What I learned from Pavarotti…

What I learned from Pavarotti…

Music lovers are lamenting the passing of Luciano Pavarotti.
cbc.ca World-renowned Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti dies at 71

Thursday on CBC Radio's almanac, host Mark Forsythe interviewed local Vancouverites Mark Donnelly and Leo Aquino.  Leo had played his accordion for a short muscial introduction to one of the songs that Pavarotti had performed at GM Place in 1995.  Mark had sung in the chorus accompanying Pavarotti.  Both were asked about their experiences meeting Pavarotti, and sharing the state with him.

Next I was surprised to discover I had personal connections to both of the interviewees.  As a young accordion player, Leo Aquino had been one of my adjudicators at music festivals.  Recently last fall, I met Leo again at a cabaret show evening for the Back Stage Club, and I just happened to be performing my accordion.  Mark mentioned that he discovered the joys of listening to Pavarotti when his piano accompanist had suggested he broaden his repetoire beyond singing leider, and start listening to some opera.  His accompanist's name was Bonita Shuen, one of my long-time accordion playing competitors at music festivals.  Strange how Pavarotti's death can bring me closer to two accordion playing figures from my musical past.

I never met the man, and he never came to a Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner… but he did make an impact on my musical life… and my pocket book.

Pavarotti came to Vancouver to perform at GM place in 1995, and I attended with friends. It was an incredible concert.  Our first time at GM Place and the sound was good, even up in the rafters.  He later came back to BC Place to perform with the Three Tenors, and again I attended with friends.  The sound was terrible… ticket prices were being slashed.  The Tenors left the stage at 11:45pm and the audience was left to welcome in midnight with the chorus singers performing the Carmina Burana.  An unfortunate incident that left Vancouver soured on Pavarotti, after the 1995 swooning.

I didn't listen or attend much opera then.  I had attended a few, Janacek's “Cunning Little Vixen”, Mozart's “Cosi Fan Tutti” and Beethoven's “Fidelio”.  During the 1980's I wrote some opera reviews for the Capilano College student newspaper, called the Capilano Courier.

But by the 1990's I had started listening to more operatic vocal music, sparked by the Vancouver concerts of Cecilia Bartoli.  She was damn sexy back then.  Pavarotti and the Three Tenors concerts made opera even more accessible by singing many popular tunes that I already had played on my accordion such as “Return to Sorento”, and “Granada.”  After listening to their cd's I quickly learned “La Donna E Mobile” and “O Solo Mio” – now both regulars in my accordion repetoire.

When I was younger, I didn't like opera because it was usually sung in foreign languages and generally “very European.”  But today, I appreciate opera not only for its musical beauty, but also for it's multiculturalism.  For many people, the operas set in different lands with different languages is an opening door to learning about the world.  If all the stories were set in one culture and only sung in one language, we would have monoculture – less colourful and certainly less exotic. 

We have learned cultural stereotypes from operas such as Nessun Dorma, set in old Peking.  I shiver at the thought of the court magistrates named Ping, Pang and Pong.  But the power of contemporary operas to open doors to cultural understanding can be readily seen in the Vancouver Opera's recent productions of a First Nations Magic Flute, and the Japanese-Canadian internment setting of Naomi's Road.

It helps that I can attend events put on by my friend Karen Lee-Morlang, and I have singing friends now such as Heather Pawsey who performs with the Vancouver Opera Chorus (and Gung Haggis Fat Choy), and Jessica Cheung and Gina Oh who performed in Naomi's Road.

Pavarotti helped to open the ears and minds of many non-opera listeners, especially with his collaborations with the Three Tenors, Bono, Diana Ross and Bryan Adams.  It's hard not to listen to Nessun Dorma, his signature song, and not picture him on stage.  Rest in peace.

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