Pavarotti Demonstrates Virtuosity as a Shortchange Artist

A nd on the eighth day, Pavarotti visited Orange County.

Celebrity worship can be a thankless--and expensive--hobby. Just ask those who sat in on all or part of the Luciano Pavarotti Show that hit town earlier this week.

It wasn't just that they had to pay $50 to $500 a ticket to get into the Performing Arts Center on Monday to hear one of the world's most idolized and heavily promoted singers since Fabian.

To those 80 or so Pavarotti fans who dished out $420 a couple for concert tickets, hotel accommodations and admission to a pre-concert "press conference," the celebrated Mr. P. provided a looooong afternoon that would have made Job antsy.

The opening of the press conference to the public might have seemed a magnanimous gesture had it not been accompanied by an equally magnificent price tag.

Nevertheless, Pavarotti giveth and Pavarotti taketh away. When His High Notes hadn't arrived by 1 p.m. for the 12:30 p.m. session, a spokesman stepped in to explain sheepishly that he was sleeping. Through his own press conference?

But really, his need for rest was understandable because he had flown in "straight from Milan," or so it was claimed. When pressed, Opera Pacific officials confirmed that Pavarotti had arrived in Orange County two days earlier.

His delay of the press conference did answer the musical question: When does the Grand Pooh-bah of operatic tenors sleep?

Answer: Whenever he wants to.

When he finally arrived, somewhat bleary-eyed and a solid three hours late, he addressed such hard-hitting questions as "Who's your favorite singer?" (Answer: Pavarotti and Caruso) for about seven minutes before bidding his audience "Ciao!"

One star-struck reporter, pen in hand, really put Pavarotti on the hot seat by asking, "Do you do autographs?"

To which Pavarotti smiled and forthrightly replied, "We do every thing."

That sentiment was reinforced a few hours later at the concert, which was billed as "An Evening With Luciano Pavarotti." Had truth-in-advertising regulations been enforced, it would have been called "An Evening With Luciano Pavarotti and a Lot of Other People to Help Him Fill Out the Program."

Between three overtures performed by the orchestra, two solo spots given to flutist Andrea Griminelli and a 30-minute intermission, Pavarotti scooted out of the 2 1/2-hour affair after only about 45 minutes of his vaunted vocalizing.

That was including four encores--which, instead of coming as dessert, were treated as the main course following an extended session of appetizers. Pavarotti, who reportedly loves to give encores, should wise up and just skip the preliminaries and do concerts with nothing but encores.

But had I paid $500 to prove I (love) Luciano (I took one of the cheap seats for only $125), I suppose I'd have been eternally grateful for the encores, obligatory as they were, because without them he would have clocked in a mere 30 minutes.

Heck, I still think it's a raw deal to pay $15 for a compact disc with only 30 minutes on it.

Supporting musicians and encores weren't the only crutches used by the Blackbeard of the High Cs. Despite the Performing Arts Center's state-of-the-art acoustics, Pavarotti sang through an amplification system. So much for the attraction of hearing the legendary voice "in the intimacy of Segerstrom Hall," as the ads proclaimed.

For the scant time he was on stage, he would sing a brief aria, then throw up his hands as if he had just clean and jerked 500 pounds in an Olympic weightlifting competition, or as if he had just thrown a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl. Then he would trot backstage and send in the defense for the next few plays.

In turn, the audience shouted and applauded with the kind of enthusiasm that hasn't been heard since Shamu's last flying leap for a mackerel at Sea World.

In addition to whatever paycheck Pavarotti took home--no one connected with the concert wants to say how big it was--his organization also raked in concessions from sales of T-shirts, posters, scarfs and other souvenirs of an evening with the Tutankhamen of Tenors.

And don't be surprised if the performance itself is resurrected a few months down the line on CDs, cassettes and LPs. The concert was recorded for commercial release, according to an Opera Pacific spokesman, and you've got one guess as to who the beneficiary of that project will be. (No names, please, but he has the same initials as Louisiana Purchase.)

Opera Pacific officials said they sold 800 tickets at $500 apiece. Half of that counted as a donation to the company, the other half went to Pavarotti's people for staging the concert. The remaining 2,000-plus seats went for $50 to $250, and Opera Pacific folks say they got none of that. Conservatively, figuring an average of $100 each, that's a gross of at least $600,000, from which Opera Pacific netted $150,000 to $175,000 after expenses.

And what did Pavarotti's fans get?

What else--the bill.

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