But the voice remains, and itís documented ó and celebrated ó in ìPavarotti; A Life in Seven Arias,î a ìGreat Performancesî presentation slated for broadcast by PBS on Wednesday (10 September).
ìIn a career that spanned four decades he defined what a tenor is,î says David Thompson, mastermind of the project that originated at the BBC. ìAnd thatís why I decided to focus on the voice, for itís the voice that is his legacy.î Thompson points out, moreover, it is extremely fortunate that these four decades, beginning with his first BohËme in Modena, his Italian hometown, are so richly documented in high-quality recordings and on film.
Thompson looks back on a long career in TV documentaries that embraces a wide variety of people and subjects. Music has been a central concern, and his bibliography includes programs on Aaron Copland, Gian Carlo Menotti and Francis Poulenc. ìWhen the BBC approached me, they wanted this program to mark the first anniversary of Pavarottiís death,í he says. ìAnd that meant that we didnít have much time.î
To structure the 90-minute program the director decided to offer a retrospective of Pavarottiís career by focusing on seven arias closely associated with his fame. ìI thought this was the best way to make sense of his career,î Thompson says, recalling his 1979 tribute to Pavarotti ìKing of the High Cís,î also made for the BBC. ìThey trace his development and put it all together ó and the performances present Pavarotti when his voice was at its best.î
The program opens with ìChe gelida maninaî from BohËme. The 1965 Modena performance features an equally youthful Mirella Freni as Mimi. Twelve years later Pavarotti sang Rodolfo opposite Renata Scotto in the first-ever live TV broadcast from New Yorkís Met.
ìPour mon ‚meî from Donizettiís Daughter of the Regiment marked a double turning point in the tenorís career, for this challenging aria with nine high Cís and the Covent Garden performance brought him together for the first time with Joan Sutherland and conductor-husband Richard Bonynge. Pavarotti identifies the Australian soprano as a major influence upon his development. ìShe taught me how to breathe and how to control my voice,î he says.
A sequence heavy in sentiment takes Pavarotti back to Modena to sing CÈsar Franckís haunting Panis Angelicus with his baker father.
It was manager Herbert Breslin who launched the media blitz that moved Pavarotti beyond the opera house and designed the ìThree Tenorsî concerts that made Pavarottiís name a household concept around the world. Clips from the first ìThree Tenorsî performance at the Rome 1990 World Cup document this collaboration with Placido Domingo and JosÈ Carreras.
ìQuesta o quella,î the Dukeís aria from Verdiís Rigoletto recalls a further favorite role. It was, however, ìNessun dormaî from Pucciniís Turandot that became Pavarottiís signature aria ó especially after the recording of it made at the World Cup.
From the tenorís late years, when Tosca became his undoing, Thompson chose ìE Lucian le stelle.î It was in this opera that Pavarotti made his final appearance at the Met in 2004. It was his last complete opera performance. The series ends ó appropriately ó with the ìIngemiscoî from Verdiís Requiem.
Thompson counterpoints the music with recollections by fellow tenor Kim Begley, Bonynge and Sutherland, director John Coply, critic Noman Lebrecht and Covent Garden wig and makeup artist Ron Freeman.
Surviving fellow tenors JosÈ Carreras and Pl·cido Domingo also pay tribute to Pavarottiís greatness. Especially touching are comments by Juan Diego FlÛrez, a major Pavarotti fan. ìPavarotti had happiness in the voice,î the Peru-born tenor says. ìHis technique was based on clarity, on the words, on the vowels. ìIt is important ó especially in a tenor ó that the words come across and that you can understand them.î
Tracking down these singers was not easy for Thompson. ìIt was hard to find them and to find a time when they were available,î he says. ìMonserrat CaballÈ was available in Munich for only one day, and Carreras could be interviewed only in China. For Domingo we had to arrange an interview in New York.î
Like millions for whom Pavarotti was a synonym for opera ó if not for serious music per se ó Thompson never heard Pavarotti live. ìI was always busy with other things when he sang in London,î he says. ìBut I knew the voice well. It was a powerful voice, very even and lyrical. Thatís what this program is about ó his voice, not his personal life.î
ìPavarotti: A Life in Seven Arias,î a ìGreat Performancesî presentation, airs on public television on September 10. Check local stations for local broadcast times.
image_description=Luciano Pavarotti (Photo by Don Perdue, © Thirteen/WNET)
product_title=Great Performances ó Pavarotti: A Life in Seven Arias
product_by=Above: Luciano Pavarotti (Photo by Don Perdue, © Thirteen/WNET)