Even the greats must make their exit, and in Italy early yesterday morning. Luciano Pavarotti stepped behind the curtain and will be seen no more.
In his later years, Pavarotti allowed his enchantment with celebrity to overwhelm his very real and exquisite talents. But even when he had to be carried on and off the stage, suffering from self-inflicted gout, "the voice kissed by God" almost never disappointed.
Like many Italian men, Pavarotti was a notorious flirt. During his first American tour, he sang La Boheme at the Dallas Civic Opera. I was a local insider from the classical music radio station, and was thrilled to meet the brilliant young tenor. At the reception, the hostess led me by the hand through the gaggle of socialites and hangers-on encircling the beaming artist, who was busy devouring a canape.
"I'd like you to meet one of our very accomplished young ladies who supports the arts," she rather grandly introduced me.
He took one look and thrust his wineglass at a waiter. Before he spoke he held out both hands to take my own.
"This beautiful young lady is a lover of opera? Ah, and to think that I was chosen to sing in her presence!"
Before I could think quite how to reply to this unexpected pronouncement, the burly but appreciative tenor pulled me gently toward him, released my hands to cup my face and kissed me with frank enjoyment.
The bejeweled onlookers gasped, and then giggled nervously. These randy artists, I could see them thinking. You never know what liberties they will take!
In the years that followed, I often thought fondly of that kiss as a moment of ebullient spontaneity in the life of an artist who would later be lionized by the literati and illiterati alike.
In our smaller lives, our occasional brushes with greatness can take on mythic proportions. This was merely a kiss. But I've never forgotten it, or him. And neither will the world.