Pavarotti and Me

Sep 22, 2007

It is said that things come in threes - this summer has proved that old adage.  First, the music world lost beloved soprano Beverly Sills.  Next we were stunned at the tragic loss of tenor Jerry Hadley.  Now we've come to perhaps our greatest woe - Luciano Pavarotti has left us.   Pavarotti - The King Of The Hi C's, The Big P, Lucky Luciano, the list goes on.  To many he simply WAS Opera.   To me he was an early idol and inspiration.  
In 1978 I was a student at the Alabama School Of Fine Arts in Birmingham. It was my junior year and second year as a voice major.  When I switched from
organ to voice I embraced opera passionately.  Thanks to the library at ASFA and the Birmingham Public Library, I was reveling in recordings of Fritz Wunderlich, Joan Sutherland, Beverly Sills, Richard Tucker, Giuseppe Di Stefano and Franco Corelli.  One day my teacher, Andrea Nelson, handed me a record -"take this up to your dorm room and listen to this."  It was my first introduction to Pavarotti.  I was stunned with the sounds I heard! The voice was indescribable.  In just a few selections on that album I was hooked.  I had a new favorite singer.   One of the many advantages of being an ASFA student was the chance to hear performances that I would not have been exposed to otherwise.  The Birmingham Music Club, at that time, had impressive seasons of world famous artists.  I heard pianist Alicia de Laroccha, violinist Isaac Stern and flutist Jean Pierre Rampal before I knew enough to recognize the genius I was being exposed to.  My junior year Mrs. Nelson called me into her office.   I already had my free ticket to hear Dutch soprano Elly Ameling that evening.  Mrs. Nelson told me that the Music Club had called the school requesting a student to be the page turner for the accompanist.  I had already filled that position a couple of times at school recitals and Mrs. Nelson thought this would be something I would enjoy.  I did!  That concert led to my being page turner for other Internationally acclaimed performer's concerts:  Itzaak Perlman, Nicolai Gedda, Martina Arroyo and then...Luciano Pavarotti.   To say I was excited was an understatement!  Pavarotti and his accompanist, the equally well known John Wustman, arrived in Birmingham on Thursday to rehearse and prepare for Saturday evening's concert at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center Concert Hall.  I met them that evening to rehearse. Pavarotti at that time was very well known in the musical world but had not become the household name that he eventually became.  I was extremely nervous but he and Wustman soon put me at ease, laughing and joking.  And then he sang.  If I had thought the voice was thrilling on recordings I was in no way prepared for what I heard sitting a few feet away!  I won't try to describe the sounds - everyone is doing that in the news today.  After rehearsal I went to dinner with them and the driver dropped me off at ASFA. Friday the school received a call mid-morning.  Pavarotti had requested that I be permitted to spend the day with them.  We met again onstage at the Civic Center and he rehearsed his program again.  Concerts were still relatively new to Pavarotti - he had done his first few the season before. He was singing from the Schirmer Italian songbook:  Caro mio ben, Sebben Crudele - all arias we learned at school.  He came to O Del Mio Dolce Ardor and was not familiar with that one.  "Giovanni (John)!  You are student. Sing for me!"  Luckily I had been studying that particular aria.  I was too stunned to protest.  I stood and started.  For the next hour and a half I received a grueling lesson in breath control and Italian diction.  "Va bene. You are young but you have the voice."  And he went back to work.  I don't remember much about the rest of that day!  Saturday came and the concert. Sitting backstage in Pavarotti's dressing room was like attending an open house - he was not nervous - just very anxious to get on the stage.  He and Wustman warmed up a little and then it was time.  Once onstage I truly saw and heard the magic that was Luciano Pavarotti.   I didn't turn one page for poor John Wustman!  I sat there at the piano entranced.  Wustman looked at me out of the corner of his eye and grinned - he had the entire program memorized- I really was not necessary.  Right now I just look back on that night in wonder.  Words fail me.  I can't describe it.   The next morning I was  at the Birmingham Airport to see them off.  He was on his way to the Metropolitan Opera to perform in the historic LA BOHEME that became first opera televised from the stage of the MET.  "Continue your studies, Giovanni!  Work the passagio - keep the sound narrow as you go to the high notes!  You will do well."  And he was gone.   Yesterday the Maestro breathed his last.  If anyone actually leaves this earth to sing with the angels I have no doubt it will be he.   One thing - at his concert when it came time for encores (there were many!) the audience was clamoring for Nessun Dorma, already his signature piece. He held up his hand, "No, first, for my accompanist Giovanni, from Boito's Mefistolfele, Giunto sul passo estremo."  (I had told him that was my absolute favorite of his recordings.)  He then turned his back to the audience and sang the beginning of the aria directly to me. That was the type of things he did that made him King.

Sunday evening 10/15

Oct 15, 2006

Well, I'm playing with this new format.  I know I'll be asking Gina for help soon!  Check out some of my photos while I continue to try to figure this out!


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York, AL
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May 15, 2006
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Pavarotti and Me
Sunday evening 10/15