We know it immediately when we hear it- the unique expressive voice that was Luciano Pavarotti’s. It is telling that we miss it so much, now that it is three years since Pavarotti passed from the earth’s stage to take on perhaps more demanding celestial roles. There are many fine singers, but few created such a guttural emotion when you heard the man at his best. The voice was a crystal bell, a high timbred but melodious ring that seemed forever youthful and idealistic, in the wake of so many other more adult and more musically polished interpreters. There was a sense of yearning, of hopefulness, of such choir like beauty that he frequently brought the most hardened audiences to tears. It was an extended love affair Pavarotti had with his audience that let them overcome his many perceived slights of cancelled concerts and sudden colds. The critics did not always understand, but the listener knew that Pavarotti’s gift was a very fragile one, and he wasn’t able to fake the effect on a bad night. They forgave him, and always came back for more.
Pavarotti owned the solo aria of Italian opera for twenty years, and made many signature recordings that secured his position as one of the great tenors of the twentieth century. The Italian operatic arias of Puccini and Donzetti were tailor made for him, emotional, theatrical, and deeply founded on the structure of the Italian folksong. He didn’t create the high C, but was able to spring it forward like a church bell in the valley, that all recognized as the way the note should be heard. He not only sounded the part of a great Italian tenor but he looked the part, with his pocket watch and massive handkerchief as props that highlighted his massive smile and equally generous rotundity. He wrapped the theatrical singing with an Italian accent that was crisp as his notes were bell-like, not one ounce forced, but rather, recognizable as what sung Italian diction should sound like- the unmistakable echoes of his hometown of Modena, Italy.
In his later years, like all faced with the inevitable ravages of age, the live performances were weaker in quality and content, but his personality often brought people back time and again to hear the memorable shadows of his former magnificence. And magnificent it was at his height of performing power, the early to mid-1980’s, when a mid-forties Pavarotti in his prime presented us with such sublime creations of primordial force and depth of feeling that is the human voice: