`It’s not just for gay men, is it?” joked Robert, the gay man who sat beside us for the three years we held season tickets for the L.A. Opera. There’s a stereotype at work here, of course, a belief that opera is gay-man entertainment because – and I’m only guessing here – heterosexual men are incapable of going sappy over the final act of something by Verde. But what can be expected in a nation where ballet was, not so long ago, called toe-dancing and anything played by a symphony was known as long-haired music. Or that’s what they called it in our family, a unit far more concerned with TV game shows than howling, overweight foreigners. Which brings me to Luciano Pavarotti, who died – you’ve heard no doubt – Thursday of cancer at age 71. He died of pancreatic cancer and lay in state for two days in the great cathedral at Modena, his hometown, like the treasure that he was. More than anyone since Enrico Caruso, more than any tenor since the advent of decent recorded music, the outsized Pavarotti defined opera in the same way that Ruth defined and dominated baseball. To me there were two singers in this world: Pavarotti and Sinatra. Everybody else was Rod Stewart. What amazed me about both Italian singers was how, out of billions of voices, there were only two true greats. Only two men who could take somebody else’s notes and lyrics and utterly transform them into something that sounded flung down from heaven. Mind you, I wasn’t always a fan. Sure, they were there in the background of a youth consumed by forgettable rock. But neither broke through my inability to hear anyone older than 30 until age itself sent the immense talent of both singers washing over me like a religious awakening. Suddenly everyone else seemed tenth-rate by comparison. Just as suddenly I was cast by younger people as an old guy in love with old-guy music. Or a gay guy in love with gay-guy music. Not that it matters much to me either way. For me it started with Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca,” an opera that made me wonder how any human could write such a thing and how any human could possibly sing it. And I happened to see it only a few weeks before accidentally tuning into the The Three Tenors in concert during the 1990 World Cup. It was Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras performing under the half-ruined dome of the great Baths At Caracalla in Rome. Zubin Mehta conducted the tenors in what was to be a one-time pick-up-game-of-an-event that wound up selling millions of CDs (more than any album of classical music ever) and casting the three men into the mass-culture pop mode just loathed by opera purists. Somehow, truly great music is supposed to be narrow-cast to aficionados and snobs. And it riled many when the tenors took their act on the road, landing entertainingly in 1994 at Dodger Stadium without ever again reaching the same level of fun and relaxed abandonment of the Roman classic. Still, even in that company and even though many said that he was already past his prime, Pavarotti was the unmistakable star. Like Sinatra with Dino and Sammy, there was that extra level of greatness about him that could make even an opera ignoramus like me aware that I was hearing something great and transcendent, a true voice for the ages in an age of instant singing stars, flummery and sloth. If you don’t own The Three Tenors CD, you should, even if you think that you hate opera or think of opera as something for sissies like me. The highlight is Pavarotti’s singing of Nessun Dorma (“Let no one sleep”) from Puccini’s last opera, “Turandot.” I can’t hear the thing without getting chills, without thinking that Puccini should be given some kind of an award, a Grammy or something better than that, something grand and otherworldly like Pavarotti hitting those high C’s. It’s the voice of God, and if I could sing like that for a day, I’d spend that day down on The Strand letting the world bask in my singular, impossible talent. I saw Pavarotti at the Dodger Stadium event, which was a zoo, a typically facile and stupid L.A. cultural grope with all the notables sequestered up front and the great tenor’s voice – even unhinged by his massive appetites – wowing a crowd that lost it for him, went wild for him. All those people who probably didn’t know opera well or even at all got lost in that voice, got lost in that great gift bestowed at random on a baker’s son, a voice stilled now but still there like a prayer. I want to hear your comments. Connect with me at [email protected], call 310 543-6681 or send a letter to John Bogert/DailyBreeze, 5215 Torrance Blvd., Torrance, CA 90503-4077. Hear my podcast at www.dailybreeze.com.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!
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