Pavarotti Didn’t Aim for High Cs at the Met : Opera: In his latest appearance, the tenor transposed the lofty note a half-tone lower in singing the part that made him famous, critic reveals.


Turns out Luciano Pavarotti, the King of the High Cs, gave up his crown some time ago without telling anyone.

The 60-year-old tenor wasn’t even trying for that lofty note a week ago Saturday at the Metropolitan Opera when he sang the role of Tonio in Donizetti’s “Daughter of the Regiment,” the part that made him a superstar 24 years ago.

Without informing his adoring public, he had transposed the fiendishly difficult aria “Pour mes amis” a half-tone lower to make it easier to sing. He duly hit all the high notes, which were actually B naturals.

It didn’t work during the second performance, on Wednesday. His voice cracked on a B and he gave way to an understudy at intermission.

Though musically the difference is just a half-tone, symbolically the gulf is vast. High C has become one of the supreme hurdles for operatic tenors--the equivalent of the four-minute mile for runners, the note that can make the difference between a modest career and great one. Hitting a B natural is no mean feat either, but it’s never been known as a “money note.”


And Donizetti made sure his tenor would be tested to the ultimate. The aria, which ends Act 1 of the rollicking comedy, calls for eight high Cs to be hurled off in quick succession. Singers who make it that far often add a ninth at the end for an exciting flourish, although Donizetti didn’t write it that way.

In 1971, Pavarotti sang the part opposite Joan Sutherland at the Met, and audiences went wild over his brilliant sound as he punched out one high C after another with ease.

But he retired the role two years later, and since that time age and forays into heavier repertory have robbed his voice of some of its agility. So there were plenty of raised eyebrows when Pavarotti announced he would try to turn back the clock this season.

“He came here planning to do it in the original key,” Met spokesman David Reuben said Friday. “During rehearsal, he decided it would be better not to for the first performance. He decided before the second to do it the same way.”

“The Met didn’t know till it got closer to the performance whether he’d changed his mind,” Reuben said.

But audiences and many critics were in the dark even after the curtain fell.

It’s difficult for even a trained ear to tell the difference between two notes so close together. And on premiere night, when a critic asked Pavarotti’s manager, Herbert Breslin, what notes his client had sung, Breslin indicated they were indeed high Cs.

The secret was out Friday when a New York Times critic wrote about the matter.

Breslin insisted Friday he had not intentionally given out wrong information at first.

“To the best of my knowledge, that was high C,” Breslin said. “He hadn’t told me he was going to transpose it down.”

As of Friday, Breslin and the Met said Pavarotti expected to be sufficiently recovered from a fever and cold to return to the role this weekend.

That and four remaining performances sold out long ago, as do all of Pavarotti’s Met appearances.