Confession Friday! Didn't I just confess? Well, I'm back at it again....
"Music takes us out of the actual and whispers to us dim secrets that startle our wonder as to who we are and for what, whence, and whereto." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
I cannot live without music, plain and simple. On any given day, I like any given genre of music: classical, easy listening, pop rock, bluegrass, Celtic, New Age, alternative, country, gospel, Christian, jazz, even sometimes the blues. You name it, I like it. I would be hard pressed to name a favorite style of music. It speaks to my soul. Calms my nerves, makes me rock out, dance, sing. I have favorite songs, for sure. There are too many to count and name. But if I had to name just one to top the list it would be......
Puccini's Nessun Dorma from his opera Turandot. I never, ever tire of hearing it. (This, however, is NOT my confession). Oohh, great, you say, opera....boring. Bear with me here. As in any opera, the listening is enhanced when one knows of what these voices are singing. So here's the skinny on Nessun Dorma. It is the final aria from the final act of the opera and is sung by the character Calif, il principe ignoto, which is translated into "the unknown prince." No one knows his name. He has fallen in love with the lovely Princess Turandot, but she is a cold fish. In our society we would call her the "B" word. Calif wants to marry her but whomever marries her must first answer three riddles. If he cannot, he is beheaded! But much to the chagrin of Turandot, Calif is successful. She doesn't want to marry Calif, and he gives her an out. If she can guess his name by the morning, she can kill him. If not, then she must marry him. She agrees. Ah, the game is on! Not to be outwitted, the evil, twisted princess decrees that her subjects must find out his name before night's end or they ALL will be killed. As night has fallen, Calif can hear her heralds throughout her kingdom issuing her proclamations and he begins his aria echoing their cries. "Nessun dorma, Nessun dorma" - "None shall sleep, none shall sleep." As his aria continues, he knows no one will know or guess his name. A chorus of women, Turandot's subjects, are heard lamenting that they will die because no one knows this stranger's name. Calif, however, is rejoicing that in the end he will win. After all, she can't possibly kill all her subjects...... He sings:
Nobody shall sleep!...
Nobody shall sleep!
Even you, o Princess,
in your cold room,
watch the stars,
that tremble with love and with hope.
But my secret is hidden within me,
my name no one shall know...
On your mouth I will tell it when the light shines.
And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine!...
(No one will know his name and we must, alas, die.)
Vanish, o night!
Set, stars! Set, stars!
At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win!
Ok, so I have told the story and given you the translation. Big deal, you say. I know, it doesn't sound so great put on paper, I give you that. But watch this and tell me just how great this is!
Ahhh....Pavarotti. Luciano Pavarotti. King of the High C's. For those of you who may not be familiar with Pavarotti and his impact on modern opera, let me share just a bit about him.
He was born in Modena, Italy in 1935. His father had a wonderful voice but declined to pursue a musical career mostly because of stage fright. Luciano liked to listen to his fathers records of Caruso and Mario Lanza, as well as other Italian tenors, which influenced him greatly. He was an athletic young boy and liked soccer. He wanted to be a professional goal keeper. He decided that his choices after his academic schooling was finished were to either pursue professional soccer or teach. And teach, he did, for two years in an elementary school. It wasn't until the age of 19 that he began to study music seriously. And discovered, I might add, that he had perfect pitch. His teacher, a well respected voice instructor, recognized his talent and taught him free of charge. Pavarotti continued to teach part time and sell insurance to support himself during the seven years of study. During that time, he had few concerts, mostly in small Italian towns and with no pay. He developed a nodule on his vocal chords, gave a "disastrous" concert because of it, and decided singing wasn't for him. In other words, Luciano Pavarotti QUIT!
"The better voice does not make a better singer." ~ Luciano Pavarotti
But life has a funny way of working out. Pavarotti said later that when he stopped singing for that period of time, it was like a weight had been lifted from him. The nodule miraculously healed and disappeared entirely. "Everything I had learned came together with my natural voice to make the sound I had been struggling so hard to achieve." Sometimes, I guess, we just try too hard and instead of pursuing, we should let the dream come to us. At least that's what happened in Luciano's case.
He joined small regional Italian opera houses and had moderate success. After touring in Europe and Australia, his American debut came at the Miami Opera House in February, 1965. A tenor that was scheduled to perform that night became very sick and there was no understudy. Joan Sutherland, the famous opera singer whom Pavarotti had toured with in Europe, made the suggestion that he fill in. He didn't stay in America, however, and continued to tour all over the world.
And then his big break came. It was February 17th, 1972. New York Metropolitan Opera. He drove the audience mad with nine - count them - nine high C's. Impossible. And as a result he received seventeen, yes, count them, seventeen curtain calls - a record that stands today. He earned the title King of the High C's in Europe, but he proved it that night at the Met.
"When people hear good music, it makes them homesick for something they never had and never will have."~ Edgar Watson Howe
Pavarotti was often criticized for taking opera to the masses. But take it to the masses he did and they loved him. He was the first and only opera singer to appear on Saturday Night Life. He put on concerts with pop artists to raise money for his charities, including the Red Cross. In 1994 he appeared with Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo in concert for PBS, The Three Tenors. I so vividly remember watching, mesmerized. There was no question that night who was the Master, the greatest of the three, and to Carreras' and Domingo's credit, they let him shine, let him win the battle of the great voices, so to speak. It was evident to all who was King. And here's the thing - in the first video I shared with you of Pavarotti singing, it is 1980. He is probably at his prime. It is effortless. He makes it look easy. It is beautiful and flawless. Now, indulge me and watch this performance from The Three Tenors:
It is now 1994. He is no longer young; nor middle aged for that matter. He is past his prime. It does not come as easy as it once did. He knows this by rote, he has sung it so many times. Oh, but there is so much more here now that was missing from the first - a richness, a mature fullness, an understanding that opera is emotion, a tidal wave of feelings, a conveyance that he has pulled out all the stops for this performance. In the first video, he sings effortlessly. But now, he sings to leave a memory in the audiences' minds. Now he sings with his heart. He sings with the pure joy of his gift. He opens his mouth and makes you cry.
And that is my confession: I loved him - loved to hear him sing, loved to hear him talk, loved to watch him command a stage. I thought him exceedingly handsome. He is the main reason I like opera. He was the Maestro, the Master. Luciano Pavarotti, King of the High C's, died in September of 2007. There will never be another.
"Above all, I am an opera singer. This is how people will remember me." ~ Luciano Pavarotti