Job Seeking and Opera

September 12, 2007

Job seeking may sometimes seem like an opera, but I will actually discuss both separately. As my regular readers know, I am in the process of finding a job in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. Since Diane and I moved recently, I have managed to keep busy with household matters, including organization, cleaning, laundry, and lawn care. Most rooms currently have a minimal amount of unsorted stuff, much of which has ended up in the guest room after sitting for weeks in what has now become our exercise room. On Friday, we got a treadmill, whose box (which I call The Monolith) still sits in the office. For the yard, I have done very little due to the drought and unusually high temperatures for the area. I at least concentrate on taming weeds, just to keep our friendly neighborhood home owner’s association from pestering us with finger-wagging letters.

Depending on their requirements, several places have received a cover letter, resume, and/or application, which may be electronic or printed. The combinations and permutations of the aforementioned documents I have sent nearly equal the number of positions for which I have tried. I also visited a temporary employment place last week, and a few employers have started to contact me for interviews. More as the search progresses…

As one who listens to opera, it seems appropriate for me to comment on last week’s passing of Luciano Pavarotti. Oddly enough, I would be hard-pressed to find a recording of Pavarotti in my collection. Considering my tastes, it seems not quite so strange since I have a strong preference for German opera. Still, in his youth, Pavarotti sang the small role of the Italian tenor in a recording of Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. That version was conducted by Sir Georg Solti, who (coincidentally enough) passed away on 5 September 1997… almost exactly 10 years before Pavarotti.

Although classical and opera fans know of Solti and his fiery approach, I learned of his death while flipping through a back issue of Time a few weeks later. Not unusual for anyone in the classical/opera world, unless they’re a Leonard Bernstein, a Beverly Sills, or a Pavarotti, whose deaths received appropriate coverage in the media. However, Solti had the misfortune of passing away around the same time as Princess Diana and Mother Teresa. In addition, unlike Bernstein, Sills, and Pavarotti, Solti somehow didn’t manage to infiltrate American middlebrow culture (a phenomenon discussed more broadly in a recent article by Terry Teachout), although he tried with the help of Dudley Moore in the delightful PBS series Orchestra!.

As I already mentioned, I don’t have many recordings of Pavarotti, with the exception of the Puccini excerpt album Tu, Tu, Amore. On the day of Pavarotti’s passing, I unearthed a U2 CD of Diane’s that contains “Miss Sarajevo,” a wistful song with the tenor making his grand entrance in the song’s second half. Not surprisingly, Bono wrote a moving tribute to Pavarotti on the band’s website. Such collaborations underscore Pavarotti’s appeal to audiences who generally think of opera as large women in horned helmets singing in German, or large men in tuxedos singing in Italian. Nevertheless, opera purists consider Pavarotti’s work outside of opera (and even his performances in the Three Tenors concerts) as sellouts that ruined his integrity as an artist. Still, who’s to say that such crossover work in itself is inherently bad? People who have high standards about musicianship might know or care whether someone’s voice is past its prime, while many others simply might not notice the difference. I must admit, when I attended a Pavarotti concert with a library school friend at Dallas’ American Airlines Center in 2002, I didn’t think of his singing in technical terms. I found it quite exciting to at least see Pavarotti in person, even though he looked tiny from my nosebleed seat… almost like an infant as he stretched out his arms to the audience and waved his handkerchief. But then, unlike me, Alex Ross could assess Pavarotti’s decline over time (and probably from a more technical perspective) by comparing his later work with recordings made back in the 1970s.

I stand by my contention that Placido Domingo remains the best of “The Three Tenors” due to his wider range of operatic roles. As a highly subjective bonus, he’s the only one who has done a substantial amount of Wagner. Nevertheless, the other tragedy in music from the past week makes less-than-great Pavarotti transcend the problems discussed by critics. Even if he came across as some kind of one-trick pony, Pavarotti at least gave everything he had to his audiences. Now, one can imagine him lending his voice to the chorus of the universe, maybe joining in duets with Maria Callas and Elvis Presley 30 years after their own passings from this world.

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