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Luciano Pavarotti discusses singing for the Pope and other audiences

BROADCAST: Oct. 8, 1979 | DURATION: 00:26:57


Pavarotti recalls his meeting with the Pope was very special. Singing "Ave Maria" for him was like God lit up, explained Pavarotti. There are more younger people in the audience, said Pavarotti. They're very surprised that opera's so beautiful, as they believed it was an old fashioned thing.


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Studs Terkel Our guest this morning is Luciano Pavarotti tenor from Modena, Italy. And so in a moment the program after this message.

Studs Terkel In listening to "Ave Maria," Mr. Pavarotti, I understand the Pope who was here, you sang it for him, was very much impressed himself as [would be?] anybody who hears you. When you sing the "Ave Maria" of Schubert, this is, your feelings.

Luciano Pavarotti Well I can tell you one second before what it was the feeling. The feeling was to be completely empty and I still am very full. As soon I begin, the voice was very very I would like to say nervous but I think it was very touch, the voice, the instrument. And before I went to the second verse it was unable to sing like [is my usual?]. But I hear on the television and it was very involve and very appropriate for the occasion. In fact I really was praying in this, in that moment more than singing. And I think it did come out very well and if just my father and my mother can see me these [unintelligible] [very old?]. But in this this time I tell you they can of see me in that occasion of last, it would be for them fantastic.

Studs Terkel I was about to ask you about your thoughts of your mother and father when you sang the "Ave Maria" in a cathedral, the Holy Name in Chicago is a cathedral and there were scores hundreds of people there and millions watching. But that is the point. Your memory when you first sang a religious song in Modena, your hometown.

Luciano Pavarotti Well to be honest my debut like solo singer was exactly in a church and I sing a mass [composer name?] ["Te Deo"?] in which there is a solo tenor. And I sang the entire the entire role. I was 19 and it was quite an experience. It was very very little church of the protector of our city San Gimignano. And still now I live in the neighborhood. Sometime I go there to remind me, to think. And I am very very move.

Studs Terkel This is a city to the north of Italy?

Luciano Pavarotti Yes it's between Florence and Milan, Modena.

Studs Terkel And you were 19 when you sang-- I'm taking now a long way from Modena, Italy to Chicago in the year '79, this event. And yet so much in your life as a sort of a thread there's a continuity isn't there?

Luciano Pavarotti Yes. Well I was not afraid that time when I sang for the first time. I was generally not afraid during [this here?]. It was for me to me something who isn't real because the Pope for a Catholic is God, a living God. And it was quite an experience. Absolutely impossible to explain to people who is not of my religion, impossible to explain to me two days ago because you must be real there to understand [the

Studs Terkel You know what I'm thinking, I may be romantic in saying this but you were singing to the glory of God as medieval architects and stonemasons the people who built the great cathedrals, people who have no names, the anonymous people built for the same reason for the glory of God. All their craft all their skill went into it as yours did here.

Luciano Pavarotti For me is I was gifted. I did have this gift and I can let hear to the to the public I can let hear myself last night to the Pope. And it's the first time I meet the Pope in person. I always wanted, I'm very Catholic but I am not what we call [Italian]. I mean I

Studs Terkel You're not fanatic.

Luciano Pavarotti I am not a fanatic but the to me to in person the Pope it was something very special.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking about you swinging, your repertoire's so broad, and you sing also songs from another city to the south, Neapolitan songs.

Luciano Pavarotti Yes.

Studs Terkel The Neapolitans--

Luciano Pavarotti They are incredible because they are really arias. The music is unbelievable and the language for me is so seducing because is almost French for me. I mean really a strange language, total strange language and generally I am tired to hear my record but I am never tired to hear Neapolitan song because it is almost another sound almost other word. And this one is the expression of Italy because says [Italian lyric] it is the country of sun. It should be really expressing the trademark of Italy. And

Studs Terkel We 'll hear this one after that I want to ask you something. After we are your "Paese d' 'o sole."

Luciano Pavarotti "Paese d' 'o sole."

Studs Terkel The land of the sun.

Luciano Pavarotti Yes.

Studs Terkel After this I when asked a question.

