“He said so?” Pavarotti asked. “Well, in my opinion, it is very necessary, because I am intent to enlarge the world of the opera. Mr. Bing wanted to keep the world of the opera small and restricted….this statement makes me think that Mr. Bing is not an intelligent person who follows the times.”
Bing had even harsher words about Pavarotti and I asked if he wanted to hear them.
“Of course,” the tenor said. “What?”
“He said, ‘Seeing that stupid, ugly face everywhere I go is getting on my nerves.’”
Pavarotti was not used to hearing such remarks to his face. And believe me, it was not easy repeating them to him. “I don’t care what he said!” Pavarotti exclaimed. “If he thinks I have a stupid, ugly face, it is his problem. I mean, he doesn’t have a good face himself. The only reason he is talking like that is because his face is not all over. Believe me. With all due respect, I think he should take a little more care when he talks.”
And yet, in spite of causing him “big trouble” Pavarotti remained a friend. After the interview came out he returned to Los Angeles for a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. He came to our house in the Hollywood Hills for lunch. He had a driver, but had told no one but his manager where he was going. It was a very casual, low-key afternoon. My wife served him dumplings, which he couldn’t get enough of, and our precocious daughter Maya, just 2 1/2, showed him how she could ride her tricycle. She had also prepared to sing “O Sole Mio” for him, but when she saw the size of the man when he came through our door, she completely forgot about singing. After an hour, a stretch limousine pulled up to our house and two men dressed in suits came knocking. Pavarotti was expected at Tower Records in West Hollywood to do a signing and thousands of people were waiting in line for him. “Give me a little more time,” he said to them, and they went outside while he ate a few more dumplings and changed his shirt.
As he was about to leave to promote a new recording I asked him if he was generally happy with his recordings.
“I am generally unhappy,” he said. “I am too demanding. I look for perfection. In records, they give more importance to the orchestra than the voice. They should make a better balance. I feel that way about all records—more so for mine.”
When I asked him how he felt when he listened to recordings he made twenty years before he said he cried. “Because I thought to be much better than I was.”
Soon after he left Maya remembered that she had wanted to sing for him. I said she should dictate to me a thank you note for coming to visit, which she did, including in her little note that she was sorry she didn’t sing what she had rehearsed. I included a photograph I took of the two of them. A few weeks later Maya got a letter in the mail.
“It was an enormous pleasure for me to receive the beautiful photograph that you sent to me of the two of us. I am sorry that I missed your version of “o sole mio,” but I am sure that the next time we get together you will sing it for me. Maybe I will even be able to give you a few pointers…No pointers for your mother on her dumplings—which were exquisite, or her artwork which was impressive, or for your father whose hospitality and friendship will always be special to me.
“Un grand bacio,
“N.B. ‘L’articolo e bellissimo Grazie Larry.’ Luciano”
I always thought we’d have more lunches and dinners together, but the pace of Pavarotti’s life and the distance his handlers insisted on made the development of new friendships difficult if not impossible. Pavarotti had three daughters from his first marriage of 37 years and one from his second in 2002. He treasured whatever private time he had left between performances and rehearsals. “In the world of opera,” he told me, “what you are, what you really are, is not a joke. If you want to stay at the top, you cannot fake it. It is very difficult to stay at the top.”
He stayed at the top until the very end. What he was, what he really was, was the greatest tenor of his time. I was lucky to have shared some time with him, and to have the memories he left behind.
Tens of thousands of mourners came to pay their respect at his funeral in Modena on September 8, 2007. Only 700 were able to fit inside the 12th century cathedral, which included Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano and invited guests from around the world. After the eulogies and prayers a video was shown inside the church and on a big screen outside of Pavarotti singing a duet with his father. And when it was over, something unusual happened in that solemn cathedral. The 700 mourners stood and applauded, as did the thousands of people outside. How fitting, that the tenor with the golden voice, who thrilled audiences in opera houses and concert halls around the world, should be ushered into heaven with a standing ovation.