Saturday Opera: The Young Pavarotti Sings Mozart’s Idomeneo

The 1964 Glyndebourne Festival production of Mozart's Idomeneo, released for the first time.(Photo: design by Oliver Messel, Glyndebourne Festival)
The 1964 Glyndebourne Festival production of Mozart's Idomeneo, released for the first time.(Photo: design by Oliver Messel, Glyndebourne Festival)

This Saturday, June 25 at 1:30 p.m. tune-in to Saturday on Stage on Classical 101 for Mozart’s Idomeneo with Richard Lewis, Gundula Janowitz and the young Luciano Pavarotti.

By the time of his death in 2007 at the age of 71, Luciano Pavarotti had sung leading roles in every great opera house in the world.

Pavarotti was an international superstar on a par with Princess Diana (whose funeral he attended, “too distraught to sing”).

Weight problems, women problems, wife problems, (self inflicted) girl friend problems, health problems, it didn’t matter. Those of us who watched his arena concerts and forays into pop music with a jaundiced eye could go to the Met and hear the still warm voice live in its un-amplified glory.

Pavarotti began his career modestly, as befits an out-of-work school teacher used to singing in church.

By 1964, he was still a few years away from being “discovered” by Dame Joan Sutherland, who later took him with her to Florida, London and Australia. But 1964 saw Pavarotti’s first true international success, the first time the world took notice.

He sang in Mozart’s opera seria Idomeneo at England’s prestigious Glyndebourne Festival.

Later in his career, Pavarotti would sing the title role of Idomeneo at the Met. You could see the stage fright in his face, not his voice. Idomeneo was Pavarotti’s attempt to re-establish his credentials as a serious musician and he succeeded!

In 1964, as a beginner he sang not the role of Idomeneo but that of Idamante, son of the King, a lovesick and heroic prince with demanding, florid music to sing.

These days Idamante is sung by a female mezzo – a “pants” role. Mozart intended the role for a castrato, and we won’t discuss this phenomena in the same breath with Luciano Pavarotti.

His Idamante is a wonderful bit of singing.

The 1964 Glyndebourne Festival production of Idomeneo was recorded and has just been released for the first time, forty- seven years after the performances.

Sir John Pritchard conducts and the esteemed British tenor Richard Lewis (1914-1990) sings the title role.

Idomeneo was unusual fare in most of the world in 1964, but not at Glyndebourne, where it had been in the repertoire since 1950.

Don’t miss the young Luciano Pavarotti in his first great success, as Idamante in Mozart’s Idomeneo, this Saturday, June 25 at 1:30 p.m. on Classical 101′s Saturday On Stage.

God bless him.

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