Studs Terkel In hearing this beautiful Neapolitan song you said something earlier about the language, we know and the dialect is so different like different cultures, the north where you're from, Modena and Naples, and that almost a different language you were saying.

Luciano Pavarotti It is exactly different language, Neapolitan is very difficult to to be sang perfect. And we did have a teacher a special teacher who teach me the entire group of songs and he was very severe and is exactly like when I sang French song I have the same teacher and the same problem because is a little out from my from my natural language. But the music no, the music is very close to me. The music is in my heart and the music is like the sun. Is

Studs Terkel Of course the music of all languages are yours but I'm thinking of-- it's though you are learning as though you were singing "Carmen," Don José , and so there are some French. And so there was someone teaching the nuances of French and you of north Italy singing a song of south Italy of Naples to the south it's also you are learning another language.

Luciano Pavarotti Oh yeah, another language and another language than most at least is understood from me. But there is language there is dialect kind of dialect in Italy and I really do not understand one word, even I really need a translator interpreter.

Studs Terkel Yeah. I suppose this goes back to the early days before

Luciano Pavarotti Well we have so many different dominations and--

Studs Terkel Yes.

Luciano Pavarotti For example French is from my from my country. Turkish is from [unintelligible] where the Turk is where they don't mesh very well with French.

Studs Terkel When we think of a melodic Italian arias we think of Puccini of course we think of Puccini and so of course you do Rodolfo so beautifully and here-- Set the scene. We know poor Mimi is dying and here is her lover--

Luciano Pavarotti Well it is the first part of the first part is the meeting. They are meeting and they are both very happy. She is still very sick but we don't know yet. And there is a meeting wanted probably from Mimi herself. In fact she knock at the door but the excuse to lose the key is really an excuse because the real reason is to went to visit these neighbors she did like very much. She saw probably the day before or the week before and she decide to go herself to see the neighbor. And after she lost the key. And then they tried to look for the key and suddenly the two hand go, they go in contact.

Studs Terkel Touch.

Luciano Pavarotti And she she's frozen hand. And I am singing this aria "Che gelida manina," let me take care of these frozen hands and let me warm your frozen hand and so on. And she answered with another beautiful aria, "[Si], mi chiamano Mimi." My name is Lucia and so I make flour and so and so, and we go to the final duet

Studs Terkel You were thinking, also you mentioned you know you spoke earlier of Mimi was a flower girl, and there is of flowers of course flowers. There's your Don José in "Carmen." And here is the ill-fated Don José

Luciano Pavarotti [He is] "The Flower Song."

Studs Terkel Yeah. He meets of course the gypsy Carmen and he's sunk. [Poor Don?]. How do you interpret Don-- before we ask you, before we hear "The Flower Song," of Don José , you're, how is Don

Studs Terkel Don José , he's a man who is going around with all the girl until he found one who fall with whom he fall in love and that girl drive him crazy. And he's crazy, become crazy. Crazy at the point he's going to kill her, and he will. And he did.

Studs Terkel I was going to-- I know what I was going to ask. French. OK here's a French opera. Is your approach, this may be a silly question, in contrast to a Verdi or a Puccini, is your approach different vocally in some way in

Luciano Pavarotti Well probably yes. The sound himself is different of my voice when I do French because there is some nasal projection in the French who is totally different than my natural instrument. And these make my voice different. It is the reason because I prefer sometimes to hear French and Napoli song because it's really like to hear another person. I don't like very much to hear myself. I always found that the bad part of the of the thing always exist in the record and in the [perform?]. And I am a perfectionist. I like the perfection who don't exist in this world and hear my record generally drives me crazy.

Studs Terkel Oh really? Like Carmen drives Don José crazy, your records drive you

Luciano Pavarotti But you know "Carmen" for example of all these list is that's why I prefer. Because is a little like when you went to the-- well a child you go to the church and you hear the mass in Latin. There is a certain kind of mystery. You don't really understand deeply [who?] really never stop to attract you.

