Tangentially About Pavarotti But Not Really
Just in case you have been hiding under a rock all day, Pavarotti died approximately 18 hours ago. Miss Mussel is an opera infant and has only heard snippets of the singer when he was well past his prime. He was admittedly entertaining to watch and shades of his former self were clearly evident but overall, nothing really ear catching.
After wading through the obits, personal tributes and wire stories, it seems that all manner of transgressions were excused on account of his voice. And, Miss Mussel thinks, rightly so. Beautiful sound is the most valuable asset a musician can possess. Without it, all the technique and emotion in the world is just not enough. It has been this bivalve’s experience that truly beautiful sound cannot be taught, it is somehow innate. Refined and polished a little, yes but taught, no.
Miss Mussel has long suspected that there are far more people in possession of exceptional musical talent than we realize. Becoming a professional musician requires an astral alignment of almost mind-boggling proportions. The aspirant must first be talented; have the opportunity and will to develop that talent; be able manage nerves; have the discipline to practice efficiently; avoid injury; be able to navigate post college poverty; have a supportive partner; have good business sense; be strong enough to withstand the inevitable soul-destroying masterclasses and disappointing performances and most of all, have something interesting to say musically.
As Pavarotti has illustrated, talent and musicality trump just about everything else although more musicians than Miss Mussel cares to think about have jumped ship due to injury, anxiety, self doubt, bad teaching, a major technical flaw in their playing, or the unsustainability of their own economic reality.
How many talented people never get the chance to develop because of lack of opportunity? Conversely, how many sort-of-talented people are able to buy the training and promotion required to jump-start a career? These questions are by no means limited to art music. Theatre, dance and the visual arts face the same dilemmas when their respective educational institutions are doling out scholarships and planning outreach programs.
Pavarotti got his big break when Giuseppe di Stefano dropped out of a performance of “La Boheme” at Covent Garden in 1963. What if Stefano had not been ill? Would this non-acting, non-music reading, Italian-only singer attained anywhere near the heights that he did? Is it all just a dice game?
It’s an argument that goes nowhere and the what-if game is really not an OM favourite. As many commentators have noted, you can disparage as much as you wish but at then end of the day, when you strip everything else away, there was that voice. Would that we all could be so lucky.
Requiescat in Pace