Where were you on February 1, 1973?
|Dr.Richard Harriman ’53
(left in top left photo) helped launch
the career of Luciano Pavarotti, who
gave his international solo recital
debut on the William Jewell campus
Members of the William Jewell College community gathered to ponder that question
February 1 in the White Atrium of Yates-Gill College Union and to reflect on the 35th anniversary of the international solo recital debut of tenor Luciano Pavarotti, held just across the quad in John Gano Memorial Chapel as part of the Harriman-Jewell Series.
The singer arrived announcing he was ill and nearly cancelled the 1973 performance, Series founder Dr. Richard Harriman ’53 remembered. But he did perform, despite being so nervous that he used a handkerchief to wipe his brow. The prop would become a signature part of his solo performances on stages around the world in the decades to come.
Ten years following that auspicious debut, on the occasion of Pavarotti’s fourth recital presented by the Series, it was Richard Harriman who shared the spotlight. “I want to bring the best,” Dr. Harriman announced to a national audience on NBC’s “Today Show” in 1983. “A noble call, but who would answer?” reporter Mike Leonard asked. “Luciano Pavarotti, for one,” he continued. “It was Richard Harriman who did Pavarotti a favor, giving the relatively unknown opera singer a chance to make his recital debut.”
Pavarotti appeared for a total of five performances on the Harriman-Jewell Series over a 16-year period. His last performance on the Series was a sold-out gala at Kansas City’s Midland Theatre in May of 1989.
The recent gathering on the William Jewell campus provided a bittersweet moment of reflection and appreciation following the tenor’s death from pancreatic cancer on September 6, 2007. At the time of his death, he was eulogized as the most famous opera singer of his generation and one of the greatest tenors of all time.
“One of the things that made him a great performer was his personal warmth,” Dr. Harriman said. “That came across to audiences very easily, but it came across in his personal contacts as well. I heard people say an artistic temperament was there, but he was always as nice as he could be to me.”
Dr. Harriman remembered a rural Pavarotti devotee who appeared at the stage door of the concert venue when the then world-renowned tenor did a rehearsal prior to a 1983 performance. He invited the woman to ride with him the next day when he traveled to the Jewell campus, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate.
“He treated her like Princess Diana,” Dr. Harriman said. “And that is how I will remember him.”