Luciano Pavarotti

Luciano Pavarotti's passing, and his birthday today, brings to mind the memory of the only time I heard him sing in person. The year was 1981, and the place was an Italian bakery near Chinatown in San Francisco -- the kind of place where a starving musician turned bike messenger could enjoy a loaf of sourdough bread and a cup of warm, strong Italian coffee for about a dollar. On the morning in question, the bakery was completely full, and not long after sitting down to my repast a stranger offered me $50 for my seat. I had just enough time to accept this unexpected windfall and move to the back corner of the bakery before I realized what all the fuss was about: Luciano Pavarotti came through the door, an accompanist from the opera sat down at a small (and miraculously well-tuned) piano by the kitchen entrance, and the great tenor began to sing. He sang only three or four numbers, but the densely packed crowd went nuts for each one. He was in great voice that morning, and his generous voice easily filled the tiny bakery, even though perhaps a hundred people were jammed into it. Looking back, I feel indebted to Pavarotti for this free introduction to language barrier-busting communicative power of opera (better than free...I got paid!).