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Torna A Surriento

Ma nun me lassà, Nun darme stu turmiento!

Luciano Pavarotti died last night of pancreatic cancer at the age of 71.

Among my “classical” recordings, the original Three Tenors concert holds a special place, one that has survived nearly every iPod reorganization I’ve undergone.  What I find most fascinating about that recording is the marked contrast between the three stars, and just how much Pavarotti stands out.  I’ve thought about the reasons why that is, and I think it comes down to his restraint in the use of vibrato.  Whenever I hear a singer whose long notes are more warble than tone, I wince.  I recognize the physical skill that goes into producing the sound, but the result is actually uncomfortable to me.  This is why there’s hardly a soprano I can stand; they all seem to exist solely to find long notes to strangle.

Pavarotti, in contrast, used vibrato as a shading on his notes.  At their core, they were long and pure and steady.  Yes, at times he went for all-out vibrato, but it always seemed to make sense when he did.  He wasn’t warbling to show that he could do it; he did it when and how it was right.  That, coupled with the sheer power of his voice, creates an emotional punch that I’m powerless to comprehend but joyful to behold.

I listened to some Pavarotti this morning, and though his heartbreaking renditions of “Nessun Dorma” and “Torna A Surriento” have always misted me up a little, this time there was an extra tightness in my throat.

Part of me hopes that nobody is asked to sing at his memorial services; or, if anyone is, that they turn down the invitation.  Nobody could do the job as well as he would have.

E noi dovrem, ahimè, morir, morir!

10 Responses»

    • #1
    • Comment
    • Thu 6 Sep 2007
    • 1008
    Neill Harmer wrote in to say...

    Even those people who did not like operatic music should mourn his loss. He was by far one of the greatest singers of this generation.

    Such powerful vocals. I remember having to turn the stereo down at times when he really hit those notes so I would not bust my speakers!

    As crazy as it is, my wife and I were listening to the 3 Tenors the other night…it has been a while since I had listened. Now all the words will have a slightly different meaning.

    • #2
    • Comment
    • Thu 6 Sep 2007
    • 1728
    Nathan Fitzsimmons wrote in to say...

    I studied classical singing in college and am now a web (sorry, user interface) designer. Though there were many things technically wrong with Luciano’s singing, including his problems with correct language pronunciations, his pure and effortless tone made him the favorite of millions. His style also influenced many modern tenors. He will definitely be missed. I’m happy to say that the first date I went on with my now wife of 8 years was to see Pavarotti in Chicago. It was one of the best experiences of my life.

    Eric, as a side note, I think that many people don’t realize that it’s not the vibrato itself that they don’t like. Vibrato is completely naturally and it is detrimental to a singer to try to suppress it. Usually the issue is that the singer is slightly off-pitch, making the edges of the sound waves even more off-pitch. Since older singers have a harder time hearing and controlling their pitch, they sound even more “warbly.” For a soprano, try Renee Fleming, especially the Beautiful Voice recording. Also, check out Ian Bostridge for a completely different kind of tenor.

    • #3
    • Comment
    • Thu 6 Sep 2007
    • 2132
    Matt Robin wrote in to say...

    What a thoughtful article Eric – it’s really nice to know how much you appreciate his special singing skills.

    I think this is the best way to remember him: for having that outstanding voice. When he sang at full strength…it was certainly something very special indeed.

    • #4
    • Comment
    • Fri 7 Sep 2007
    • 0220
    David Sleight wrote in to say...

    More than a little bummed to wake to his signature “Nessum Dorma” on public radio this morning and realize that he had passed. Consider myself lucky to have caught one of his final performances at the Metropolitan Opera before he retreated from public life for good. Love him or deride him, he was a cultural icon, and made some truly magnificent music palatable to the masses.

    • #5
    • Comment
    • Fri 7 Sep 2007
    • 1631
    Erin Kissane wrote in to say...

    I’ve been away from news and hadn’t heard. It’s quite a loss; thanks for the post.

    (You might enjoy Rosa Lamoreaux, btw — she mainly sings Bach and early music, so she’s working in a different tradition, but her tone is just extraordinarily beautiful.)

    • #6
    • Comment
    • Sat 8 Sep 2007
    • 0714
    malcolm reynolds wrote in to say...

    I feel like a philistine intruder here; I’m no Opera fan, but loved the sound of Pavarotti singing. I haven’t been able to stop playing his music since he died and this morning tried to find more information about “Torna A Surriento” hence stumbling acroos this site. I appreciate the expert comments made here and this has opened the door to my exploring Opera and the classics further.
    I had tickets for his Farewell tour, scheduled for Warwick castle in July last year,sadly he learnt of his cancer weeks prior to the planned date, so I never got to see him live and have preserved the unused tickets.
    There was an excellent BBC documentrary about him Thursday evening which showed him as a great artist and seemingly lovely person.

    • #7
    • Comment
    • Sat 8 Sep 2007
    • 1959
    Paolo wrote in to say...

    Thanks for this post,

    Paolo, from Italy

    • #8
    • Comment
    • Sun 9 Sep 2007
    • 0817
    Patrick Harris wrote in to say...

    I totally agree about the awful problem of classical singers and vibrato. Interestingly this is a modern phenomena … if you listen to earlier classical singers (and instrumentalists), say pre 1925, you will find they use a lot less vibrato, and sing/play in a much more natural style.

    • #9
    • Comment
    • Mon 10 Sep 2007
    • 0631
    prisca wrote in to say...

    Eric :)

    thanks for this article…
    he truly was one of the most powerful voices – bringing classical music to the masses as well as really speak to our hearts…

    Not being a fan of opera myself – he was one of the few who I love listening to. “Nessun Dorma” is of course a favourite – powerful emotions…. But I also like the more ‘happy tunes’ like “La donna è mobile” :)

    Ultimi saluti al maestro!!!

    • #10
    • Comment
    • Wed 12 Sep 2007
    • 1609
    annex wrote in to say...

    So, it appears the web design community is also a keen classical / opera consuming community! As and artist, that’s makes me very happy. As a front-end developer, that makes me proud.

    The man’s voice can bring tears to my eyes, such beauty is rare and I’m thankful that I can hear it and enjoy it.


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