotti is the biggest superstar of all," the late music critic of The New York Times, Harold Schonberg, once said. "He's correspondingly more spoiled than anybody else. They think they can get away with anything. Thanks to the glory of his voice, he probably can." Schonberg wasn't around to see it, but his insight was spectacularly vindicated at the Met on 13 March 2004: his final performance in the house, with a voice much diminished by the years and by illness, was rewarded with a 15-minute standing ovation and 10 curtain calls. Like many great artists, Pavarotti had no idea when to call it quits. And his fans even forgave him that.

My Life With The Big Man
By Herbert Breslin

"The fish in Pesaro are the best in the world," he'll say. It doesn't matter if he's talking to someone from the North Sea, who might reasonably beg to differ. Pesaro has the best fish. That's that.

Got a medical problem? Only Luciano knows which doctor you should go to. But when you do go to the doctor, don't listen to him. Luciano knows much better than the doctor what medicine you should take.

I say, "Oh, Signor Cervello, [Pavarotti] excuse the rest of us for being so ignorant." He calls me "stupido". But that's not a special accolade. For he calls everyone that.

I worked with Luciano Pavarotti, the greatest tenor in the world, for 36 years of my life. Sometimes, he was a great, great client. Sometimes, he acted like he ruled the world around him and everyone in it, including me. Some-times, he was a close and generous friend. Sometimes, he was a real pain in the ass.

Luciano's house is basically set up to accommodate guests. And anyone who crosses Luciano's threshold is inevitably greeted with the same question: "Do you want something to eat?" This is true even when the visitor is the doctor, summoned because of one of Luciano's innumerable maladies. Before the examination even begins, the doctor is practically ordered to sit down and have a plate of pasta. Luciano, of course, joins him; you wouldn't want a visitor to eat alone. Later, Luciano is very insulted when the doctor sends him a bill for his services. After all, the doctor was fed in his home, as a guest.

Luciano thinks about food all the time. It's not just that he likes to eat: he loves to smell food, to touch food, to prepare food, to think about food, to talk about food. When he comes into a room, he begins sniffing like a dog, and his first question is, "What smells so good?"

"I smell so good, Luciano," I used to say. It didn't stop him for a minute. He would already be past me and into the kitchen, lifting the lids on all the pots and inhaling the fragrant steam from whatever was cooking. There was always something cooking. To invite Luciano Pavarotti over without cooking something would be unthinkable.

In fact, he often orders up the menu himself. When Joe Volpe, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, invited Luciano to dinner one night a few years ago, Luciano began calling Joe's wife every day, several days in advance. He wanted to know what she was going to serve. On the day itself, he called again to announce that he would be arriving early to help her cook. She had to regretfully decline. It wasn't that she didn't want to cook with Luciano; she just didn't think he would be able to fit into the small galley kitchen of their New York apartment.

He devoted at least as much energy and thought to his diets, when he was on them, as to his regular meals when he was not. Luciano is an expert on everything, and losing weight is no exception. It doesn't shake his belief an iota that none of his famous diets seems to be particularly effective.

One day, he was lying in his dressing room at the Met with his upper body exposed – not a pretty sight – when Sissi Strauss came in. Sissi is the Met's liaison for foreign artists; she is the person they turn to when they need an apartment, a doctor, or simply a friend in a strange city. Sissi is Viennese, a stylish woman with flair. You'd certainly never call her heavy. She stood averting her eyes from the swaying belly flowing over the edge of the chaise longue.

"Luciano," Sissi said, "how are you?"

"I'm not good," Luciano said. "I've put on 10lb and I can't get it off."

"I know how you feel," said Sissi. "My husband and I have both gone on Slim Fast." "Oh, no," Luciano said. "No. Slim Fast is no good. If you want to lose weight, you should be on my diet. I'll write it down for you."

And the King of the High Cs eased himself upright on his chaise, rather like a beached whale, and pointed a finger at Sissi's trim form. "If you were on my diet," he told her sternly, "you wouldn't look like that."

About 20 years ago, we both happened to be in Paris at the same time. I had fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams by buying an apartment there. My first apartment in Paris wasn't big but it made me very happy. I had waxed enthusiastic to Luciano about my new home, and one day, I invited him over to see it, making clear, of course, that it was quite a climb to get there.

I expected him to bridle at the mention of the stairs, but to my great surprise, Luciano said that he would be happy to come. He did, however, have one condition. He wanted to plan the menu. "Of course," I said, ever the willing host to my client.

His requirements were few, and the shopping list was straightforward and easy to follow. He wanted a kilo of beluga caviar, three bottles of Roederer Cristal champagne, the most expensive smoked salmon from Petrossian, and Stolichnaya vodka.

To buy all this, of course, would cost several thousand dollars. I accepted his list without a murmur and said that I was looking forward to having him over.

