Recorded on concerte at 1 november 1987, Carnegie Hall
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This recording fills a curious lacuna in the discography of Luciano Pavarotti. The tenor has made the solo recital an integral aspect of his career for more than fifteen years, yet his important work in this field has not been documented until this release. For many of his admirers, this collection represents Pavarotti as they know and love him best - on the concert platform, standing in the curve of a great ebony Steinway his trusted accompanist and friend John Wustman at the keyboard.
The performance serves as a souvenir of a particularly memorable event that took place at New York's Carnegie Hall during November 1987, the tenor's first recital there since the august old auditorium was restored to its original magnificence. In spirit if not in letter, the program recalls many another such Pavarotti recital presented in cities around the globe - from London to Tokyo, from Rio de Janeiro to Berlin, from Honolulu to Salzburg, from San Francisco to Milan.
The very first Pavarotti recital, in 1973, took place not in one of the world's glamorous musical capitals, however, but out of the limelight in far off, obscure Liberty, Missouri. No disrespect to Liberty where the singer has returned often and with particular pleasure, but his appearance in concert at that time, the entire venture, was rather in the nature of a tryout. Urged on by Herbert Breslin, his perspicacious American manager, Pavarotti needed to test himself, to see if this new venue, the recital stage, suited his abilities. The transition from opera house to concert hall, both men knew full well, can be tricky even for an extraordinarily famous tenor. History has shown that not every opera star is suited to this other calling, though Pavarotti sensed that if he succeeded he would be able to follow in the footsteps of two of his childhood idols, Beniamino Gigli and Tito Schipa.
For his program in Liberty Pavarotti did exactly what Gigli and Schipa had done - he selected a mixture of classical songs and operatic arias that reflected his own special musical domain. He quickly discovered that the recital is an exceedingly difficult format, with constant pressure on the performer to be at his vocal and interpretative peak. Absolute concentration is required every instant of the way, from start to finish, and the actual amount of singing time is considerably longer than in opera.
The Liberty experience - arduous but exhilarating beyond Pavarotti's wildest imagination - dispelled all doubts. Perhaps best of all he loved the instant feedback he experienced at the conclusion of each number. 'The audience told me how I did,' he remembers, 'they gave me a running progress report all evening!' Communication, of course, is a Pavarotti speciality.
A second recital followed in Dallas, Texas, two nights after Liberty. There, on that historic occasion, the now famous white handkerchief - 'my security blanket,' Pavarotti calls it -made its debut. He once had observed another singer extravagantly gesticulating during a recital and he decided he needed a prop to help control his own gestures. Now the handkerchief is a Pavarotti trademark.
Next on the schedule came Denver, and then on February 18, 1973, New York's Carnegie Hall. This was the critical challenge, the final test. Pavarotti and Breslin were not even sure the public would come to hear him perform songs, but additional seats had to be placed onstage to accommodate an overflow crowd, and encores were demanded well into the night. Today the singer recalls that recital as 'a milestone in my entire career'.
Through recitals, Pavarotti has been able to expand his artistic horizons. Because of its simple requirements, the concert platform has made it possible for Pavarotti to travel to countless out-of-the-way places, to perform for people who otherwise might never have the opportunity to hear him in person. After all,' he says, 'all I need is a stage, a pianist and an audience.'
A hallmark of Pavarotti's art - as it should be for all recitalists - is an exceptional ability to set forth words with clarity and meaning. During his recitals, the listener is caught up as much by the poetry as by the music, and this is true even for music-lovers who understand not a word of Italian. Each song and aria on a program emerges with a distinctive personality sometimes with contrasting or shifting emotions - sadness, joy, jealousy frustration, remorse, nostalgia, exultation, contentment, love, desire. Somehow, through that gift that is virtually his alone, Pavarotti manages to make every selection an enthralling, intensely personal experience. Every member of the audience feels as though Pavarotti is singing for him alone. That is why his recitals are unique - among the rare musical pleasures of our time.
Gerald Fitzgerald Associate Editor, Opera News