Back  
Luciano Pavarotti - Tosca - Giacomo Puccini - Royal Opera House - Covent Garden
Montserrat Caballe - Henry VIII - Saint-Saens - Gran Teatro del Liceu - Barcelona

"TENORINO", che carino! Yes, this is what Luciano Pavarotti, a little boy just four years old, sitting on top of a table singing La donna e mobile called himself, "a very sweet little boy". Today he is 66 years old and has a problem with his once-black hair, which is now white. I think when he wakes up in the morning he must call for Nicoleta and his glistening black dye! However, he is very recognisable, as is his voice. To so obviously dyes his hair and pencils-in his eyebrows that, even in real life, he gives the impression that he is producing a "cameo" of himself. His life, in itself, is an opera: a long-drawn out and expensive divorce from his first wife, (now he is with Nicoleta, his former secretary and younger than his daughters), illness, and tax problems (a government minister declared him a traitor to his country).

I read in the newspaper that he is not an easy man to get on with - he has pain everywhere, and is terrified of colds or mouth infections.  He visits the doctor and the dentist every day, has had operations on his damaged right knee and has had a hip replacement, which gives him limited mobility. When he sang at the concert "Picnic with Pavarotti in Hyde Park" last summer, for the Prince of Wales' Trust, he needed a special lift to raise his golf buggy-style car to the stage. It is in his contract that he cannot lie down and walk more than nine metres. Also in his contract (and perhaps causing some of his problems) is the proviso that he must have his personal dressing room air-conditioned. Along with this he requires 10 grilled chicken breasts, rice for 10 people, a pot of vegetable broth, a large plate of charcuterie, assorted cheeses including Italian goat's cheese, red and green apples, five litres of Evian water and two crates of Coca-Cola. And very often during the last few years he has called-off his concerts, so audiences never know what is going to happen.

Despite all this, for this concert at Covent Garden (www.royaloperahouse.org) he has been treated as a SUPERSTAR. All the newspapers were talking about it. So it was immediately "sold out" and became a "happening" for the opera people of Covent Garden, elitist people that even paid 3,000 for a ticket. Outside the theatre "ticket touts" were selling off tickets at treble the price. This is the first time I have seen "ticket touts" in Covent Garden. (One of them came up to me and offered me a ticket for 200. I said "it's too expensive" and he said "But it's for Pavarotti!" It was amazing -even after 7.30, when the concert had already started; they were buying and selling tickets. Non-touted tickets were priced at up to 175 although I didn't pay that! As they only let you in after the interval they must have been buying a ticket just to say they had been in the Opera House!! It is not for the love of Opera. But it was fun to see all this.

Pavarotti s mother died during the rehearsal so he went to Modena for the funeral and got a lot of publicity on the front pages of every newspaper around the world.

He is a very busy man with many interests such as "The Pavarotti and Friends" concerts (he also has tax problems because Nicoleta, who is in charge of organising these concerts, gets a salary of 120,000 and sends money to her father).  I have always watched these concerts, held in Modena, his hometown, on TV and I love them. The Maestro sings with Top of the Pops superstars like Sir Elton John, Sting, Tom Jones, Barry White, Liza Minelli, U2, Eric Clapton, and Caetano Veloso, and sometimes the performances are even live rather than "playback". In 1977 he created "The Pavarotti Music Centre" in Mostar, Bosnia and has founded charities for children in Liberia and Afghanistan.

"The Pavarotti International Horse Show" is always a big event in the equestrian world, and is held in Modena each year. I am also a huge fan of the "Pavarotti Fragrance" (a scent marketed by his design company, described as "a blend of masculine sort of leather, wood and tobacco" - very sexy!!!) He also has a vineyard and his favourite meal is, of course, Tagliatelle al ragu a local dish. My ex-husband came from this area of Italy. And I saw the place as a very sophisticated area as far as food, clothes, and cars, especially Ferraris, are concerned. Food is much more than just something to eat in this region, it is a whole way of life, an essential part of their cultural identity - hence Pavarotti can perhaps be excused, although he goes slightly overboard. All Northern Italy has obsession with the good life and people have very high standards.

But what amuses me is the fact that once he was such a sex symbol - the classic Latin lover of his time and they say he still sets female hearts aflutter. It may have something to do with a connection between the effort involved in belting out high notes and orgasm???

