Thursday, February 1, 2001
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Posted on: Thursday, February 1, 2001

Pavarotti nearing end of career

By Ronald Blum
Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK — If Radames turns out to be Luciano Pavarotti's final role at the Metropolitan Opera, he should be proud of his exit.

Tuesday night's performance of "Aida'' was his 373rd with the company, which he joined in 1968. His manager, Herbert Breslin, says the 65-year-old tenor isn't retiring and is "in discussion'' with the Met about future appearances.

"We're talking, and I'm sure something will happen,'' Breslin said yesterday.

Yet, nothing has been scheduled. The only opera Pavarotti has committed to is "Tosca'' next January at Covent Garden in London, but the Royal Opera says no contracts have been signed.

Pavarotti may be able to go on singing galas, and he is scheduling arena and stadium concerts, some as part of The Three Tenors. But his voice has reached a point where full operas are increasingly unfeasible.

He was in much better voice Tuesday night, the fifth and final performance of the run, than two weeks ago during the opener. While he often raced ahead on Jan. 15, leaving the conductor James Levine, the orchestra and other singers to catch up, he seemed much more at ease Tuesday.

Gone was the gaunt, nervous look on his face, the tentativeness and the skipping of phrases during ensembles. He never has been the most diligent of rehearsers, and perhaps the first four appearances resharpened his knowledge of Radames, the Egyptian general who is entombed with the Ethiopian princess Aida after betraying his country and spurning Amneris, the Egyptian princess.

Still, he sang strenuous passages at half voice or less and cut some notes short when he couldn't sustain them. A seat was added to the stage for him to lean on, probably a consequence of hip and knee replacement surgery 2 1/2 years ago.

No matter, much of his singing was beautiful, far more than two weeks ago, when only the fourth act came completely together. This time, "Celeste Aida'' was credible and the Nile scene in the third act was moving. He interacted slightly more with Aida (Deborah Voigt), Amneris (Barbara Dever) and Amonasro (Mark Delavan).

If Pavarotti is about to leave the opera world, he leaves no successor. There is no other tenor in the world with as large a voice, with as free and easy a top. In comparison with the 65-year-old Pavarotti, all other tenors — Placido Domingo included — fall far short in pureness of Italianate timbre.

In the age when technology redefined music, Pavarotti became THE tenor for much of the world, one of the most known faces on the planet.

For much of the 1970s, '80s and '90s, his recordings led the classical music charts, often the only ones to sell hundreds of thousands of copies.

At the Metropolitan Opera alone, he appeared in 19 nationwide telecasts that broadcast 12 complete roles plus many more excerpts to millions. Several broadcasts were televised worldwide and most were commercially released.

He has made his home at the Met, singing 20 parts and making far more appearances than with any other of the world's other leading companies.

He has sung 140 times at Milan's La Scala, the top house in Italy, 96 appearances with the Royal Opera, 48 with the Opera de Paris and 45 with the Vienna State Opera in Austria.

As for the United States, Pavarotti sang 76 times each with the Chicago Lyric Opera and the San Francisco Opera. (All figures include concerts and galas).

His achievements rank him among the greatest tenors of the Italian tradition: Enrico Caruso, Beniamino Gigli, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Mario Del Monaco and Franco Corelli to name a few.

And despite acting that rarely was more than perfunctory, Pavarotti defined roles such as Riccardo in "Un Ballo in Maschera'' and Nemorino in "L'Elisir d'Amore.'' Early in his career, his Rodolfo in "La Boheme'' and Tonio in "La Fille du Regiment'' — with the famous nine high-Cs — were outstanding.

As he held his stubby arms wide at the final curtain call Tuesday night, beaming his famous grin, the audience responded with a standing ovation and loud cheers. He is beloved and will always be.

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