Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Pavarotti & Friends

After years of thinking I couldn’t crack the problems with my second novel, a Bosnian poet, Danijel Lozancic, asked to read the opening chapter of The Double Happiness Company. At the time I was working in East Mostar, the beautiful Ottoman town whose iconic limestone bridge had been destroyed in 1993. I was treating war-traumatised patients with acupuncture when Danijel had heard, through the grapevine, that I was a novelist. He turned up in my treatment room one day with his poems and asked to see what I was working on. The yellowing manuscript of DHC had been in my bottom drawer for years and after he’d read the first few pages, Danijel’s positive reaction excited me enough to make me think this book might be worth resurrecting.

I met Danijel at the Pavarotti Music Centre in 1998, built with money raised by Luciano Pavarotti through his concerts in Modena. I was thinking of the Maestro as I watched him last week singing a short extract of Turandot on Rick Stein’s BBC4 programme, Food of the Italian Opera. Check it out on BBC iPlayer.

According to Stein, food was inspiration, as well as fuel, to the great Italian opera composers Puccini, Verdi and Rossini, who loved their meals as much as their music. The gourmand Rossini once declared that he had only cried three times in his life: once when his mother died, a second time when he listened to Paganini playing the violin and the third time picnicking beside a lake when a warm truffled turkey slipped from his arms into the water.

Rossini was a prolific artist who could compose an opera in less than two weeks, but sometimes left the overture until the day of the première. The composer would be locked in a room with a bowl of cold pasta until he produced it. Once the distraught conductor had his overture, Rossini would be released to feast on a full-blown meal.

Stein said that the Big 3 of Italian opera took their own food with them when they travelled. Maestro Pavarotti followed them in this practice by not only taking his own food with him, but also his Columbian chef. He had his own restaurant, Europa 92, which was housed in a converted stables on the outskirts of Modena. I dined there once as his guest. The best dishes on the menu were pasta and the black rice risotto the tenor loved.

Luciano Pavarotti was a great humanitarian as well as a great singer. He did not have to raise money for the children of Bosnia, or anywhere else. But he did. I was privileged to have attended his “Pavarotti and Friends” concerts for two years running. One of my great memories is of watching Liza Minelli and Pavarotti rehearsing a duet of “New York, New York” wearing a Hawaiian shirt and his trademark scarf. To hear it, click here. I remember him with gratitude and joy. Stay tuned . . .

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