I doubt there can be many music lovers of any genre who haven’t heard of the name Luciano Pavarotti, and with good reason.
He was probably the most commercially successful tenor of the last hundred years, possessed of a lyric and powerful voice, especially in the very highest notes, even if it was more instantly captivating in his younger years than later. I think even his closest friends and family would agree that acting was not his strong suit, and that he would have struggled to scrape a grade at the Roger Moore School of Eyebrow-Raising – which is why I have always preferred the artistry of Placido Domingo, who was able to combine the finest singing with a thoroughly convincing stage presence. But Pavarotti’s fans hold him as the greatest, and it is easy to see why – it is, once more, simply a matter of taste.
Fewer, I suspect, will have heard of the now retired Francisco Araiza, a Mexican tenor whose early focus was in the operas of Mozart and Rossini, later branching out into larger Italian roles and even Wagner. He is now an acclaimed teacher and judge.
As if trying to persuade you of the joys of music and opera was not enough, I thought it would be a fun experiment to post two clips of the same music, to demonstrate how very different the same piece can sound, even when performed by two masters of their craft.
I have written about Cosi fan tutte before, (see ‘Stress buster’ for a reminder of the synopsis), a Mozart opera all about the joys and pains of love; since it is not littered with numerous memorable arias, this little gem is an easy pick. (And you’ll want to hear it again anyway, so this is as good a way of doing that as any.) Ferrando thinks he is winning the bet as he sees his love, Dorabella, spurn the advances of Guglielmo, and sings Un’ aura amorosa (A breath of love) in her praise. Ignore the fact that one is accompanied by a pianist (James Levine is the man with the big hair) and the other by an orchestra: focus your attention on the voice alone, then ask yourself, in the context of this opera about love, which is closer to Mozart’s aims, which has more heart, which one has more soul, which one has more warmth?
These are two sensational singers, one infinitely more famous than the other. But, to me, at least, it is the less renowned who stands head and shoulders above the big star. It shows that you can have all the singing gifts in the world, but it does not necessarily equip you to sing every role in your range. The voice alone is sometimes not enough. Maybe you will disagree, and that’s fine by me, but this only serves to highlight how different all these interpretations, in every field, can be; it is, perhaps, what stands music apart from most other art forms – and why I so enjoy selecting for these posts what I think is the best.