Thursday, September 6, 2007

On Pavarotti

Of all the items piling up that one can now read in memory of Luciano Pavarotti, the one that matters the most to me is the tribute that Bono wrote that appears on the BBC NEWS site. I am under no illusions that anything I ever write about the performance of music will ever be read by more than a handful of people. Like it or not, music is a business that is sustained by consumers, whether the product is "live" or "captured" through one medium or another. As a corollary, it follows that the primary interest of the consumer is the overt celebration of what has been consumed. Thus, even in his last years on a stage as esteemed as that of the Metropolitan Opera, hearing Pavarotti sing was more a matter of contending with hysterical masses just waiting for the right moment to shout "Bravo!," whether or not he actually happened to be "on his game" that particular evening. Pavarotti had made that transition from talented tenor to superstar; and when "The Three Tenors" became a major stock-in-trade, he took the next step to becoming an institution.

At this stage in his life, he could easily have rested on his laurels, teaching some elite cadre of pupils and making the occasional guest appearance. However, Bono (who knows well about such matters) recognized that Pavarotti chose another path:

His life and talent was large but his sense of service to the weak and vulnerable was larger.

As a result, through that shared commitment to a sense of service, the two of them became partners in many humanitarian efforts. This is not the time to try to compare Pavarotti at his best (or worst) to that vast demographic of tenors, past and present, made available to us because music is such a business. Rather, it is the time to remember that Pavarotti had a strong sense of who he was that he could apply beyond the usual arenas for performance. Bono has helped us to remember that side of the man who knew how to turn his larger-than-life image to greater needs and ends; and it is what Bono has remembered about him that I, too, take the most comfort in remembering.

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