Pavarotti's no-show angers Germans

January 26, 1993|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Berlin Bureau

BERLIN -- "Was ist los mit Luciano Pavarotti?" cried the caption over the picture of the rotund tenor on the front page of the Berliner Morgenpost. "What's going on with Luciano Pavarotti?"

"Der Pavarotti-Skandal" hissed the sensationalist Bild, Germany's biggest newspaper.

"The most brilliant singer on the planet" had stiffed 10,000 fans who had paid from about $45 to more than $150 to hear him sing the tenor part in Guiseppe Verdi's "Requiem Mass" Saturday night in Munich's Olympiahalle.

Mr. Pavarotti canceled virtually at the last moment. Coughing his way through a pre-concert interview on national television, he said he had contracted the "grip."

On entering the giant tentlike hall built for the 1972 Olympics, ticket holders found themselves confronted with an electronic sign that said: "Verdi's Requiem goes on. Because Pavarotti is sick James Wagner sings. We ask your understanding."

The fans were not inclined to understand.

"The people were angry, bitter and disappointed," reported Munich's major newspaper Sudduetsche Zeitung.

Some reportedly used unseemly language. Some were downright rude. Even though Mr. Pavarotti was safe in the Presidential suite of the Sheraton Hotel in Munich, people stamped, whistled and jeered. The start of the concert was delayed perhaps five minutes.

About half the audience either walked out or never took their seats. Many demanded their money back. Those who left got it. People who stayed received a 30 percent discount.

James Wagner, a black American tenor teaching in Luebeck, was pressed into service, literally yanked out of the shower, according to the Munich paper.

He was praised for his "bravery." One critic called him an "adequate" substitute for Mr. Pavarotti. Another said he showed a certain nervousness. He seemed confident and at ease on television, often singing without looking at his score.

"The audience celebrated him with frenetic applause," said the Berliner Morgenpost. TV showed perhaps a somewhat more restrained response.

In recent weeks, Mr. Pavarotti has been greeted with considerable critical and public abuse for what have been called substandard performances in Milan and Dusseldorf.

The Philadelphia Opera Company announced two weeks ago that two appearances by Mr. Pavarotti had been canceled because of "health hazards" connected with his weight.

Mr. Pavarotti's recent problems have been alternately blamed on his weight -- Bild unkindly suggested he's nearly 80 pounds overweight -- his having lost too much because of dieting.

As late as last Thursday Mr. Pavarotti was vowing he would sing the Verdi "Requiem" in Munich. Then suddenly Saturday afternoon "grip with fever appeared." A couple hours later Mr. Pavarotti didn't.

The Sheraton Hotel had prepared an Italian buffet to celebrate the tenor's expected triumph: "Bel canto culinario." It went uneaten.

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