By Ken Hegan for The Georgia Straight
The concert poster said “Remember your first kiss? Imagine it three hours long.”
Yeah, I remember my first kiss. We were 13 and standing in a frozen orchard that stunk of dog shit and pulp mill. She wore a Cowichan sweater and the sharpest braces ever devised. Prying our mouths open, we then rammed tongues down each other’s throats. I came up for air occasionally so I could wipe bloody drool on her shoulder where it froze into a little rink. And I remember thinking, ‘gee, I wish this could last three hours so some hack copywriter can wrongly sum up this incredibly lame experience’.
Naturally, when asked to review the Three Tenors’ New Year’s concert at B.C. Place stadium, I was thrilled. My childhood idols: Luciano! Placido! And their wee mascot, José! Who could resist?
Certainly not 45,000 people who lunged at the chance to form (according to the Tenors’ promo pack-o’-lies) “an elite group who can claim to have witnessed the Three Tenors perform ‘two years in a row’ when the clock strikes midnight and the Tenors ring in 1997 with a familiar refrain”. Outside, the only familiar refrain was an elite group of scalpers desperately trying to trade their tickets for beer, bus transfers, or whatever.
Inside, the stage looked like they had sacked Rome, dragged 20 Doric pillars over, and glued plastic hanging gardens on them for that cheesy eight-wonders-of-the-world feel. Actually, The Eighth Wonder is why we were even in the dome to listen to people sing. I thought we’d agreed long ago that the only song that should ever be sung in B.C. Place is the national anthem.
However, the crowd was so desperate to cheer for something, they even [I kid you not] applauded the orchestra for tuning their instruments [Note: I’ve since learned this is industry standard. Mi scuso.]
Finally, Carreras bounded out to tumultuous applause and launched into his tired spiel of woe-is-mio. However, despite his celebrated vocal cords and the impeccable posture of a hand puppet, Carreras will always look like the carny who runs the ferris wheel at the PNE.
Up next, Domingo sang mechanically well as if he was some annoying cyborg who’d memorized (and could sing by heart) Ecco Il Pane’s entire menu. As he belted out tales of lost and unrequited “luff”, he gazed out at us as if we somehow knew the solutions to all his Latin troubles.
Come Pavarotti’s turn, the lighting intensified to a dramatic red, highlighting his unfortunate Phil Collins’ combover. Let’s face it: opera was invented so fat, sweaty Italian guys could get laid, too. Then again, maybe the Three Romeos do so well with the ladies because all men look better in a tux. But Pavarotti? Come on. He looks like a biker. To prove it, after each aria Pavarotti leaned back and beamed the satisfied smile of a guy who’d just smashed some skulls open with his favourite lead-filled pool cue. And considering the acoustics, this is exactly what he’d done.
What’s more, the vast majority of us were forced to watch the Tenors on two of the world’s largest “state-of-the-art portable video screens”. Apparently “the art” was distorting Pavarotti’s sweat-ravaged face into a dozen rows and columns. The stage lights looked like tennis balls floating in and out of Pavarotti’s ears, mouth, and nostrils.
The Tenors invited us to sing ‘La Traviata’ with them, prompting one concert-goer to mutter, “I didn’t pay two grand to hear myself sing.” But when they sang ‘O Sole Mio’ again for their encore, it suddenly dawned on me: The Three Tenors are nothing more than the world’s most overpaid cover band. And the world’s worst, too, since they kept looking at their cue sheets. You’d think by now they’d at least have memorized their lines. I mean, how hard can it be to remember “Binga, binga, binga, binga”? Well, Pavarotti couldn’t.
To encourage obligatory standing ovations, massive spotlights were aimed at us as if we prisoners trying to escape. Which, near the end, is exactly what we became. Out of nowhere, Domingo shouted “Hibachi!”, a Japanese term not normally associated with Italian operas. Pavarotti grinned, slapped him on the shoulder, and they ran off-stage at 15 minutes to midnight.
While everybody flicked their Bics for more of the Overpaid Gluttons of Life, David Berner inexplicably hopped on-stage. For those unfamiliar, David Berner hosts CKNW radio’s cleverly named ‘The David Berner Show’. As midnight ticked closer and it was clear the Tenors had kissed us off, the orchestra played “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. Then they bolted too, leaving Berner alone on-stage. He looked back and forth between us and his watch like a condemned man.
Suddenly, Berner yelled “this room is going to explode in a few minutes!” as if he’d spent the entire evening planting bombs everywhere. People grabbed their furs and sprinted for the exits.
The pack-o’-lies asked, “Is there one single night you’ll remember for the rest of your life?”
Nah, but there is one moment. Right before they left, the Tenors raised their wine glasses to wish us a Happy New Year. They sipped their wine, the crowd went loco, then Pavarotti hurled the rest of his wine into the plastic plants. And we never saw the Tenors again.
The wine must have been Baby Duck.
— Ken Hegan
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