Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 11, 2002

It's now or never

I was so excited I about jumped out of my chair when I saw in the Kansas City Star that Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti was going to be in Wichita on April 6.

Immediately the next morning, I called the ticket office. Closed until 10 a.m.! At 10, the line was busy. I got on the Internet site, clicked on the "buy" button, entered my credit card number and that was that.

We arrived in Wichita Saturday afternoon and stopped to pick up our tickets at the Kansas Coliseum.

The American Kennel Club was having a show there that afternoon and dogs were everywhere. A bunch of RVs were parked on the grounds.

"Well, those RVs look a bit seedy," I remarked.

"I suppose they have seedy in Italy, too," Art replied, grinning at me.

"Somehow I imagine their seedy to be more charming, though," I said.

We went to our hotel to get dressed and then returned. As we arrived, a stretch limo was pulling out. I wondered aloud if Pavarotti had cancelled the show. You always hear about these stars being so temperamental.

We hurried through the strong wind past two metal cattle sculptures to the coliseum, which Art dubbed "the cow palace." We found our seats - at the very top of the nosebleed section. I checked out the program, which had a list of selections Pavarotti would perform and, on the inside, a photograph of Pavarotti that folded out into a poster.

Since we got to our seats with time to spare, Art and I did one of our favorite things: watched people.

People's attire ranged from jeans and sweatshirts to top hats and tails. One older gentleman nearby wore a gold, green and brown plaid jacket. Not far away a woman was dressed in a long sequined gown and feathery boa.

Two gals a few rows down were eating sandwiches, which had lettuce sticking out on all sides. I asked Art whether people can go anywhere for two or three hours without having to eat something. The concession stands were doing a big business selling champagne in plastic glasses, too.

Next to Art, two women, who both wore wedding bands, were chatting animatedly. Art said their husbands were probably home drinking beer and watching TV.

Finally, people took their seats and the lights went down. The orchestra began the program.

Art thought it was part of Pavarotti's entourage because they were so good, but it was the Wichita Grand Opera Orchestra.

At last the moment I'd been waiting for arrived. Luciano Pavarotti came out on the stage dressed in a tuxedo and carrying a white handkerchief. The guy in front of us commented that Pavarotti looked like a penguin from where we were sitting. I didn't care. I - along with about 6,000 other people - were actually in the same place with him!

As soon as he appeared, cameras flashed from every direction, in spite of signs warning people not to take cameras inside and the fact that at such a distance, the flash is completely ineffective.

Pavarotti sang selections from Tosca, Werther and La Bohème. Soprano Annalisa Raspagliosi sang solos and joined Pavarotti for some duets. We applauded them and the orchestra until our hands hurt. At the end of the show, the crowd stood and clapped so long that Pavarotti came back to sing three more songs. One of them was "O Sole Mio," better known as "It's Now or Never," made famous by Elvis Presley. Then he was joined again by Raspagliosi for a duet from La Traviata.

"Sing along with us - or at least hum," Pavarotti said. "I know you all know this one."

So we did.

After Pavarotti left the stage, we lingered a bit - as much to let what we had heard sink in as to wait for the crowds to thin out.

It was a night to remember. For a moment, the "Cow Palace" was host to one of the most talented and legendary artists of our or any other time - and I was there.

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