Good morning all!
Whenever I think of the Olympics, I think about one word: triumph. Yes, triumph over fellow competitors, but there are many other kinds of triumphs, like triumph over adversity, triumph over injury, or even triumph over self-doubt. For me, the latter of those has been a constant goal of mine that I can’t seem to grasp. I am always inspired by those people who dedicate themselves fully to their craft and compete––or make music––with unabashed passion and committment. One of those people for me has always been the incomparable Luciano Pavarotti.
Those of you who have been reading my weekly emails since the beginning know that I have mentioned Pavarotti before but I don’t think you can ever get enough! For those who may not know about him, Luciano Pavarotti was born in Moderna, Italy in 1935, and was one of the most acclaimed and beloved operatic tenors of all time. After having a widely successful operatic career, Pavarotti increased fame as part of the “Three Tenors,” who debuted at the 1990 FIFA World Cup, and by transitioning in the world of popular music. An avid humanitarian, Pavarotti held annual “Pavarotti & Friends” concerts in his home town with various artists, including James Brown, B.B. King, Andrea Bocelli, Jon Bon Jovi, Elton John, Queen, the Spice Girls, and many others, in order to raise money for various UN causes and received many awards for his service to humankind. He also holds the Guiness world record of most curtain calls (165) and has been honorifically dubbed “King of the High Cs.”
However, the king also had his share of difficulties, and towards the end of his life and career Pavarroti was afflicted with many health issues. In 2004, he began a 40-city “farewell” tour at age 69, and in 2005 he underwent neck surgery to repair two vertebrae. Then, in early 2006, he had another surgery on his back and contracted an infection forcing him to cancel performances in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. During his tour, he was also diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July of 2006, which would eventually claim his life in September of 2007. Although he succombed to his disease, Pavarroti refused to accept the implications after his diagnosis and instead underwent abdominal surgery and continued plans for resuming his tour and fulfilling his obligations. His manager, Terri Robson, said after Pavarotti’s death that his battle with cancer “characterised his life and work, and he remained positive” until the end.
The final performance of Pavarotti’s legendary life and career occurred on February 10, 2006 at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Torin, Italy, which can be seen in the video below. Pavarotti had actually refused to perform at the ceremony several times due to the frigid temperatures, but was eventually convinced to record the piece a couple of weeks beforehand. The conductor of the performance, Leone Magiera, revealed in his memoires that “The orchestra pretended to play, I prentended to conduct, and Luciano pretended to sing… The effect was wonderful.” How fitting that the final time onstage would be in front of an international audience at an Olympics, where Pavarotti could unleash one final musical farewell to the world and the world could give it right back.
I first saw this video in 2008 as a young college student and it brought me to tears, just as it did this morning, nearly 13 years later. The passion was always there with Pavarotti’s singing, but to me there an extra layer of emotion in this performance that separates it from other countless performances of this aria, even if it was pre-recorded. When I watch this performance, I see perseverance through incredible hardship in order to give us, the world, a piece of his heart in what he must have known, based on the way he releases the final note, would be the last time gracing the stage.
A true triumph. Thank you, Maestro.