For myself, an ordinary music-lover, I discovered him at "The Three Tenors Concert" in Rome, 1990, which took place during the World Cup games, which also celebrated Jose Carreras' recovery from leukaemia. They reprised the format in Paris 1998, which became the largest televised concert in history, with an audience of 2 billion. Since then Pavarotti has sung in many stadiums, at picnic concerts with "Pavarotti and Friends" (e.g. the unforgettable one in Hyde Park in the rain in 1991, where he sang for 70,000 fans, including the late Diana and Charles, both looking like wet dogs.) Since them the outdoor spectacular has been the fat man's forte - the thing about concerts in parks is that the audience don't criticise. We are there for good time with friends to eat and drink al fresco... English weather permitting.

The idea for "The Three Tenors" to perform together came from Matthias Hoffman, the German entrepreneur who was jailed for five years for tax evasion. For Christmas 2001 the "must have" gift was "The Three Tenors" Christmas Concert recorded at the Konzerhause, Vienna two years previously.

His first important part, that of Rodolfo in La Boheme, came in 1961, a role perfectly suited to his voice. He considered this opera a talisman of good fortune and after that "a star was born". His Covent Garden debut in this role came in 1963. In 2003 it will be 40 years since he first appeared here as Rodolfo. His debut appearance at La Scala was in 1965, again in La Boheme. In Italy, he has just celebrated his 40 years in opera and, as part of the celebrations that took place in Reggio Emilia, he sang Rodolfo in La Boheme. As a tenor, he makes the most incredibly beautiful sounds - golden, liquid; he has perhaps the most beautiful tenor voice since Gigli. His diction is superb, every word he sings is clearly enunciated. It is a very unique voice, which emphasises very much his character and personality, not only the voice but also the body. He says "If you see me once, you don't confuse me with another". He is made of music, an instinctive performer with extraordinary vocal longevity.

But for a very long time, however, productions have had to be adapted especially for him because of his problems with mobility - plenty of chairs strategically placed on stage, there for support should he need them, and extreme flexibility from colleagues. He cannot go on forever and this Covent Garden farewell performance has created tremendous excitement - Pavorotti is certainly one of history's legendary singers, with international stardom status. They say that it will be for the baritone Ambrogio Maestri to take up the torch left by Pavarotti, as there isn't a tenor of his calibre at the moment in Italy.

(Italy is, of course, considered to be the home of tenors and baritones, just as Russia is the home of basses). Naples has a tradition of bel canto singing - it was after all the home of tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921). Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957) was born near Ancona and, following him, it has been Luciano Pavarotti,  who has filled the role of  "the voice of Italy".
Pavarotti's January 2002 Covent Garden performance in Tosca could be his "Farewell" to this particular opera stage. But "Big Lucy", as he is affectionately known, (the name was coined for him in the 1980's by his Covent Garden fans), may become like Frank Sinatra, who gave numerous "Farewell Performance" over many years. But, then, it seems that every tenor ends his career spending three years going around the world making farewell appearances. (I have been obsessed with my farewell too, "but now the end is near, I face the final curtain" as the famed song "My Way" goes.) All joking aside, while I am no authority on opera, I was very privileged to see the Gran Finale of "The Legend" at Covent Garden as Cavaradossi in this production of Tosca. What a dignified way to make an exit from the ROH! In May this year, 2002, Pavarotti will again sing this role at the Metropolitan Opera, NY.

Anyway I must say seeing Pavarotti was stupendous, a magical and wonderful experience, and an absolute joy from beginning to end. I mean it's impossible to be objective when someone is supposedly saying goodbye (possibly giving his real farewell performance!!!) His mother had just died and the performance was dedicated to her memory. Despite the trauma of her loss, the travel involved to her funeral, and the fact that he is no longer a young man, he still remains a phenomenon. This Tosca of director John Cox used the 38-year-old Franco Zeffirelli production that has no stairs to climb and a pile of sacks to break his fall when Cavaradossi is shot in the closing moments.

The first prodution of Tosca was in Roma at Teatro Constanzi on 14 January 1900, but the first performance of the Zeffirelli production was on 21 January 1964, featuring Maria Callas as Tosca, Renato Cioni as Cavaradossi, and Tito Gobbi as Scarpia. The conductor was Carlo Felice Cillario. In 1992, Tosca was revived with Elizabeth Holleque, Luciano Pavarotti and Silvano Carroli. The Conductor was Zubin Mehta. There was even a Tosca in aid of the Titanic Disaster Fund on 14 May 1912. In the 2000-2001 ROH season, I saw Tosca with Malfitano, Guleghina and Roberto Alagna, conducted by Carlo Rizzi (reviewed in my page here).  This was just one of the many, many productions of Tosca at Covent Garden over the years. I must say that I find it a beautiful and poetic way of dying - to throw oneself like Tosca from the Castel San't Angelo in Roma. Such beautiful surroundings... & what a way to go!!!

