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Classical Notes

Pavarotti on Video

Posted at 11:45 AM on September 6, 2007 by Rex Levang

Three video clips (out of the dozens on You Tube) that may suggest a few facets of the extraordinary appeal of Luciano Pavarotti. . . .

The first clip, apparently from Greek television, has Pavarotti's teacher explaining, correctly, that it's not enough to have a voice; you need something else. In Pavarotti's case, one of those things was an openness and even vulnerability that audiences responded to; it comes through in the interview that follows as well. The interview includes a reference to his debut in La Boheme, and in the next clip, you'll see a bit of that 1961 appearance. (Not at the beginning though; that shows Pavarotti and his father, singing at a church service.)

Finally, something that Pavarotti excelled at. It appears in everything he did , but here's a performance of a Rossini song, with a nimble-fingered James Levine at the piano. Pavarotti was sometimes criticized as a performer--for not being a profounder musician, for not making more adventurous choices. But rarely was he criticized for his way with words.

This is what singers call "diction." It doesn't just mean pronouncing words clearly, though that's a starting point, and the text to the Rossini flies along at a pretty fast clip. But beyond pronunciation, it means judging the heft of each vowel and consonant in the musical phrase,and lending words a vividness and a presence they would not otherwise have.

Part of this song is made up of nonsense syllables ("Frinche, frinche, frinche") -- strangely enough, it seems to come across even there.