For Pavarotti, Time To Go 'Pop'

Excerpted from the magazine for

Tenor Luciano Pavarotti has been a superstar for decades. He is a household name around the world -- whether his fans first encountered him on the stage of Milan's La Scala, the Hollywood Bowl or at London's Wembley Stadium.

But now that he is 68 years old and has announced that he will retire in 2005, Pavarotti has released the solo pop album that his label has so long wanted. The all-Italian-language "Ti Adoro" was released Sept. 23 in the U.S. Other regions plan to issue the project by year's end.

Pavarotti has been associated with the Decca label for a record 40 years, creating a discography that ranges from benchmark performances of Bellini, Donizetti, Puccini and other classical composers to the Three Tenors titles.

"For 20 years, Decca has been asking me to make such an album," Pavarotti says. The result: 13 tracks written specifically for the tenor that showcase his richly colored voice and are sprinkled with the high notes that have made him a legend.

But for all the somber, quasi-intellectual musings on this album (with such lyrics as "Star, star of a moment/long, for two million years/were you a slave, then a hero..."), some cuts are simply portraits of the singer playing around and having a good time.

There is a nod to the swing era in the title track, a song that manages both a shout-out to the famous "Largo al Factotum" aria from Rossini's opera "The Barber of Seville" and a playful, Busby Berkeley-meets-Baz Luhrmann video, complete with a line of scantily dressed showgirls cavorting around a swaying Pavarotti.

"I refused to do an album like this for a long, long time," he says. "But in the past five years, I said, 'OK, I'll do it.' So Decca sent about 200 songs to choose from, without telling me the name of the writers. And there were some wonderful ballads, but no happy songs.

"In the past year, I got two happy songs that I love -- 'Ti Adoro' [I Adore You] and 'Buongiorno a Te' [Good Morning to You]. Now, with those songs, it was time. The colors of my painting were really formed."

Already, the album is a hit, sitting in the No. 3 spot on Billboard's classical and classical crossover charts.

Look for Pavarotti through a blitz of high-profile media appearances, including "Good Morning America," "The View," "Larry King Live," "The Charlie Rose Show" and "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." The tenor has also done interviews with Sessions@AOL and People magazine. In a nod to his core opera audience, A "Biography" program on the A&E network is also slated to air later this year.

There is a great deal of interest in Pavarotti's personal life as of late. The past year has seen the deaths of his mother and father, as well as that of his infant son who died in childbirth (he was survived by his twin sister, Alice, now 8 months old). On Sept. 24, Pavarotti announced his intention to marry Alice's mother, Nicoletta Mantovani (his former secretary), before year's end.

"'Ti Adoro' is an homage to one person, Alice, and to life itself. Yes, I adore life!" the irrepressible tenor says with a grin. "I am a positive person, I think, even though I have lost many people this year and these are dark days for everybody. But I was born positive, and I hope that the world is going to change for the better."

One of the songs most dear to Pavarotti's heart is "Caruso," which features a guitar solo by Jeff Beck and imagines the last days of tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921), who performed and recorded both high opera and popular songs. Pavarotti has venerated Caruso from his earliest days as a singer, and he is often said to be a latter-day Caruso himself.

Surely, "Ti Adoro" follows in Caruso's footsteps? "But the words today are much better," Pavarotti protests. "Now, they're very good, very intelligent words. In Caruso's day, every line had to rhyme. So always there were more trivial ideas, rhyming 'amore' [love] with 'cuore' [heart]. These were noble sentiments, but staple ideas of the genre. But here, now, there is more drama. Love is there, always, but there are more surprises, more kinds of stories.

"Another song on this album is 'Il Gladiatore' [The Gladiator], which was originally meant to be used in the movie 'Gladiator' with Russell Crowe. But I said no then -- too bad. It's a magnificent song and a tough movie. Still, there is so much drama in just the song."

Before his retirement, Pavarotti intends a flurry of performances. He will return to New York's Metropolitan Opera this spring for three performances of Puccini's opera "Tosca." "I will also do a lot of recital concerts before I stop."

"Maybe once I retire," Pavarotti muses, "I'll sing in the shower. I've never done that before."

Excerpted from the Nov. 1, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Premium Services section.

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