Nessun dorma

Just last week I was telling some colleagues from Italy how I first knew who Luciano Pavarotti was.

It was in Rome, my sophomore year of college, during a class on the fundamentals of opera.  Most of the curriculum was devoted to groundbreakers like Bellini’s Norma.  Wow, was that painful.

The reward, however, came with studying Puccini’s Turandot.  It’s the story of a Chinese princess who presents each suitor with a riddle.  If he answers it correctly, he wins her hand.  If he screws up, she has his head chopped off.  [I wonder if they have that option on match.com or eScarmony.]

Anyway, besides being the perfect story for a bunch of students from a midwestern women’s college located near a macho football powerhouse — we were ready for Turandot’s methodology — the music was divine.  And of course, the best aria is for the prince who comes along and shows Turandot she has met her match.  Nessun dorma.

The recording we studied was Pavarotti’s.  We didn’t know what he looked like or what else he had done.  We loved the aria so much we would throw open the windows of our dorm rooms in the Hotel Tiziano, play it on full volume and sing along with Luch. 

The rest of the non-operatic world discovered the aria during the 1990 World Cup.  It was a little sad when the song that so enchanted our tight crew of young women became everyone’s favorite song that year.

Mr Pavarotti inhabited the aria.  I remember talking about it with Grandma Lucy, whose most prized possession was her collection of Caruso recordings.  She believed that no one had a voice like Caruso. 

We agreed that Pavarotti must be my generation’s Caruso.  A talent not just for the technical but for conveying the lyric as if he had written the words himself.

Riposa in pace.

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