I've loved reading my fellow listers' memory musings on the Pav for it has
brought back a flood of memories of a more innocent (less bitter?) time in my
operatic development. How lucky I was to have cut my operatic teeth during
the 70's here in San Francisco, quite possibly during the "golden years of the
SFO". But I digress.
I was a music education major at SF State with an emphasis in voice.
Eventually I taught high school music but gave it up rather quickly to pursue
my real dream of performing. I received my Masters in opera from the
Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, foresook pursuing a career in
Germany running back to my city by the bay to take part in Maestro Adler's
final season as General Director of the SF Opera.
So many of my fondest opera memories revolve around Luciano's connection to
this great company and city. My first live opera performance was on a high
school field trip during my junior year to a SF Opera performance of Lucia di
Lammermoor with Pavarotti and Sills (another major influence in my operatic
teething.) WOW! Did they chew the scenery and put on a show. Even then I was
blown away, not really aware of what was happening "vocally" but aware that I
was experiencing something beyond my wildest dreams or expectations. I do
remember Sills having to hold on to Pavarotti after the "Sulla tomba" duet
refraining him from taking a bow and acknowledging the applause. Fabulous.
Throughout the 70's other prime memories include Luisa Miller with Pavarotti
and Ricciarelli. This was especially memorable since they performed at Opera
in the Park on the Sunday following opening. It was still being held in
Golden Gate Park's music concourse and only two to three thousand would attend
unlike current attendance of twenty-thousand or more. I remember this concert
so well because every time the Ricciarelli or Wixell was singing I would sneak
in the back to get a glimpse of Luciano. Finally I caught him outside sunning
himself and I began to speak to him in my fractured Italian, just the two of
us. He gave me the sweetest smile, took my hand and said in very fractured
English, "please speekah eenglish, I don't understand your iiiitalian!" I
told him how much he inspired me in my quest as a young opera singer. He was
In 1977 I attended a recital by Luciano and John Wustman on the War Memorial
Stage. I was in the center orchestra blissed out by the beauty of voice. I
relished his repertoire choices, much of it mirroring my favorite album,
"Pavarotti in Concert" singing all the early Italian art songs and the Bellini
chamber songs,Tosti, and Respighi, and no opera--not even Nessun Dorma.
Speaking of Nessun Dorma, in 1977 I had been blessed with attending that
historical Ponnelle production of Turandot with Caballe, Mitchell and Tozzi.
What a charmed life I have lead!
Il Trovatore with Sutherland and Verrett--filling in for an ill Azucena of
Obratsova, now that was scenery chewing! How did I luck out? Thank God for
the San Francisco College Opera Guild, a season ticket at half price. I still
remember riding around in my car listening to the live radio broadcast of his
Friday night Trovatore, and singing along during the Di Quella Pira. There I
was cruising the streets of San Francisco, windows rolled down just singing
out at the top of my lungs and no one taking notice. More memories of that
wild Gioconda with Scotto, Ernani with Leona Mitchell, and a historical Aida
for one performance only with Leontyne Price.
Luciano has had such a profound effect on my choices in music for it was his
voice that I most identified with and aspired to be. Every time I see him
perform, and to this day when I see him perform, he is still a "walking" voice
lesson. I may not always agree with his current music choices, or singing
partners for that matter, but the man knows his technique, his voice, the
phrase, the singing for the pure joy and pleasure of it. He knows how to put
on a show and entertain an audience (that is what opera is about isn't it? AND
he still sings like a god. Mille graze a Maestro Pavarotti!
TJ van Dyke