With all his quirks, idiosyncracies and extramusical paraphernalia, Luciano Pavarotti has held his public for 15 years--since his ascendancy to star-status in the world of opera and opera-related celebrity--with the largess of his singing.
The tenor from Modena, Italy, despite the fact that he now sings almost exclusively in giant arenas and oversize auditoriums, still commands a fluid and handsome tone, reasonable flexibility and strong high notes. As he demonstrated in his first appearance in Segerstrom Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center Monday night, Pavarotti remains an important singer in spite of glitz.
The glitter surrounding this event--a partial benefit for Opera Pacific (half of the proceeds from the sale of 800 seats at $500 each was contributed)--included: a sold-out house with an audience dressed to the teeth, an extra-long intermission, merchandising of Pavarotti souvenirs in the upstairs lobby, a post-concert dinner and the usual on-stage production details--the tenor's signature, oversize handkerchief, his signature stage entrance, arms spread wide and skyward, a bank of microphones around the stage and consequent amplification of his voice.
One would not have thought this singer needed amplification in a hall seating only 2,994 listeners, but the star himself chose that aid.
His befurred, bejeweled and quietly ostentatious listeners--though quiet may not be the exact word to describe some of those shiny, metallic gowns worn by the musical patrons of Orange County--listened raptly for the major portion of the scheduled program. Then, when that was concluded, they erupted in loud approbation and stood, cheering. Their reward: four climactic encores.
Except that the veteran singer seems often to surround himself with musical second-raters, this performance, in toto, went well.
In the first half, Pavarotti sang four arias (by Donizetti, Verdi and Cilea) carefully but with that affection and caress of tone for which he is beloved. In the second part, he delivered, with generous sound, both arias from Puccini's "Tosca," two more from "Manon Lescaut" and excerpts from "Mefistofele" and "Werther" to close.
The encores showed him at his best--if, at 52, the honey in his voice lacks all the sweetness of yore, what he still produces remains cherishable. First, transposed down a half-step (a transposition many consider traditional), came "Che gelida manina" from "La Boheme." Second, "O sole mio," climaxing on a lustrous B natural. Then, rising to a respectable High C, "Torna a Sorrento." Finally, "Nessun dorma" from "Turandot," again with a strong B natural.
Leone Magieri, another Italian musician from Modena, was the uninspired, sometimes recalcitrant accompanist / conductor; he made genuine hack work out of orchestral excerpts from "I Vespri Siciliani," "Nabucco" and, especially, "Semiramide." The Opera Pacific orchestra--reportedly consisting of 60% players from the Pacific Symphony--played neatly enough, considering their leader seemed asleep at the helm. A young Italian flutist, Andrea Griminelli, was the featured instrumental soloist, playing music by Gluck, Rimsky-Korsakov and Bizet with fleetness and an edgy sound.
According to a spokesman for Opera Pacific, Pavarotti consented to sing at this benefit as part of a package deal with general director David DiChiera. The deal includes a June appearance at an 18,000-seat showplace in Detroit, where DiChiera also runs Michigan Opera Theatre.