Studs Terkel Aah, so there's a mystery of something which is strange to you, like French more strange, though you know French, more strange to you than the Italian and therefore the mystery--

Luciano Pavarotti From the mystery, from the sound, from the interpretation of the music, different even the music. A lot of thing are, they interest me more. I mean me sit in my room hearing the record of sitting here with you not on the stage because on the stage I still will have so many other Italian role I want to do before approach for example [opera title? role?] on the stage. I have "Aida" and I have two or three more.

Studs Terkel I want to hear your French. "The Flower Song."

Luciano Pavarotti OK.

Studs Terkel Yeah. I was thinking as you do Don José now so beautifully. I want to go back to your memories. Modena, and you were 19 when you sang in that church. Your feelings-- When did you realize-- Your father I know it was a hard work-- a good skilled craftsman a baker. He loved music, your father?

Luciano Pavarotti He loves music and he still has incredible tenor voice now. He, my father is was born 1912 is 67 not yet and is very young spring chicken. If you see him in the in the picture of "Time Magazine" he look younger than me.

Studs Terkel He was born the same year I was born, 1912.

Luciano Pavarotti Well it is the golden

Studs Terkel That's it, the golden year! The Titanic went down, Luciano Pavarotti's father and I were born.

Luciano Pavarotti Is true, is

Studs Terkel But when did you, the idea of making it your life, singing? When when did that come to you?

Luciano Pavarotti Come to me at the age of 19 when I become a teacher. And I went to my father to my mother and I say, now is time to decide if I go on and become a gymnastic professor, or mathematic professor or either I tried this beautiful but risky career who is singing. And of course my father says no. And my mother says yes then was yes.

Studs Terkel Why did your father say he was worried about the security?

Luciano Pavarotti My father was very worried because he did know then for 1000 people who [start?] one arrived. And I even make a very optimistic proportion. And this is the reason probably because he's say no, because himself he did not succeed by solo. He sang some little part in the [choir?] like solo, but not a real big career--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Luciano Pavarotti With an incredible beautiful

Studs Terkel You know thinking about your father who is a craftsman a working man a crafty baker, Italian, music and song. Is it still the case I mean, or am I romanticizing almost every It-- and the idea of music and particularly the opera, you know music among Italian people, is it it's more than usually the case with others isn't it? Or am I wrong, am I romanticizing?

Luciano Pavarotti You mean, you mean that Italian people like opera more than any other in the world?

Studs Terkel In a way, yeah.

Luciano Pavarotti No

Studs Terkel No, OK.

Luciano Pavarotti I think now--

Studs Terkel See this is a myth

Luciano Pavarotti Well the jets now equalize everybody. You can see an incredible performance of an opera in Hamburg or in Helsinki or everywhere. And you can see a [bad?] performance in Milan. Why? Because the jets really and all the television is satellite and all these video and videotape and Betamax all these thing they bring the music

Studs Terkel I was thinking of audiences, I meant I meant--

Luciano Pavarotti Audiences, no. The new generation is the same everywhere--

Studs Terkel It is, yeah.

Luciano Pavarotti Must be [accomplished?]. Opera is something in term of our small world. Then we have we have to enlarge the world of the opera and the young generation is always come with-- I tell you, everybody every every young people who come to the opera for the first time I found them very surprised because they come to my dressing room and they always say, I never thought it was so beautiful. I only thought it was an old-fashioned thing instead. If you have a great producer and very good singer on the stage, conducting of course these things, the performance is going to be--

Studs Terkel We're coming to a very interesting point here. I think there was a time there was a feeling until recently, I think you played a big role in changing this, when many of the young, you know, opera was the thing that the elite went to generally speaking. The elite went to it of a certain age and the young had other interests. But you're saying that they're discovering, many young, the richness that is

Luciano Pavarotti there? Oh

Studs Terkel So the audience are becoming younger is what you're

Luciano Pavarotti Oh yes oh yes. You see a lot of young people in the theater, everywhere. I mean is a mixed audience. I remember that at my age when I went to the opera I am from the same city of Mirella Freni and we were very few young people who go upstairs in the balcony where you have to stand five or six hour on the line to buy the cheap ticket of course because we did not have money.

Studs Terkel Now there are more.

Luciano Pavarotti I think there are much more.

Studs Terkel You and Freni are from the same town?