On the appointed day, Luciano made his way slowly up the stairs and eventually arrived at my apartment, huffing and puffing and wiping his brow. Despite a few complaints about the climb, he was in good spirits. He loved to play this kind of game. His mood only improved as he surveyed the table where I had laid out everything elegantly, exactly according to his specifications. With a smile, he sat down and requested a spoon for the caviar. I offered him one, but he rejected it peremptorily. It emerged that what Luciano wanted was not a demitasse spoon or even a teaspoon. It had to be a tablespoon.

With this implement, he dug into the mound of caviar and ingested a generous mouthful, which he washed down with a few mouthfuls of Cristal champagne. Smiling broadly as we talked, even glancing around to admire the view from time to time, he continued to pack it away.

"You're eating too much of this stuff," I eventually suggested, as the caviar continued to disappear from the bowl at a steady rate.

"What are you afraid of?" said the tenor, sweetly.

"You'll make yourself sick," I said.

"Don't be silly," Luciano replied. "What's wrong? Can't you afford it?"

"I can afford it just fine," I said.

We spent a pleasant afternoon together, talking over one thing and another, as Luciano ate more than a pound of caviar. Finally, the visit drew to a close. He needed, he informed me, to go home and rest. He had me pack up the rest of his provisions to take with him – presumably in case he should feel like a light snack on the way home. That night, I was the recipient of yet another late-night phone call from Luciano. He was desperately sick to his stomach. "I will never eat caviar again," he swore, amid groans and various imprecations.

He kept that vow for several years. He finally broke down on the Air France Concorde, on which the stewardess served him a jar of caviar with the drinks. He managed to get that down with no ill-effects, possibly because it was considerably less than a kilo of the stuff.

We never discussed that menu again. Nor did he complain about my generosity for a very long time – except to mention, more than a few times, that I had tried to kill him.

This is an edited extract from The King and I: The Uncensored Tale of Luciano Pavarotti's Rise to Fame by His Manager, Friend and Sometime Adversary, by Herbert Breslin and Anne Midgette, published by Mainstream. To order a copy for £8.99 (free P&P) call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897, or visit www.independent.co.uk.www.mainstreampublishing.com

The Greatest Tenor of All
By James Jolly

What should an Italian tenor look like? Easy! Luciano Pavarotti. With the death of the great tenor yesterday morning, the world lost a singer who was not only blessed with a voice of God-given beauty and effortless facility, but also a man who positively oozed charisma and charm. His smile alone could illuminate the biggest football stadium – and often did.

Pavarotti's voice was that of the quintessential Italian lyric tenor – high, pure, easily produced and with the ability to carry on it the whole range of emotions that Grand Opera demanded of it. What set him apart from so many of his tenorial colleagues is that he knew exactly what roles he should and could sing.

He focused on the lyric repertoire and treated his fans to a stream of performances and recordings whose style was impeccable. His loyalty to a single record company, Decca, was rewarded with the documentation of a long and extremely well-judged career. Highlights of that discography must include Madama Butterfly and La Bohème, both with his fellow Modenesi, the soprano Mirella Freni, and both conducted by Herbert von Karajan (with whom back in 1967 – and long before the trademark beard appeared – Pavarotti took part in a still-miraculous filmed version of the Verdi Requiem, now available on DVD).

With another regular stage partner, Dame Joan Sutherland, along with her husband, the conductor Richard Bonynge, he made numerous fine recordings – La fille du régiment (1967 – still unequalled) L'elisir d'amore (1970), Rigoletto, Lucia di Lamermoor (both 1971), Il trovatore and La traviata (both 1975). The Pavarotti-Sutherland partnership was deeply rewarding and shows off two singers whose careers were built on the rock-solid foundations of a fine technique. Pavarotti's crystal-clear diction also set him apart.

Arrigo Pola, Pavarotti's first teacher, once said that: "I never doubted Luciano would one day be a very great tenor. It wasn't only the voice, it was his approach to his work – he was dedicated, mature, alert. He wasn't dabbling, he was totally serious about perfecting his voice." However laid back he might have appeared – enswathed with tablecloth-sized scarves or brandishing a napkin-sized white handkerchief – Pavarotti took his singing very seriously and kept his voice in good shape for well over 40 years.

As a callow teenager I first heard Pavarotti as Cavaradossi in Puccini's Tosca at Covent Garden during their Proms week in 1977. Hundreds of opera nuts would queue all day for a place in the seatless, but mercifully carpeted, stalls arena. I'd never heard of him but the woman directly behind us in the queue clearly had – she was wearing a T-shirt with "I love Luciano" across the front. She assured us he was the simply best – and, indeed, he was spectacular. The ease and beauty of his voice – in this gift of a role for tenors – stays with me all these years later.

His acting wasn't in the Domingo league but back then he was as believable as we demanded of opera-singers with that kind of voice (by the time I heard him in I lombardi at the Met two decades later, it had become rather more "concert performance from the stage!"). And there, many encounters down the years – as Nemorino in Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, a role he clearly enjoyed and in which he could charm the birds from the trees; as Roldolfo in La bohème where he really was one of the boys in their bohemian garret; in the Verdi Requiem where, rightly, he refused to be fêted as anything other than one of four soloists; and many more. And then there was the Three Tenors concert in Rome in 1990...

