Whether touring China, appearing in Central Park or singing in the casinos of Las Vegas, hugeness has become a trademark of Luciano Pavarotti.
Within the past five years, and in venues as far apart--yet similar in size--as Madison Square Garden and the San Diego Sports Arena, the bulky tenor from Modena, Italy, seems to relish size for itself.
In his latest performing project, a four-stop tour of North American arenas--Oakland Coliseum Arena, Hollywood Bowl, Rosemont Horizon in Chicago and Madison Square Garden in New York--Pavarotti again shows his penchant for bigness. These are places that hold between 15,000 and 19,000 auditors at a sit. Not exactly recital halls.
Yet, the 50-year-old singer denies a fondness for the large arena.
"Ninety percent of my engagements are in smaller halls," Pavarotti says, defensively. "I sing opera in Berlin, in Chicago, in Vienna. These are not giant places. And they are not outdoors.
"For me, the big places are the exceptions," Pavarotti continues. "I am very proud to bring music to the people in the arenas, but this is not what I usually do."
Further defending the large-arena concerts with which he has been identified so often in the past few years, the tenor insists that the public "loves these big places."
He adds that the chance "to reach many people with music" offsets any artistic losses suffered in mammoth showplaces, and that the amplification systems used in outdoor (or indoor) stadiums produce "decent sound."
The superstar singer claims that "most microphones are not very sensitive, but our engineers are most capable. And the public loves the large arenas."
For the current tour with Dame Joan Sutherland (see story below explaining her absence for its first half), the tenor is utilizing amplification as he has in previous stadium-type appearances.
Sound-enhancement is considered a necessity in venues as large as the Oakland Coliseum Arena (which holds 15,489 persons, and where Pavarotti appeared, without Sutherland, Tuesday); Hollywood Bowl (18,000-plus, on Saturday), Rosemont Horizon in Chicago (17,500, Sept. 12) and Madison Square Garden in New York (19,000-plus, Sept. 26).
Reaching a huge public justifies accepting the acoustical challenges, Pavarotti says.
"Appearing there, like appearing in Central Park, you can attract audiences who would not usually go to the opera house. "But, once they like you and like what you do, they will think seriously about going to the opera. "We are making friends for the art."
The Sutherland/Pavarotti tour was intended to celebrate her 25th anniversary with opera companies in San Francisco, Chicago and New York, plus the 25th anniversary of Pavarotti's operatic debut as Rodolfo in "La Boheme" in the Italian town of Reggio Emilia.
Sutherland and Pavarotti, as friendly colleagues, go back more than two decades.
She was onstage with him in Miami when he made his United States debut in "Lucia di Lammermoor" in 1965.
The following year, the tenor, just 30, sang with Sutherland as a member of her operatic troupe touring Australia. Together on that tour, they sang "Lucia," "Traviata" and "Sonnambula," Pavarotti recalls. "Then, by myself, I sang 'L'Elisir d'Amore.' "
Wasn't that a tour of small towns in the Outback?
"No, not at all," he explains, a hint of irritation in his high but mellow speaking voice. "We sang in Sydney, Melbourne--only in real cities. In my entire career, I never sang in small towns."