Llangollen International Eisteddfod
Luciano and Fernando Pavarotti

Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti has helped bring opera to the masses in the late 20th century. His records and concert appearance, his commanding stage presence, lyrical interpretation and bright vibrant delivery have brought him worldwide adulation.

And yet, by a curious twist of fate, it was the masses which helped bring Pavarotti to opera – the masses of people who make up the audience at the world’s premier song and dance festival.

For it was while singing in front of a multitudinous audience, in a giant marquee at Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, far from his homeland, over 40 years ago, that an event took place which was to play an important role in shaping his destiny.

It was a significant moment which would lead him eventually to a career in music (he was as at the time studying to be an elementary school teacher).

A glittering, international career soon beckoned, and he never looked back, except for the little town with a festival that has for the last half century remained steadfast and true to its own objective of bringing nations together through a shared love of music.

What was it about Llangollen, about its International Musical Eisteddfod in Particular, which so captivated the young Pavarotti that it was to play a pivotal role in his life?

He had travelled to the festival as a nineteen year old member of the Societa Corale Gioachino Rossini, a male voice choir from his home town of Modena. Luciano was a member because his father was a stalwart member of the chorus.

Unexpectedly, certainly from accounts given by Pavarotti junior later, the choir won first prize in the male choral competition. Its members, naturally were delighted as their success. They had travelled a long way from Italy to be pan of this unique festival, and they triumphed on wings of song.
The moment has stayed fresh with Luciano Pavarotti. The visit to Llangollen left an indelible impression on him. He has spoken of the marquee set in rolling green hills. He has recalled the sea of faces watching and listening intently as the choir sang, the thunderous applause which greeted their performance, the adjudication, and the way his spirit soared when the choir was awarded first prize. A moment in time was etched in the young singer’s mind.

And there was, of course, away from the Eisteddfod field, the warmth of the Welsh welcome which so touched the
then unknown tenor’s heart that four decades later he would still enquire earnestly about the lady in whose home he had been a guest.

Together with three other members of the Modena choir, Pavarotti had lodged for a week with Alice Griffiths in the village of Froncysyllte, jus a few miles from Llangollen. Pavarotti has spoken repeatedly and genuinely of his desire to return to Llangollen one day. For Pavarotti – from unknown chorister to top of the bill superstar – and for the International Musical Eisteddfod which played a small but important part in nurturing that great talent, the wheel will have come to a hill circle. David Jones

Friday is usually the day that attracts the least crowds of all at the Eisteddfod, but for some reason this year was different. After the vocal competitions, the ground started to fill up, and by midday was positively buzzing. This added extra incentive for the Mixed Choirs and Chamber Choirs to sing to their best for such a large crowd, but they all knew that the competitions were not the main attraction.

The crowds gathered at the main entrance from  about two o’clock onwards, and they were still waiting three hours later. Although this did provide an excellent chance for selling as many T-shirts as possible, not everybody found the wait enjoyable.

Finally when the man himself arrived the crowd soon forgot their frustration, and cheered so loudly that even the drum that interrupts the vocal competitions every year could not be heard (after all, aren’t all world famous personalities late!).

After fighting through the adoring crowds outside and the adoring choirs inside the pavilion, Pavarotti finally made it on stage to give this address to a packed house:

“40 years ago, my God it seems to be just yesterday for me. I have done so many things. I always say that to the journalists when they ask me what is a day more memorable in my life, and I always say that it is when I won this competition because it was with all my friends. With me at that time there was a person that I would like to have the privilege to introduce: my Father”

To much applause, Fernando Pavarotti walked on to join his son who stood at centre stage looking relaxed and almost at home in an open necked red shirt and black suit.

“When we were here 40 years ago he was my father, now I think he’s my son!” joked Luciano in reference to the big difference in waist lines between the two of them.

This warm relationship was evident throughout he day on Friday, the final rehearsal on Sunday, and also on the stage of the concert itself when Luciano remarked:-

“He is stronger than me he has a voice more brilliant than mine  At least what he thinks.”

Many critics of Pavarotti were won over by this combination of familiarity and musical excellence. The press coverage was all in his favour, and a lot of the people who were sceptical of having someone as big as Pavarotti at the Eisteddfod were won over even before the Sunday Evening Concert (these were the people who could be seen peeping over the hedges to get a look at the video wall!). Steven Jones

“I remember well the house I stayed in. All the way from Italy, I was exercising my English. But when we are brought to the house in Llangollen and meet the family, I understand not a word.
I did not know there was such a language as Welsh. Even now I think how lucky they don’t write operas in such a language for me to sing. I would be out of work. It is impossible for us Italians to learn.”
Pavarotti recalling his week in Llangollen in 1955 with warm Mediterranean affection.

Reproduced from the book ‘Fifty Glorious Weeks 1947 – 1996’
ISBN 0 9528296 06 – Compiler and Art Editor Robert B. Attenburrow M.B.E
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