Pavarotti on fire

One day in my high school Humanities class — this was in 1980, senior year at Wurzburgh American High in Germany — the teacher lectured about classical music and opera. I raised my hand and asked him what he thought about Pavarotti. I had read about him in a feature in Time or Newsweek. He may have even been on the cover as a rising star.

To my surprise, my teacher said he had never heard of Pavarotti. But how could that be? I liked my teacher a lot. He seemed to me a wise citizen of the world, with so much knowledge about the arts. I got the sense that he was being a snob. He must have been such a purist that even acknowledging a “pop” opera singer would have been an insult to REAL tenors who weren’t known to the general public.

I had so much respect for my teacher, that I also saw Pavarotti as second-rate; a guy who charmed his way to stardom, but wasn’t necessarily the best in the field.

Years went by. I was in my last semester at Hunter College in New York. I had bought season tickets to Lincoln Center’s Fall 1994 opera season. Not just for one, but two. For me and my girlfriend. I had even planned for us to go on a tour of Italy. AND I had taken a semester learning Italian.

Well, things didn’t go exactly as I had planned. Let’s just say I didn’t have a date to go to the opera. I had bought the season tickets months in advance and by the time of the performances, I had almost forgotten about them.

One day I looked at my tickets and noticed that two of them were for a performance on the following day. Since I had no one to go with, I took the tickets to college the next day and after the end of my afternoon class, I decided I would walk the halls and stop random girls and ask them if they would like to go to the opera — in two hours. Why not? I would have said yes!

After a couple of embarrassing “umm… no!”s (the girls looked me like, “WHO are you?! Get away…”), I gave up. I sat next to the giant not-so-friendly metal sculpture at the entrance and watched people come and go.

Suddenly, I saw Sharma, the sweet bubbley Indian girl who didn’t want to have sex before marriage (I didn’t ask; she made her position clear to guys in advance). I had met her a few times in the college dorm. She had just finished gym class and was wearing those watchmacallem … tight black sport pants. All sweaty and everything.

“Sharma! What are you doing tonight?”


“Do you want to go to the opera with me… like, right now? I have an extra ticket.”

She looked at me for a few seconds and I knew I had a date.

“Are you joking? What opera?”

“La Boheme… At Lincoln Center… Come on… it’s a chance of a life time…”

“But I haven’t got any clean clothes.”

“Who cares… come on, let’s go. We don’t have much time.”

I dragged Sharma to the sidewalk and got a cab.

I had been to opera performances at Lincoln Center before, but tonight it was more crowded than usual. As we went in, they handed us the program.

“Pavarotti?! You didn’t tell me Pavarotti’s singing,” Sharma said with eyes wide open.

“Of course! What did you think? Would I take you to just any opera?”

I had absolutely no clue Pavarotti was performing that night. I was shocked and thrilled, but kept my cool.

The performance, the whole production, was amazing. Except in one scene, Pavarotti almost caught fire.

I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I assume as he was singing his heart out, he gently bumped his massive body against a table and a candle holder fell on the stage. The audience gasped. We didn’t want to shout “fire!” in the middle of his performance. Fortunately, one of the production assistants noticed and the candle was put back on the table.

After the show, I took Sharma across the street for a nice dinner, where she explained, again, why she didn’t, shouldn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t have sex before marriage. I didn’t even make a pass at her for goodness sake. But she was also very thankful that I asked her to go to the opera.

No, thank YOU Sharma.

And thank you Luciano. I don’t know if my Humanities teacher got over his bias in later years, but to me you were the best.

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