We gave it an A+
As if the struggles on the playing fields weren’t enough, the sponsors of last summer’s World Cup staged yet another kind of competition, a no-win musical encounter. The grand stage at Rome’s Baths of Caracalla, most famous for its annual monster production of Aïda, served this time as battleground for the three titans of operatic tenordom — Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti — all spiffy in white tie, parading prodigious tonsils and ringing high notes to the sellout crowd.
Romantic tenors are traditionally mortal enemies, and the lore abounds in tales of verbal sideswipes, wherein Pavarotti has said this about Domingo who has told his manager that about Carreras. Perhaps the greatest achievement of this gathering of the warriors was that all three, plus conductor Zubin Mehta and his two supporting orchestras (from the Rome Opera and the Florence May Festival), survived to beam brotherhood and satisfaction at the end.
Of more substantial achievement, there isn’t much — except for pure vocal pizzazz, which, to the rabid opera fan, is plenty. One by one, the big boys display their prize wares: arias, pop tunes, chestnuts artfully roasted. The fun comes at the end, with the three joining forces (and ”forces” is the right word) in a nonstop, 21-minute medley, ranging from Cats to the inevitable ”O sole mio.” Stranger yet is the final encore, with ”Nessun dorma,” the socko aria from Puccini’s Turandot, divided among the three tenors phrase by phrase.
The audio disc, Carreras, Domingo, Pavarotti in Concert is full of loud, thrilling noises, enough (combined with the inevitable hype) to have earned it a place on, of all things, the pop charts. But the video version, available on laser disc and videotape, brings you even closer to the event, with its faked backstage conviviality (each tenor high- fiving the next going on- and offstage) and Mehta, always a good act with cameras around, whipping himself into baton-slashing frenzies over the most trivial oom-pa-pa accompaniments. It’s all fraud, and, of its kind, irresistible. A+