In 1988, I trekked to San Francisco on a bus from Santa Cruz to stand (or better said, sit) in line all day long to get a standing room only ticket to see Luciano Pavarotti in one of his signature roles, Rodolfo in Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme. I’ve seen La Boheme over the years (3 more times) and I’ve always enjoyed it deeply, in some ways this simplest and most accessible of operas becomes richer with multiple viewings. But nothing with compare to the excitement of that first time– the camaraderie of all of us who sat in line all day long, talking opera, sharing stories, watching each other’s place while we went to the bathroom. Nothing compares to the growing excitement as the time neared for the show, as we watched the people with seats go in before us. Finally, the mad rush of hundreds of us into the Opera House, desperate to put our elbows up on the back row bannister so that we could see the Opera from the back, standing.
The red-headed man in the greek sailor’s cap who sat next to me all day long later sent me an audiotape through the mail, with a recording of Kiri te Kanawa that I listened to hundreds of times in the years to come. I wish I knew his name, and had his address so that I can write to him and talk about Luciano tonight. For one shining evening, I heard one of the legends of opera sing, and he was simply magnificent. Afterwards, I was lucky enough to get his autograph (as well as Mirella Freni’s), both of which I still treasure today.
My former student and friend John LoGalbo sent me a link to a youtube video of Luciano and I was moved to discover that it is of the very same production I saw in San Francisco in 1988 (the tag on the video erroneously says 1990) but it is 1988, I double checked it. I’m so grateful to see this snippet and know it was from the same season I saw him perform in La Boheme. Today with his passing, it is the end of an era, an era which has yet to replace him, the greatest example of the opera singer superstar. In my small way, I’m glad that I could be a part of the chapter of the history of opera that Luciano wrote. Thank you Rodolfo, and rest in peace.
Here is Luciano Pavarotti singing Rodolfo’s aria “Che Gelida Manina” (Your Hand is Cold), one of the most beloved arias in the history of opera, from La Boheme, with Mirella Freni as Mimí.