Luciano Pavarotti Oh yes. We grew up together we study

Studs Terkel Oh really?

Luciano Pavarotti We take the same the same milk from the same nurse, no nurse, how you call--

Studs Terkel The same muse.

Luciano Pavarotti There is a name for this. Anyway I don't remember in English the name but the lady who give us the same milk, not our mothers.

Studs Terkel Oh a wet nurse

Luciano Pavarotti Wet

Studs Terkel Nanny, a wet nurse.

Luciano Pavarotti Yes

Studs Terkel Same?

Luciano Pavarotti Yes.

Studs Terkel So it's a natural that you and she them being in some of the [works together?].

Luciano Pavarotti I don't think the milk did work in terms of giving us voice. Because my father gave me the voice and Mirella for example has a lot of relatives, some of them they die. They dead, already dead. They did have incredible voice. I think is something the voice [really?] you can transfer to another person, is a very very common [Italian].

Studs Terkel Hereditary

Luciano Pavarotti Yes.

Studs Terkel Neopolitan songs. You mentioned that we come back to that again. There's another Neapolitan song that you sing.

Luciano Pavarotti Oh this is very--

Studs Terkel "Feneste vascia."

Luciano Pavarotti "Feneste vascia," that is very particular song. I hear play by guitar from very famous [Italian] in Italy and I asked to myself then these kind of song cannot be written in this day. In fact I went back to the book and this song is written exactly in 17th century, is the oldest piece of music in the entire record. And I think many other did copy from this song and this song is called "Feneste vascia" and I even help with the arrangement of this because I did wonder horn to begin the plays. I almost made myself the arrangement. He's very very simple and very sweet.

Studs Terkel That's interesting. You said 17the century. It goes back to the 1600's then?

Luciano Pavarotti Yes exactly. It's very old. Older than all the others.

Studs Terkel Yeah. I didn't realize that the songs of that time, yeah.

Luciano Pavarotti All this incredible, you will hear how simple and

Studs Terkel What does "Feneste vascia" mean?

Luciano Pavarotti Mean a low window.

Studs Terkel Aah.

Luciano Pavarotti There is a lady who watch me. And so that is water seller. You know at that time with the with the--

Studs Terkel He has a halter and the buckets on his shoulders.

Luciano Pavarotti Yes! And he sell the water and he saw the beauty and he say, Do not worry, is me who I'm singing for you. And so it's beautiful, very romantic, very simple. The music is incredibly simple.


Studs Terkel As you say simple but beautiful.

Luciano Pavarotti I think so.

Studs Terkel Simple but beautiful. So we come to Canio, Verdi. How often did you do "Pagliacci"?

Luciano Pavarotti I have never sang on the stage "Pagliacci" because

Studs Terkel is [Laughter]

Luciano Pavarotti The tenor this time the baritone is the lover of the soprano and I am in another word, the soprano is unfaithful to the husband and I am the husband.

Studs Terkel Yeah, the cuckold.

Danny Newman This role does not suit Luciano's style.

Luciano Pavarotti I don't, well is not, well the real thing is it doesn't suit my voice [this other role?] or if it will it will be later.

Studs Terkel I

Luciano Pavarotti When I have nothing to lose because is very very demanding role and I think I have so many other thing to do even if I am already around 40, just little over, and I I hope to have ten more years and let's say then if I try this opera on the stage, first of all if I try I try both "Cavalleria," "Pagliacci" because they are very short and I have to try both.

Luciano Pavarotti And second--

Studs Terkel You mean Turiddu and Canio?

Luciano Pavarotti Yes. I have done on record and I thought were more difficult and record was not so difficult and the result is very good. But they only thing I would try this when I have nothing more to lose.

Studs Terkel Mmm, with the voice darker, the voice--

Luciano Pavarotti Not a question of darker because one of the greatest Canio

Studs Terkel No, no.

Luciano Pavarotti It was really one of the great interpreter even you know. You cannot criticize him for anything in these two roles. Yet here he was there con anima e corpo e voce. Everything.

Studs Terkel You mean-- When you were a kid to did you hear Gigli?

Studs Terkel Oh very much.

Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah.

