So long ago I hate to contemplate it, I was a college student in NYC and a culture vulture. I so loved ballet that I signed up to usher at the Met Opera so I could catch the Kirov, ABT, the Royal and the Stuttgart during the dance season. Of course, I could not pick and choose the nights the Met called me in to work and I ended up working opera nights as well.
Pavarotti was singing night after night, the Verdi, Puccini, Bellini repertoire, alongside star after star soprano, his voice at its prime, just before he became household name. To this day, I unfairly measure all opera performances against his, because it is impossible not to experience the sublime and then hope to find it again.
La Boheme, I Puritani, Rosenkavalier (what a cameo!), Un Ballo in Maschera, Rigoletto: how fortunate I was to lose my opera virginity with the tenor of the century. A more liquid, mellifluous voice in opera did and does not exist.
One night, I was called to help hold the curtain for the umpteen curtain calls that followed a Pavarotti performance. Another usher and I stood together to hold it back, as it was very heavy, as the singers filed past to receive their applause. You could hear a constant thumping as the bouquets of flowers hit the stage. For his last bow, Pavarotti picked up a single rose, held it up in homage to his audience and disappeared from them behind the curtain, and towards the place where I was holding it. Suddenly the star of the century stood in all his corpulent grandeur before me, a young new opera fan working for music. Inches from my face, he held up the rose, and bent it towards me as a gift. I took it with a barely audible, choked “grazie”.