But let's not forget that today we think of Tosca only as a Puccini opera.  But the story was created by Victorien Sardou s original play, also named after it's heroine, Tosca, which ran for hundreds of performances, inspiring everything from burlesque to the star Sarah Bernhardt, who made it one of her greatest roles (she opened the theatre in Paris that bears her name in 1899, a success with middle-class audiences interested in bourgeois adultery, the obsessed husbands and lovers who chase their prey in and out of bedrooms in the seedy hotels of the boulevards featured in disgrace).

Tosca has been described as "the most emotional of all Sardou's dramas" and was considered to be perfectly suited to Sarah Bernhardt s tempestuous personality. It is also one of his most powerful plays, with its exploration sinister relationship between sex and power. In this sense, Tosca can be seen as a political melodrama, with the heroine prepared to condone the murder of her husband when she learns that he had been unfaithful to her. The climax is horrific when she uses the knife on Scarpia and, finally, on realising Cavaradossi is really dead and that Scarpia has cheated on her, she screams,  "If only I could kill him a second time". What a woman!! 

But, "Why", as Bernard Shaw demanded, "need plays be so brutally, callously, barbarously immoral as this?" Maybe because life is like that! (All my men left me for other women and they were all unfaithful - this is why I prefer to be by myself today. If I were like Tosca they would all be in the cemetery now, together with their lovers).

In his play, Sardou also emphasised Cavaradossi's role as a painter as well as a dissident and the author strengthened the atmosphere of colourful artistic freedom around Tosca.  The foremost French actress of her time, only the "Divine Sarah" could have brought home to those wealthy and complacent audiences the hideous realism of the suffering in Sardou's melodrama. Future generations found another kind of magic in the realism of Puccini's operatic interpretation of this powerful female character.

Many cinema scripts have been based on Tosca, featuring a modern woman strong enough to kill her vile seducer. Early films star actresses such as Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish, who play roles in which they appear to be very virtuous, while, underneath, they are also full of revenge. One such character is played by Gloria Swanson in The Wages of Virtue. Tosca itself was first filmed in France with Sarah Bernhardt in the part that she had created in Sardou's play. A Hollywood version featured Pauline Frederick. Another film version, The Mysterious Lady (1927) starred Greta Garbo and Conrad Nagel. Garbo is a sort of Mata Hari, stalking her prey at the opera during a performance of Tosca, as the soprano sings "Vissi d'arte" for her Russian spymasters. Garbo then shoots the real chief of police, ends up in the arms of the hero, safely over the border.
Echoes of Tosca resound: Marlene Dietrich, in Dishonoured, points her gun at Victor McLaglen; Mae West stabs Rafaela Ottiano in She Done Him Wrong; Betty Davies sinks bullet after bullet into her lover in the opening sequence of The Letter, playing a part diagnosed by Pauline Kael as steeped in  "female sexual hypocrisy". (None of my men were worth killing - I leave it to their lovers to perform the deed - so I am not really a Tosca. Yes, today we move on from our relationship - we don't kill the men, we are more civilised). I love Gloria Swanson as the faded ex-movie star Norma Desmond when she shoots William Holden in the back as he tries to leave her: "No-one walks out on a star" she screams. In Sudden Fear, Joan Crawford shoots her youthful husband and his lover with the girl's own gun, making it look as if it was the girlfriend who was the killer.

The most extravagant and fascinating of all the cinematic Toscas is depicted in  La Marie etait en noire  (The Bride Wore Black, 1968) by Francois Truffaut. Here, Jeanne Moreau kills five men, one by one. As Truffaut wrote, the "danger is that the role she plays is simply too wonderful; the character, a woman who dominates men and then kills them, is too prestigious". But with the political, social and sexual revolution then starting, there was no place for those FEMMES FATALES. Again, in 1968, If by Lindsay Anderson, features a young woman who shoots the headmaster; he was not a sexual predator, but a wooden figure of authority. Six years after the premiere of Tosca (the opera) Joseph Corand, in The Secret Agent, described in exquisite detail the murder of the anarchist Verdoc. Like Tosca, his wife moves towards him as he asks her to join him, lying on the sofa. She gets the knife from the table and, writes Conrad "She had became a free woman with a perfection of freedom which left her nothing to desire". I suppose this is why everybody loves Tosca so much, she is a femme fatale.

