By Nancy T. Lu
Less than two weeks before Christmas in 2005, top Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti was visiting Taiwan and his thoughts were of a Christmas reunion with his family. He had been on his Asian farewell tour in the last weeks. Taichung in central Taiwan, where he eventually gave an open-air concert at the Taichung Sports Stadium on December 14, was his final stop.
Pavarotti never let such an amazing “voice kissed by God” be heard again at a concert performance. He died of pancreatic cancer in 2007.
“From here, I will go to New York where I will be joined by my wife, Nicoletta (Mantovani), and my daughter, Alice,” revealed Pavarotti, back for a second Taiwan visit after 15 years. “We will spend Christmas and New Year in New York.”
The 70-year-old doting father said: “I have been receiving pictures of my charming daughter on my computer everyday. I don’t even need to bring her picture with me. I get to see how she’s doing and even what she’s wearing. I am also able to hear her calling out to me, ‘Papa! Papa!’”
Asked if he had any Christmas wish then, Pavarotti replied: “It has been my privilege to be a man of peace for the United Nations. Therefore, I should not desire anything else but wish peace for the world.”
He posed a question: “Are we going to have peace in this world?” He answered in the next breath: “That’s not likely. But that is my wish for the world.”
His “Pavarotti and Friends” concerts over the years had been organized to raise money for the children who were victims of wars and conflicts in different parts of the world. He involved pop and rock stars in the concert series.
Halfway through his Taichung concert, Pavarotti and Annalisa Raspagliosi, the soprano he brought with him to Taiwan, vocalized Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” “I dedicate it to a world without peace,” he said. The solemn and peaceful number reminded listeners of the approaching Christmas.
What a difference 15 years had made. At his concert at the National Concert Hall in Taipei 15 years earlier, Pavarotti stepped out on his own without any problem. He held his trademark white kerchief and showed a lot of bravura then.
About 20,000 people, who turned up to watch the open-air performance in Taichung this time, saw Pavarotti sit through the entire concert. The promoter had ordered a special electric buggy for him to conveniently use in going up the stage and in moving around.
Somehow the retiring Italian tenor seemed to have lost some of his magic as a legendary tenor, failing to stimulate exciting vibrations across the stadium. The crowd quietly listened to and enjoyed the mellifluous ring of the legendary singer’s voice. Applause was forthcoming after each song. However, missing were the thundering and reverberating emotions.
The three familiar encores had the crowd warm up a bit to the tenor. Pavarotti dedicated “Granada” to the city of Taichung and Mayor Jason Hu for inviting him to sing there during his Asian farewell tour. When he burst into “O Sole Mio,” the audience got worked up a bit. Then he invited everyone to sing the chorus part in “The Drinking Song” from “La Traviata.”
“You can sing what you like,” he called out to his spectators and listeners. “You can even insult your neighbor. But please don’t clap.”
Of his first Taiwan visit years ago, Pavarotti recalled with amusement: “At that time I had just released an album titled ‘Tutto Pavarotti (Totally Pavarotti).’ At the end of the concert, people came to my dressing room and addressed me as Mr. Tutto, thinking it was my name.”
Pavarotti learned about Taichung Mayor Hu impersonating him in singing “O Sole Mio” in a pre-election commercial. Taichung held its mayoralty election shortly before Pavarotti’s arrival. The Modena-born tenor known as “King of High C” due to his ability to sing and hold high notes reacted with amusement, saying that he would remember that.
Pavarotti arrived in Taichung in his 10-seat private plane. With him were four of his personal friends. He hardly left his hotel suite, choosing to play cards with his buddies to while away the time. (During his earlier visit to Taipei, he cooked in his hotel suite.) He had two rehearsals with the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra. He was usually in a good mood, making funny noises with his lips sometimes instead of singing his lines. Pavarotti flew in from Beijing via Jeju, South Korea.
When Pavarotti first appeared to meet the press, he was supported on both sides by his bodyguards. He wore a brimmed white hat. Around his neck and over his shoulders he threw a very colorful scarf.
“You can see that I protect my voice with the scarf,” he said. “I also stay away from bad weather.” But actually a drizzle at the start of his Taichung concert made everyone put on raincoats.
As for his quitting his concert career, Pavarotti quipped that he had been asked too many times to explain his decision.
“I am now beginning to think that maybe I am wrong in making up my mind about this,” he said.
But then again, Pavarotti declared: “I think that it is time to stop after 44 years. I will probably make a little extension to 2006 or 2007.”
Pavarotti, the son of a baker, started out as a primary school teacher. He even made a living at one point as an insurance underwriter. But his career took a big turn after he won first prize at the Reggio Emilia International Singing Competition in 1961. This great admirer of tenors Enrico Caruso and Giuseppe di Stefano caught attention when he reprised the role of Rodolfo in “La Boheme” that same year. In more recent years, he shared the stage limelight with tenors Placido Domingo and Jose Carrerras at the Three Tenors concerts during the World Cup in Rome, Los Angeles and Paris.
Pavarotti revealed that he was starting to adjust to a life away from the stage. He had begun teaching. He was going back to his hobby of painting, too. He was finally catching up on his reading. But above all, he was spending more time with his little daughter, born in 2003 or two years earlier.
Pavarotti showed remarkable self-confidence, in fact, making a great impact as a world-class tenor. “You can’t confuse me with another singer,” he pointed out. “When my father died at the age of 90, he still had an enchanting sweet voice. My voice is like his. Add to that my personality.”
As for the reason behind his enduring and great success, he summed it up this way before his big and final Taiwan performance: “I am studying today. Tomorrow I will be studying. On the day of the concert I will also be studying. I am an eternal student.”