Luciano Pavarotti – Greatest Hits
Decca, 1980 (2007)
This album has for main features an intriguing title, Pavarotti’s Greatest Hits, and one of the funniest covers of all the times. As you may guess, Greatest Hits does not offer new recordings of old successes but is a collection of previously released pieces, taken from complete recordings of the operas or from other collections. Greatest Hits can thus be considered an introduction to Pavarotti’s wide repertoire, which ranges over operatic, chamber and folk arias and songs. Sometimes I would have preferred other recordings, but, of course, this is a matter of personal taste and you are free to disagree with me (it is impossible to please everyone at the same time, right?).
The obvious choice for the first track was Calaf’s famous aria from Turandot (Nessun dorma), the piece most commonly associated with Pavarotti and which, as usual, stuns the listener with his absolute breath control and brilliant high notes. Greatest Hits features many other favourite pieces, as Ah, mes amis from La fille du régiment (with the only weakness of a not always impeccable pronunciation of the French language) and Franck’s Panis angelicus, which is also one of the few sacred pieces of Greatest Hits alongside Verdi’s Requiem (Ingemisco) and Schubert’s Ave Maria.
Pavarotti never lingers on particularly deep characterizations of the characters – this is not one of his strong points – but his precision (in intonation if not in tempi), his warmth and the fascinating sound of his voice, alongside with the humanity which surrounds every character, are magical. His heroic characters distinguish themselves by their unrestrained impetus. Di quella pira is overwhelming and, despite Verdi’s writing, the last high note is the perfect climax for the tenor’s “assault”. The recitative Se quell guerrier io fossi from Aida is similar in character to the aria from Il trovatore because Radames shows here all his vigour as a commander, but the following Celeste Aida is so delicate and sweet that can be considered a prayer. This short piece of Aida is a precious moment because nowhere else in Greatest Hits you will find the same finesse, not even in Una furtiva lagrima. On the other hand, I was not very much impressed by Pavarotti’s A te, o cara, for the reasons I have explained when I reviewed the complete Puritani, but another Bellini piece, an aria da camera, Vanne, o rosa fortunata, is definitely charming.
There are also moments of recreation, as Rossini’s La danza and most of all the famous Neapolitan song Funiculì funiculà, where Pavarotti has much fun and which is a pleasant conclusion.
I would like to remember the presence of Joan Sutherland in some of the tracks and the support of many beautiful directions, as those of Richard Bonynge, Georg Solti, Herbert von Karajan and other, great conductors, which contribute to make Greatest Hits a gorgeous album from the beginning to the end.