August 31, 2001 (Ira Pilgrim)

Tenors anyone?

A singer able to sing so much as sixteen measures of good music in a natural, well-poised and sympathetic voice, without effort, without affectation, without tricks, without exaggeration, without hiatuses, without hiccuping, without barking, without baa-ing --such a singer is a rare, a very rare, an excessively rare bird.

Hector Berlioz, 1862

On July 17, 1994, the day that fragments of a comet smashed into Jupiter, Dodger's Stadium in Los Angeles had a concert. A concert in a ball park? Why not? It makes slightly more sense than having a baseball game in a concert hall. You can pack a lot of people into a ball park, and at up to $1,000 a ticket, you can make more money than with a ball game. Still more big bucks were raked in by selling the TV rights to public television stations. Money is what the professional entertainment business is all about; and that is all that it is about.

To make big bucks, you have to spend big bucks, and they did. The Los Angeles Philharmonic earned their money and, aside from the publicity agents, they were the only ones who earned their money. There was also an immense chorus, which backed up the singers a bit. It took them more time to dress than they spent singing.

Among those attending were George and Barbara Bush (remember them?), Henry Kissinger, Arnold Schwartzeneger, Tom Cruse, Frank Sinatra, what is left of Gene Kelly and, I think, what was left of Bob Hope.

The TV event was announced by Itzhak Perlman, without his violin, who proved that he could also talk and read a TelePrompTer. Pity; he is a great violinist and a mediocre commentator.

During the half hour intermission, the public TV stations harangued their listeners with continuous pitches to send money; enough begging to shame a televangelist. For a big contribution, you could get a copy of the program, a video, or a CD. Why anyone would want one is beyond me.

Featured were three operatic tenors who are past their prime. There was Placido Domingo, a dramatic tenor with a voice of great beauty and power. Of course with amplification, even Barbara Streisand can sound like God. Domingo could have matched the orchestra and filled the stadium with song without amplification; I've heard him do it. Luciano Pavarotti sings with exquisite sweetness and has wonderful high notes. I have never heard him in person so I don't know how his voice really sounds. If those two singers didn't exist, Jose Carreras would be considered one of the best. Carreras has been ill with cancer and he had to work very hard to sing some of the easier arias.

What did the public get with 3 tenors? Basically they got one tenor for the price of three. They got the usual two hour concert, and each singer got paid big bucks for singing a third of his usual amount. Twenty years from then, when they are all old men, it would still be a piece of cake for them.

Since this was a pop concert, they sung a number of songs in English, a language which none of them are very good at. Each tried to out-shout the others. Since it was amplified, it made no difference whatever.

So what was the reason for this? All three tenors are enthusiastic soccer fans, and they wanted a chance to see the finals of the World Cup matches and to get paid big bucks for a chance to do it. What did the public get? A lot less than they could have gotten by buying a couple of CD's.

I have a number of tapes and CDs of Pavarotti and Domingo, and I listen to them often. As to the ball park event; if I had missed it, I wouldn't have missed much, if anything.

This is reminiscent of the hype that Enrico Caruso(1873-1921) used to get; multiplied by three. Hype has increased many times over what it was in Caruso's day. Caruso was to sing in I Pagliacci, and this short opera was preceded by another short opera Cavelleria Rusticana. The tenor who was to sing Cavelleria was out of sorts and asked Caruso to sing the opening aria for him, since it was sung offstage and the performer would be unseen. Caruso did, and the audience couldn't tell the difference between the second rate tenor and the great Caruso.

Conductor Zubin Mehta said that he thought that it would be a chance to introduce opera to the general public. It did introduce them to opera. But did they inhale?

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