Pavarotti & Me (Autograph)

He playfully grabbed me around the neck and put his fist over my head but he wasn’t angry with me.  He knew what he said and all I did was report it.  Of course, I did prod him.

Over most of the world, critics seemed to agree in their praise of Pavarotti, but in the United States, there were certain critics who remained critical.  “In Europe they say fantastic things,” he said, “but here they say terrible things. OK, they want to shoot on me, then let them shoot. Here I am, they cannot miss me, I am very big! I know why they are shooting, anyway. I know: there is some kind of conspiracy.”

I asked him what he meant.

“Simple. There is somebody else who is pushing the critics from behind.”

I knew who he meant, though he didn’t want to say it. So I said it for him.
“Placido Domingo?”

“I don’t say any name,” he said—this was before he and Domingo buried their war of words and got together with Jose Carreras to perform as The Three Tenors. “But I have a feeling there is a certain kind of conspiracy behind the critics. Should I say to them, ‘You want me to leave your country? I do! Then you will win your battle!’ But be sure, I am not going to retire from your country, not for one minute! Because I am here for the public, not for the business! Only if the public one day says, ‘Mr. Pavarotti, it’s time you go,’ will I go.”

“You’re emotional now,” I said, “but do you really believe there’s a conspiracy against you?”

“There is very, very clearly a conspiracy. And the fact that I am answering them and saying that there is a conspiracy will make them write even worse about me. I don’t care. I think it is unjust and I think some important critic should make this point.”

Considering that Pavarotti in his lifetime sold over 100 million albums, such talk of a conspiracy against him seems humorous in retrospect. But at the time, he truly believed that Domingo was saying and doing things that undermined him.  And when I asked what he thought of Domingo teaming up with Zubin Mehta for a TV tribute to Enrico Caruso he said, “It’s the most unserious and unfair thing that has happened on a stage and it was very embarrassing. It was really the festival of bad taste, like many other things that Placido does. People complain because I expose myself too much—but was this thing serious?”

You can see why he said that I had caused him trouble when these remarks appeared in print. Along with what he had to say about the Metropolitan Opera.

I asked him about his early problems with the Met, under the direction of James Levine. They hadn’t given him many new productions.

“The only new production they gave me was Un Ballo in Maschera,” he said. “It was the most revolting production I have ever seen since I was born!  It is the only new production I have sung there from 1968 until now [1982]. One new production in 14 years is not very much. Well, let me think. There have been a few others.”

When I asked what was the Met’s reasoning he answered, “I imagine that the reason is because I am too large for the stage and they want a better figure and they prefer somebody else. Simple.”

“So you think you’re denied roles because you’re large?”

“I don’t think that being large has helped me, that’s for sure.”

Did he, then, feel unloved by the Met?

“No, I think they love me; I think they love others more.”

Before Levine, Rudolf Bing was the Met’s director. When Bing was asked what he thought of a star tenor who sings at the Oscars, clowns and peddles credit cards on TV and acts in a movie called Yes, Giorgio, he reportedly said, “It’s so unnecessary and so undignified.”  I asked Pavarotti what he thought about that remark.

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