The man behind the Three Tenors, RIP

The man behind the Three Tenors, RIP


norman lebrecht

November 07, 2019

The Times today carries a full-page obituary for Herbert Chappell, the Decca producer who conceived the original Three Tenors concert in July 1990. What the obit fails to mention is that Chappell nailed the tenors and their conductor Zubin Mehta to a one-off buyout fee. It was not cheap – $500,000 was the sum I was given – but no-one apart from Chappell thought the disc would do as well as the TV relay.

When it became the highest selling classical disc in history – see my book When the Music Stops, page 319 – the aggrieved tenors claimed they had been ripped off by underhand Brits.

For the second Three Tenors concert Decca offered £10 million but Domingo refused to work with them again. Warner bought the gig for £11 million that it probably never earned back.

Chappell was a persuasive chap.

Sic transit.



  • Mathias Broucek says:

    $500k each or between 4?

    Pretty decent pay-day either way….

  • Opera Tourist says:

    And an interesting composer and record producer!

  • Dieter K says:

    Herbert Breslin (according to his autobiograhy, 2004.210) squeezed a bonus of $1,5 m out of Decca for his client Pavarotti, who was under contract at the label.

  • Nick2 says:

    Are you sure the idea was conceived by Herbert Chappell? My understanding is that Mario Dradi basically came up with the idea, sold it to the tenors and Mehta, and then put it all together. Luciano had been very concerned when Jose got sick. Dradi was Jose’s manager for Italy, he knew all three tenors loved soccer and somehow the event was all packaged quite quickly.

    In his amusing book of life as Pavarotti’s manager for many decades, “The King and I”, Herbert Breslin makes absolutely no mention of Chappell. He also credits Dradi. And although he claims he was not involved in the negotiations, he suggests the fees were $300,000 each which included a buyout of royalties on the CDs and DVDs. The tenors then became infuriated that Decca ended up making so much profit from these. Since Pavarotti was an exclusive Decca artist, he, Breslin and Tibor Rudas exerted great pressure on Decca to renegotiate his contract. The other tenors did not have regular contracts with Decca – which further renders the suggestion that it was Chappell who came up with the idea rather odd.

    According to Breslin, he flew to Europe to meet with the head of Decca and came away with a deal for an additional $1.5 million to Luciano to be paid over 8 years. He had no idea what deals if any were cut with the other two, but he suggests it is unlikely they would have been as generous.

  • Eric says:

    For many of a certain age his best-known work is the Size Ten Shuffle, aka the theme to the BBC TV series, Paddington Bear. An absolute gem. RIP

  • Nick2 says:

    On reflection, I think the obituary means that Chappell had to pull everything together from Decca’s viewpoint – certainly no mean feat. But I do not believe it either says or implies that the original idea for the 3 Tenors to get together in Rome was his.

  • Novagerio says:

    The man behind the three tenors was originally italian agent Mario Dradi.