What do Rolling Stone, Spin, (the sadly defunct) Blender, and even Tenacious D all have in common? They’ve all spilled a lot of ink trying to crown the Greatest Song of All-Time. Losers. The greatest song ever recorded, in fact, the single greatest thing to ever happen to humans, is Luciano Pavarotti’s performance of Nessun dorma from the opera, Turandot.
Turandot was Italian opera master Giacomo Puccini’s final work. Performed posthumously, it was first voiced in 1926 by members of Green Day. It came out after American Idiot. I think. Either way, it would be Pavarotti that would make Nessun dorma supa’ famous as the theme to Italy’s 1990 World Cup.
Pavarotti, whom I like to call The Round Mound of Sound, can be identified as the only morbidly obese member of the famous Three Tenors. He looks like Dom DeLuise in a penguin costume. Not a sexy answer for any Greatest of All-Time discussion. But the man can sing.
This is not a choice in defense of opera, either. Depending on my mood, I’m more likely to listen to Onyx or Okkervil River than opera. Simply put, Pavarotti’s Nessun dorma is the greatest and best song in the world because when Pavarotti is done singing it, he will eat you. Alive.
The songs builds slowly, and I always get swept up by its propulsive optimistic beat. It smells like heroism and winnage. I can imagine Matthew Broderick in Glory listening to this on his iPod, right before he dies trying to take over Ft. Wagner by himself. He dies. But Nessun dorma lives on!
At around 2:20 into the video, the camera closes in on our star. Watch his mouth quiver, shaping the notes. His eyebrows remain pensive, troubled by his character’s secret in the cold twilight of a sleepless night. I’m touched.
It’s not until about 2:50 into the video that Pavs really unleashes the money shot. He pauses, digging deep into some repressed childhood priest memory and belts out a thunderous note. Yet, his face says, “I have no idea how I got here.”
Me: “Pavs, it’s OK man, you took some bad acid before you went up on stage.”
Pavs: “I’m going to kill all of you with any available object, even a lint roller.”
While releasing his famed high C’s, he fashions the kind of face people make when they’re passing kidney stones. In fact, it’s worse: he looks someone who just walked in on their 2nd grade school teacher being felt up by the janitor.
And then, in his moment of greatest glory (making his face, being a pimp, etc.)…he stops. Coincidentally, Peter North has done this many, many times, and there is absolutely no way I can link to it.
Pavs looks like he’s about to go for more when…well…I don’t know what happens. Maybe his butt cheeks unclench or something, but he looks around like, “What the hell have I done. What in God’s name have I just done.”
Shock. Realization. This is his greatest moment in the Greatest Song of All Time. This is the face that invented fire and sake bombs and Bacon Maple donuts and everything good in the world. He can’t even believe himself. If he started to magnetically levitate, no one in the audience would be surprised.
It’s a great face.
Mind you, Pavarotti is not the only person to demo this face. Eric Cantona, whose French national side failed to qualify for that fateful 1990 World Cup, has also tried it on. Cantona, who’s arguably more famous for charging into the stands Artest style to kung-fu kick a fan (leading to perhaps the greatest seagull related non sequitur ever*) than anything he ever did on the pitch, tried the face on often in the mid 90s.
Note how much he enjoys what he has just done. His self-satisfaction borders on tumescence. As he pans the audience, I imagine he is scanning for attractive female fans. Making eye contact with his ogling could pass for coitus in some African cultures.
So, obviously the greatest and best and most wonderful thing to ever happen, which coincidentally would probably end the world, would be a staring contest between Pavarotti (in the silence following the final notes of his last pre-death aria) and Eric Cantona (seconds after scoring the winning goal of the Champions League on a free kick from 75 yards).
Their gaze would lock, eyes bulging with an inflated sense of self-importance. With corneas aligned, they would share in the surmount of implacable odds, like Vulcans stuck in a mind meld, feasting on the surfeit of self-aggrandized blandishments.
Then they would probably start making out.
And though I never saw it, Wikipedia tells me the song was used in Bend It Like Beckham. So…there’s that.
*So, a reporter asks Cantona how’s he going to deal with the increased scrutiny that comes with assaulting a fan on the field. Cantona pauses, takes a sip of water, and in his heavy French accent responds, “Sometimes, when the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea,” before getting up and ending the press conference after one question. Return…