Before leaving for Australia a fortnight ago I left a Pavarotti appreciation at the paper, sensing from the medical reports that he did not have long to go. Even so, the sad news came as a shock and, just off the long-haul return flight from Melbourne, I found myself having to adjust my perspectives to a world without the big man.
Through a haze of media calls, I tried to remember where and how I first heard that voice. And then I realised that it is the first impression will abide. The astonishing freshness of that young sound, captured live in Rome in 1967, so effortless, so distinct, will forever prevail over the excesses of the last decade, the shabby craving for fame, the tawdry duets with pop singers. When all is said and done, the voice was unique. End of.
Here’s what I wrote in the Evening Standard that day:
I heard him on record long before I saw him on stage.
It was on one of those early 1970s Decca sets where Joan Sutherland was the
world star and he the polyfilla, but for me there was only one voice on that
disc. Clear where Joan was subfusc, liquid where she was rigid, Pavarotti
hit me like a snowstorm in the Sahara – a completely unforseeable
occurrence, shocking in its defiance of nature.
On stage, what I remember is the look of half-astonishment on his face as
that wonderful sound emerged. He could never act much
beyond a grin and a sob, and in later years he hardly moved. Pavarotti was
not the equal of Callas or Domingo in his enactment of gut-wrench roles.
The voice, however, was a thing apart. Unblemished by his massive bulk,
untainted by advancing years, it rang loud and true, never a hesitancy or
wobble. I hear it now as I heard it first: a unique an inexplicable
phenomenon, the one and only Luciano.