Watch: Pavarotti at the Grammys

Watch: Pavarotti at the Grammys


norman lebrecht

February 11, 2019

They showed a 20-second snatch last night of an upcoming documentary on the great tenor.

Some desiccated pop star in the middle tells us ‘the reason he was great’.

Oh, so that’s why.



  • Caravaggio says:

    Pavarotti as opera singer parody. I believe the initial Three Tenors concert and those that followed were a tipping point for opera, for the much worse. The industry has not recovered and may never again. E.g., yesterday’s sorry spectacle starring the ultimate impostor and the desperate satellites orbiting around him, at Peter Gelb’s house or cards.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      I am not sure it did anything to accelerate decline. It is amazing that so many public bodies, in Europe at least, are willing to support opera. For how much longer?

    • Stuart says:

      Pavarotti was a wonderful singer who lost his way. I can’t get the image of him trying to sing Otello in concert form with the CSO and Solti – train wreck. Go back and listen to his early recital disc of arias by Verdi and Donizetti. Magic. Don’t blame the Three Tenors for any decline in classical music. It just fed into the rot that was already there.

      • Nik says:

        Of course Pavarotti was a wonderful singer. He could still sing wonderfully when he got older.
        I don’t think Ungeheuer’s issue is with his singing per se, it’s with the way he chose to conduct his career and present himself to his audience.

        • ASteven says:

          Nik is absolutely correct. His early visits to Covent Garden (La Fille du regiment/Tosca etc) were sensational as was I Capulettei ed i Montecchi in Edinburgh in 1957. The cast was pretty good too; Moffo, Aragall; conducted by by Abbado.

      • Quintus Beckmesser says:

        He wasn’t that bad as Otello. It’s true that he didn’t have fury in his range and once or twice was lacking in sheer heft but that was partly because he had a heavy cold. It is also true that he arrived for rehearsals without fully knowing his part, which caused Solti to become angry for the first time in the CSO’s experience.

    • aj says:

      The tipping point was the arrival of Callas .1958
      Opera is already dead -the clothes are changed often in the pretense that the body is still alive.
      Europeans still support it though to a much lesser degree than in the past as it is more of a cultural ritual than a desire to hear Lucia for the millionth
      time .At one time any city worth its salt had to have
      an opera house,it was a sign of high culture and of
      people who had money to spend on high culture
      whether they cared for it or not .It’s a new world
      you now buy property, paintings ,yachts- being seen
      at the opera house is not a requirement -in fact
      being seen at the opera house in some countries is not advised for those seeking public office .It’s
      known as evolution.

  • V.Lind says:

    What’s desiccated about Bono? he seems to be having a very juicy life.

  • George says:

    I saw the Three Tenor’s concert on TV from Los Angeles, when I was in my teens. It started my lifelong passion for opera.

    • Jack says:

      That was exactly my experience too, George.

      Some classical snobs like Anton Kuerti claim that the Three Tenors circus did nothing to encourage people to explore more serious classical music. You and I and many others prove that the snobs are wrong. I would not likely have dozens of opera CDs and DVDs today if it were not for the Three Tenors.

  • EagleArts says:

    Norman, you’re coming after Bono? “Dessicated”?Shameless. He’s a superstar and you’re [redacted]. HDY.

  • Nick2 says:

    I heard Pavarotti first at the ROH in the disastrous early 1980s new Ponnelle production of Aida conducted by Mehta. He had sung poorly at the premiere and cancelled the second. I was at the third. Clearly nervous he finally got through Celeste Aida and then settled down. There were moments of splendour still in the voice even though the production was diabolical. The Grand March was played as an orchestral item to a chorus of ‘Boos’ and ‘Rubbish’ at the end the likes of which I have never again heard in an opera house. It was never revived.

    It must have been soon after that that he started his arena adventures with Tibor Rudas. When he could make $100,000 for one night’s work and a couple of rehearsals singing into a microphone no more notes than in an average opera performance, and this at a time when the maximum fees at the main houses were probably less than one sixth of that, I think it was almost inevitable he would become lazy – or lazier than he had been beforehand. He did around 20 of these a year for much of the rest of his life, the fee increasing substantially as the years passed. Even that fee was tiny compared to what he picked up for The Three Tenors. I wonder if the new documentary will go into any of the detail of those fees or even examine the reasons for his vocal decline.

    Will it also ask the question why in 2001 he and the other two sang a full open-air concert in the heat and humidity of Seoul’s Olympic Stadium one night – and then just the next night sing the same concert with a different orchestra in Beijing’s Forbidden City, also in the open air and with identical heat and humidity? That was love of money and artistry be damned taken to an almost unbelievable extreme.

    • Nik says:

      There was something particular about him though that made him the only opera singer ever who was (and is) a universal household name. If you speak to anyone around the world who can only name one opera singer, then that name is inevitably Pavarotti. I daresay that even the majority of people who remember the Three Tenors primarily picture him in their minds and wouldn’t be able to name the other two or remember what they looked like.
      A lot of this, I think, goes back to what Ungeheuer said above, in that Pavarotti so perfectly embodied every cliché about a famous opera singer, so his fame became self-affirming. And he was more than happy to act up to that image.
      As well as being an extraordinarily talented singer he was also a remarkably one-dimensional artist and as such found it easy to connect with people who found actual, bona fide opera just a bit too scary.

      • Bruce says:

        Thank you for bringing up that last point. Many great performers have pretty much one main thing that they project to their audience: love of playing/ singing, and love of performing onstage. Lots of “big box office” performers have/ had it: Perlman, Galway, and of course Pavarotti come to mind immediately. If you’re looking for angst or mystery you won’t find much, but if you’re looking for joy in making music, you can’t do much better.

        Being on the receiving end of that is a wonderful experience that should not be underrated.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        In Britain, at least, he came to public attention for singing Nessun Dorma, which was used to introduce the football during the world cup held in Italy in 1990. This is why most could name him but not the other two in the three tenors.

  • Bruce says:

    That original 3 Tenors concert in 1990 was intended as a gala “welcome back” for Carreras after his bout with leukemia, nothing more. Of course they were all such big stars that anything they did was likely to be recorded and broadcast, but I don’t think the plan was “let’s create an unstoppable financial juggernaut that we can ride for decades and make millions for doing something that is easy and fun.” But naturally, when that happened, they got on that train and never looked back. (Would you look back? Be honest.)

    That original concert is striking for the hey-let’s-put-on-a-show enthusiasm of all involved. Wonderful singing throughout, and some wonderful stay-with-the-tenor accompanying from Zubin Mehta, and definitely NOT over-rehearsed.

    Here’s the “O Sole Mio” that started us on the slide down that slippery slope (be sure to watch the encore, starting at about 2:45; but it’s more fun if you watch the first performance as well):