Luciano Pavarotti Oh very, si, si, si. Twice. The first time I hear Gigli I was I think twelve and he went to my city and I asked when he went to vocalize and they say tomorrow morning at 11 o'clock is coming here to vocalize. I went there and I hear him vocalize for one hour. Open, close, and white, dark, and then I went down [little kid?] I say, I would like to become a tenor, and he say, Bravo, bravo little kid [Studs laughs]. Bravo. Very good. Bravo. And I say, How long did you study? And he says, I just finished the study now. Is mean then this I will never forget for all my entire life. I will be an eternal student and even I tell you something to be eternal student help me to be young. I really feel like a kid.

Studs Terkel Luciano let us stay with, this is very important, stick with this for a minute. Here is Gigli, world-celebrated, renowned, magnificent tenor says, I have never-- I'm still a student. And this is you too?

Luciano Pavarotti Oh no doubt about that.

Studs Terkel He said something about keeping you young. This is-- So it's the it's the discovery all the time. A new discovery every time.

Luciano Pavarotti Well is to following instruction of another person who is the teacher and you remind and this following bring you back to when you were 18, 19, 20, you were a student and the student must have this kind of soul this kind of enthusiasm of never never stop to want to want to conquest something to be better, to make an improvement every time and doesn't matter what is the level you reach.

Studs Terkel I think that you've touched one of the secrets of your art and I think that's precisely it. Aside from your giftedness your natural giftedness your learning the enthusiasm forever there. You never you will never be jaded.

Luciano Pavarotti No. I really enjoy my profession very much.

Studs Terkel Did you work with Gobbi?

Luciano Pavarotti Yes.

Studs Terkel Yes you

Luciano Pavarotti I worked with Gobbi [like?] stage director right here in Chicago in my debut in "Tosca"--

Studs Terkel "Tosca" of course.

Luciano Pavarotti Yes, he was the stage director and he give me an incredible help.

Studs Terkel Yeah he was good Scarpia too

Luciano Pavarotti Oh good? You say he are not--

Studs Terkel Great, fantastic Scarpia, fantastic.

Luciano Pavarotti Generous to say good, he was

Studs Terkel The last-- Before we hear you sing "Vesti la giubba" because there's one last thing. Acting and singing, the acting too. The dramas are today the combination not simply someone offering a solo or an aria. The acting too.

Luciano Pavarotti I think is important. Fifty percent at least. But no more. Because if you exceed from [wrong side?] after you forget the voice who is still in my opinion very important--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Luciano Pavarotti There is people who forget the voice to be great actors. I don't know if they are going to succeed.

Studs Terkel That's why it's an opera and not a play.

Luciano Pavarotti First first I think first you need a piece of marble enough to make the st-- la statua.

Studs Terkel That's marvelous. The marble, the marble has to be there and then come and then comes the statue.

Danny Newman I think in all of Luciano's performances you see that perfect synthesis of the vocal and the dramatic.

Studs Terkel And so set the scene as we say goodbye right now for "Vesti la giubba."

Luciano Pavarotti Well "Vesti la giubba," I just discovered that my wife is loving another man and I still have to go on the stage to act for the night for the public. I am putting my makeup the white makeup of the clown on the face. I watch myself in the mirror and I say, Well, it is the life. You have to put on your jacket, you put the makeup on your face. The people is paying. Then you have to go out and you have to laugh. You have to try to laugh even if you have the dead in your heart. You have to try to enjoy the people like every night. But it is very very dramatic and very sad. And is one sentimental always very far away from me but that I think would be very very dramatic if you go deep to the subject.


Studs Terkel Beautiful aria and interpretation.

Luciano Pavarotti Incredible, yes.

Luciano Pavarotti And to you I say Luciano Pavarotti, to you Danny Newman too, grazie. Mille grazie.

Luciano Pavarotti Thank you Studs, very much.

Studs Terkel This is our program for this morning and after this message a word about tomorrow's guest. [pause in recording] Tomorrow my guest is the singer who so long sang in Chicago for the old opera company, Edith Mason who is funny in her recollections and of course what a voice she had particularly as a Puccini heroine. Till tomorrow then, take it easy but take it.