ISSUE DATE: Sept. 24, 1979
It was 1969. At the San Francisco Opera an Italian tenor named Luciano Pavarotti was singing the role of Rodolfo in La Bohème. Suddenly, midway through the third act, the entire theater seemed to rumble and shudder. Chandeliers began swaying. Members of the audience stood up in confusion; some bolted for the exits. “What is happening?” Pavarotti hissed to the prompter between phrases. “Terremoto—earthquake!” the prompter breathed back. Pavarotti gripped the hand of his Mimi, Soprano Dorothy Kirsten, a little more tightly, but kept on singing at full voice and never missed a beat. The earthquake drew to a peaceful conclusion and so did the performance.
Last week Pavarotti was back at the San Francisco Opera, starring in the season’s opening production, Amilcare Ponchielli’s La Gioconda. Once more there was drama and tumult. Profound tremors again swept through the house. But the intervening decade had made an enormous difference. This time Pavarotti himself was the earthquake.
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