By Michael Spencer.
As a boy, Luciano Pavarotti longed to be a professional footballer. No doubt he pursued this dream with the characteristic passion and gusto he showed for music and good food. What a loss it would have been to opera if Pavarotti, who sadly died yesterday following a long illness, had done so! For whatever reason – personal drive, encouragement, opportunity, role-models and mentors, raw talent – music won out in the end.
I had the pleasure of coming into contact with Pavarotti on a number of quite different occasions. As a member of the London Symphony Orchestra I performed with him in the Royal Albert Hall, and later my quartet performed for him at a huge birthday party in the Savoy with other contributors including Dennis O’Neil and Angela Georgiu. Perhaps my favourite memory however was when he donated one of his famous handkerchiefs, the size of a small bedsheet and specially autographed, to a charity auction I ran for the Musicians Benevolent Fund at Phillips auction house.
BBC Radio 4’s Today programme woke me this morning uncharacteristically playing the piece of music that was to become both his anthem, and simultaneously that of the Italia 90 football world cup – Nessun Dorma from the opera Turandot. I predict that we will hear it quite a lot over the coming few months!
Consider for a moment the link that was generated. The aria left a legacy that was sung from the terraces to the living rooms, making cultural play around two iconic features of the host country, football and grand opera, and this in no small part due to Pavarotti’s powerful delivery and genuine love for the Beautiful Game. Whether a football fan or not, more than 15 years later, the Italia 90 brand is still inseparable from its anthem. What could be more natural than the singing together of nations despite the all too understandable partisan loyalties.
Personally, I would love to see London achieve just such a legacy with the London 2012 Olympic Games. I was a contributor to a conference recently where the keynote speech was given by Lord Sebastian Coe. He emphasized the need for these Olympics to stimulate and encourage the participation of young people around the world in a glorification of mutual engagement and personal achievement. I wonder however where the global anthem for 2012 will emerge from, and what attributes it might need in order to help unite cultural differences and capture the hearts and minds of future generations.