Bass Blog

Michael Hovnanian formerly played bass with an orchestra located in a large midwestern city.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

King Kong v Godzilla

Sorry to say, I’ve been a bit busy with negotiations lately so this is all I could come up with.

The passing of Luciano Pavarotti one day after the 10th anniversary of Sir Georg Solti’s death brought back memories of when the two of them teamed up here in Chicago for Verdi’s Othello in 1990. The brick-like CD box set of the live recording molders unopened on a shelf somewhere in my house. I think it was probably a decent performance but I’ve never had the heart to listen to it. What I remember more vividly are all of the extra curricular activities surrounding the rehearsals and performances.

I recall the Solti/Pavarotti Othello as an epic, often amusing clash of titans who shrieked and stamped their way across the musical landscape like a miniature Tokyo film set.

Solti appeared pretty put off by Pavarotti, his entourage, late arrival for rehearsals, and other hijinx. I remember one passionate exchange, all in Italian and I wondered what earthshaking musical issue they might have been arguing over until a colleague made a rough translation.

Solti: (stopping the orchestra) Luciano, why do you talk so much? You are always talking!

Pavarotti: Every time you stop the orchestra, you start talking. You’re talking all the time. I have as much right to talk as you do.

Solti: It’s my orchestra; I can talk whenever I want.

etc. etc.

Pavarotti sat on a specially built throne while the other soloists made due with normal chairs. The seat consisted of a BarcaLounger type recliner tipped forward at an angle to propel the tenor into a standing position with only the smallest shift in weight. I recently heard rumor that the chair might have had some sort of spring loaded feature as well but I have no direct knowledge of that. The arms of the chair were widened by the addition of wood and duct tape. I know this so well in part due to the indelible impression the throne made on me, but also because the contraption spent the next few years cluttering up a corridor in Orchestra Hall.

Beside the throne sat a small table, amply stocked with food – apple slices, maybe a few chocolates – along with drinks. The great tenor snacked constantly through rehearsals and, much to my astonishment, during the concerts as well. At the first performance, I was surprised to see Pavarotti drinking out of a large purple and gold ‘LA Lakers’ plastic cup, the kind you get those bladder busting 32 oz. drinks in at gas stations or a 7-11.

Another interesting thing I discovered during intermission while sneaking up for a closer look at the throne, the Lakers cup, and the snacks, was the ‘music’ Pavarotti read off of. His ‘score’ consisted of the words only, printed in block capital letters about an inch high. Adding to the mystery, certain words were in red.

If all that wasn’t enough, we arrived at rehearsal one day to find a small plywood structure constructed in haste by the stagehands in the midst of the orchestra, wherein crouched a shadowy figure – the great tenor’s personal prompter, I guess. As the soloists were positioned behind the orchestra, I never got to see what sort of hand signals or other exhortations emanated from that small, uncomfortable looking enclosure.

The whole circus was performed in Chicago then carted to New York for a repeat performance at Carnegie Hall.


Jacque said...

Is that box set, recorded in NY City, the one where you can hear the subway rumbling all through the first act?

Michael Hovnanian said...

Like I said, I never listened to it.

However, I don't think the NY concert was recorded. The CD was made from a mix of the Chicago performances. I don't think they would be able to use stuff from another hall and make it work. The noise is probably the CTA.