Luciano Pavarotti, 1935-2007

This week we mourn the passing of Luciano Pavarotti.

As happens, I had just finished reading the book his manager wrote about their years together — Herbert Breslin’s The King and I.

Coming to mind particularly at this time was the reason Breslin was hired. Someone told Pavarotti that he was such a nice guy, he needed a mean manager.

Breslin, like most publicists at that time (he was publicist first, later manager), asked for a retainer. He said no one ever paid it. How surprised he was when the checks from Pavarotti arrived every month, like clockwork.

Breslin also admits, somewhat begrudgingly, what all of us in public relations know – that even if you’re the best poromoter on earth, you can only promote what is promotable.

Surely there will not be another Pavarotti in our lifetimes.

The cartoons register the pulse of the world as we mourn the death of Pavarotti. One of them shows St. Peter welcoming Pavarotti to the Pearly Gates, phoning in, “Tell Caruso to take the night off.?

Was he the greatest of all tenors? If he was to you, that is what matters.

Another shows the King of the High Cs, then mainstream, then beyond. He thrilled the crowd early on with 9 high Cs in one aria (Mes Amis), and went on from there.

Not only did Pavarotti have the voice of the century, he was eminently promotable as a person – charming, willing to meet the public that supported him, gracious about critics, generous regarding other artists. You can read some quotes about him, and from him at

Breslin quotes him as saying, “We are all eating off the same pig,” quite often. Yes, he loved his food — a fitting analogy — but he also had that sense that we are all in this together. He said the critics had a right to criticize, he praised other artists, and he moved willingly in to the “mainstream.” What this has meant to the world of opera, we have only begun to see.

It should be noted that no opera singer can make a good living doing operas alone, and Breslin enumerates the reasons. The lifetime of the voice, at its prime, is limited. They are not paid for weeks of rehearsal time (which, admittedly, Pavarotti didn’t always bother with). There is transportation (in his case of a whole retinue, and also his favorite foods and wine – Lambrusco!). There are limited engagements. The money must come from concerts and other things.

One of the things that made Pavarotti great, besides the voice itself — Breslin said that even after all the years, when he heard the voice, it gave him chills – was his willingness to please his audience. Well, not just please but to thrill.

Before every opera or concert, Pavarotti would say, “I will bring them to their feet.” That was his goal. Every time. (He was always very nervous before a performance.) He also said, “I know what the people want. They want Nessun Dorma,” and so he sang it for us, over and over.

There is no question that he did more for bringing opera to the masses than any artist, with his late-in- life concerts with artists as varied as James Brown, Mariah Carey and Bono. Criticized for this by some, it remains that he brought the consideration of opera into many minds where it had not been before.

The tributarial videos are pouring onto, and there you can also find videos of him singing all your favorites. The comments are poignant. “I was raised on his music,” writes one viewer. “He is in my very soul.” ?The voice of god,? writes another. Many mention the time they got to see the master in person, clearly highlights of their lives.

Breslin points out that while Carreras, for instance, had planned what he would do “after,” Pavarotti never was able to. Carreras has done some conducting, some teaching. Pavarotti just wanted to keep on singing.

Somewhere I’m sure he is.

For us here on earth, the silence is defeaning.

My favorite cartoon shows him mouth wide open, arms extended and it says beneath it, “Leaving a huge hole in our world.” But perhaps the most eloquent ones are silent — a single note on a sheet of music… his tux hanging on a hook forming the O in Opera … and the one that shows an empty score entitled “Finis.”

I also like the one that shows him ascending on wings. He said in one interview that he dreamed of waking up 60 lbs. lighter and being able to fly.

You can view the cartoons here:

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