I read this week in an interview with Pavarotti, and in answer to the question would he marry Nicoleta, he said "I don't see the point; we're already living as husband and wife. We share the same life and this is what is important. Besides, I'm not divorced". That really fascinated me as someone who has been separated for more than 10 years from a Italian husband; this is what my husband says to those femme fatale predators pressing him for a wedding ring... "But I'm not divorced". This situation has saved him and the women pursuing such as a sex symbol (i.e. my husband!) from "a fate worse than death".

Anyway Pavarotti's return to Covent Garden in Puccini's Tosca was a triumph for him at the age 66. One newspaper said, "As magnificent an account of Cavaradossi,s famous Act III aria, E lucevan le stelle, as anyone is likely to hear by a 66-years-old, or for that matter, any tenor 30 years his junior, singing today". What Pavarotti lacks in physical athleticism, he compensates for with vitality and detail of his physiognomic expressions. I wouldn't have missed Pavarotti for the world and I feel very privileged to have seen him. And also because they say this was one of the best revivals of Tosca. Jesus Lopez-Cobos was the conductor. Carol Vaness' Tosca was a surprise as she wore replicas of Callas' frocks from the original Zefferelli production; an American soprano, she was a very convincing Tosca. Scarpia, the manipulative and corrupt chief-of-police, was the Russian Sergei Leiferkus, unidiomatic but he also sang very well. John Cox directs the present revival, one of the oldest productions in the repertoire of the ROH.

Tosca is one of the most well constructed and effective operas, maybe because it comes from an era when operatic productions were nurtured with care and attention to detail. It was a SENSANTION: Pavarotti at Covent Garden - he considers the Royal Opera House to be his spiritual home. Asked about the future in another role in an opera he says: "my boss is my voice - that, and the audience. It is these two things which will determine when I retire". I agree and was very pleased that I have seen him before he retires. He was wonderful, as good as ever. I'm not an expert but he sounded marvellous to me. It is the end of an era in the world of opera - he is one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th Century. We gave him a standing ovation for his inimitable golden voice. On Monday, for the last performance, there was a prestigious dinner party at the Floral restaurant and backstage I saw a legion of opera fans waiting for him in the miserable English weather.  In the Opera world this could happen only for Luciano Pavarotti! 

But, we have not only said farewell to Pavarotti but also to the much-loved Montserrat Caballe who is making her exit too. She is the legendary Spanish soprano, considered to be the successor to Callas. After 10 years of ups and downs, battling her long illness with cancer, Caballe gave what was her last stage role in an opera house, the Gran Teatro del Liceu (www.liceubarcelona.com) in Barcelona, the city where she was born. Everybody remembers her being there to sing the 1992 Olympic anthem, which she performed with the late Freddie Mercury.  She first sang here, in the capital city of Catalonia, 40 years ago. Now at the age of 68, she sang in the opera Henry VIII (Saint Saens, 1883), a very difficult work of nearly four hours in which sang in all four acts. She sings the part of Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII a heavily dramatic role. The historical Catherine married for state reasons and Henry VIII left her for Anna Bolena. The opera, after Shakespeare s drama, is in French and follows the last part of Catherine's marriage, continuing with Henry s marriage to Anna Bolena, her infidelity and decapitation.

Caballe's last appearance in an opera was in Covent Garden 1992 with Il Viaggio a Reims (Rossini, 1825). Even though she has been very ill in the last years, she has never stopped work and has given many concerts for charities, raising money for cancer and multiple sclerosis research. She also supports the Pasteur Institute. For the premiere of Henry VIII all of her doctors were in the audience and she said: "the outcome of the opera was also their triumph". She has fought her illness with her faith and her music. She hopes to sing at the world premiere of Respigni's Maria Vittoria, which was supposed to open at La Scala in 1906 but never happened. She found the original manuscript in Chicago and she feels that the part is so extraordinary, she has proposed this production for the Liceu for the 2003-2004 season. 

Catherine, the dying queen, dominates the final scene in Henry VIII. To retire from her career in this regal role, is a fitting tribute to Caballe's past vocal glory, grandeur and brilliance. These were moving farewells from both Pavarotti and Caballe, and I hope they change their minds and give us yet more "Farewells" as the years go by.


Verinha Ottoni




Back
 

Copyrights @ Verinha Ottoni. All rights reserved