It was a balmy night that made the open-air setting of the Caracalla Baths so perfect. I remember Bobby Charlton's wife fretting that someone was " sitting in Bobby's seat" – he'd been commentating on that evening's World Cup semi-final and never showed up anyway. And I vividly recall the smiles and camaraderie from the tenors, presided over by the suave Zubin Mehta who conducted with his typical showmanship. But try as both José Carreras and Placido Domingo might to grab the limelight (rivalry at that level doesn't evaporate overnight!) they didn't stand a chance alongside the Big Man himself. He was there to enjoy himself, sing his arias and woo the crowd. He wasn't there to score points – he didn't need too. We all loved him the minute he walked out on stage!

Pavarotti was one of those classical musicians who could transcend every barrier he encountered – language, class, creed or tradition. He could charm an audience in Beijing who'd never encountered Western opera, he could delight the cognoscenti at Covent Garden or he could effortlessly woo a crowd in Hyde Park in the pouring rain. And whether it was James Levine in the pit or Elton John at the piano, he would always deliver, he would always charm!

James Jolly is editor-in-chief of Gramophone magazine and one of the two presenters of Classical Collection each weekday morning on BBC Radio 3

A Wasted Talent
By Geoffrey Wheatcroft

Any death is a sorrow, any death from cancer is tragic. And yet in the case of the opera singer Luciano Pavarotti, the deeper tragedy for many music lovers is not his death but his life. A torrent of tributes has cascaded down (including one from that well-known opera-goer Gordon Brown) but none has hinted at the bitter truth: has there ever been such a case of talent betrayed?

When Pavarotti's career began, an electric thrill ran through the world of opera. I missed his schoolboy appearance at the Eisteddfod – technically his British debut – and also his Idamante in the 1964 Idomeneo at Glyndebourne, but I heard about it, and then heard him on record before I saw him on stage. He was breathtaking.

But remember what it was that took the breath away. Although his devotees have reminded us of his voice, which was very big, it's true, and his range, with all those high Cs as Tonio in in La Fille du Régiment, what captivated the listener wasn't what he had so much, as what he did with it, the artistry he displayed into his thirties. Here was the Italian lyric tenor of our time, the heir to Beniamino Gigli and Tito Schipa.

From there to the great grinning lump with the white hankie wasn't an immediate descent, but by the 1980s he had become embarrassing. He made a lamentable if all too predictable mistake in leaving the lyric repertory for bigger dramatic roles, but even here there was a decline from when I first heard him as Cavaradossi in Tosca in the 1970s to the last time nearly 20 years later, and not only because by then he could barely get across the stage.

The girth of "Big Lucy" was, for him, part of the act, but to any normal observer his obesity was horrifying and plainly unhealthy. By his later years he had become utterly unreliable, continually cancelling performances on grounds of health, though often just as much because he hadn't bothered to prepare the part. And, of course, he didn't need the money.

The easy grace of his early days gave way to acute self-consciousness as Pavarotti turned into the most absurdly mannered "personality", even before the World Cup, the Three Tenors, the shows with Elton John and Sting. Most opera singers aren't much good at "crossover" into musicals or cabaret songs, but Pavarotti was quite unusually bad.

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Opera has always been a popular form, and is meant to be. If anything, the problem of our age is the rift between mass culture and high art: in the case of fiction, between books which are readable but not worth reading and those which are worth reading but unreadable.

Something similar is true of "classical music", which has lost the contact with everyday life and culture that it once enjoyed, opera above all. When Rigoletto was premiered in Venice, the gondoliers were whistling "La donna è mobile" even before the first night. There may be taxi drivers who hum snatches from Philip Glass's latest work, but I have yet to hear them.

Nor is there any reason why great singers shouldn't relax in less-than-great music. Two wonderful tenors once did just that, as we can still still hear with delight. Gigli, incomparable in Donizetti or Puccini, unbuttoned with the songs that made the Bay of Naples notorious, and Julius Patzak, a towering artist and the most moving of all Florestans in Fidelio, did the same with sentimental Viennese café songs.

But Pavarotti's crossover gave kitsch a bad name. It's all very well to preach "outreach" and seek larger audiences, but not if you end up with Haydn quartets performed by busty bimbettes in tight T-shirts, and Pavarotti became the equivalent of that, without the sex appeal.

Nor is it cynical to see the explanation. No doubt a crafty agent and some hard-headed marketing men made enormous amounts of money for all concerned, with the cheesy records and the open-air concerts and the men's toiletries, but at what an artistic cost! To adapt F R Leavis's phrase about the Sitwells, Pavarotti had become an episode in the history of publicity rather than of music.

Towards the end his career was farcical. He may have received 10 curtain calls and a 15-minute ovation for his last performance at the New York Met (the most unmusical audience on earth) but the high notes deserted him, and in 1992 he was booed off the stage at La Scala, where they still know something about Italian opera.

Plenty of artists sell out, and many forsake their true path, but Pavarotti's story was unusually sad for its desertion of a wonderful gift. He sang some sombre roles in his time; an opera could be written about his own tragedy.

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