James Brown, Godfather of Soul. Luciano Pavarotti, The King of High Cs.
When the spotlight shone on these two together, we witnessed the merger of electric blues and echoing bel cantos, the bittersweet splendor that happens when Motown meets Modena.
There is the harmonious differentiation, the evolution in adagio. When the façades of “versus”—man against woman, classical opposing pop, black contrasting with white, Italian high art clashing with American pop culture—fall into one another, so emerges rhythmic euphoria from lyrical rapture.
A soulman croons, “Man made the electric light, to take us out of the dark,” and one can’t help but feel that same current running through the philharmonic foundation. A tenor complements the soulman’s words with his own:
L’uomo rincorre il potere ma
Lui non sa
Che il grande limiti ad essere come si parrà
Nel palmo stringe un’idea che non vive
Che nella sua fantasia
Se non si accorge che poi
Nulla ha più senso te
si vive solo per sè
“Man runs after power but
He doesn’t know
The great limitations he places upon himself [?] In his fist (selfishly) he keeps an idea
An idea that is alive
Only in his fantasy;
(still) he runs …
And he doesn’t see that
All this makes no sense
If you live all by yourself” (or only for yourself)
Throughout the performance, [James Brown] remains faithful to his flamboyant funk, while the maestro is riveted to the intense discipline of his own craft, yet you can’t mistake their smoldering passions that explode at the climax, when true to form, Pavarotti ends on a perfect and divinely controlled high note, and Brown delivers a last dose of that high-octane, sandpaper-soul-deep exultation, with a flourish of strings and the clash of cymbals to cap a totally unforgettable experience. — Kadene Porter
Step back for a minute though, and recognize the implications of these two musical legends sharing a stage and story.
When James Brown and Luciano Pavarotti come together in this musical moment, the two redefine masculine strength. No longer is there a perpetual marathon for elusive power. Self-imposed limitations are overlooked and dismissed, and the fantasy of liberation is released from the fist. Then join in the muses from the background, the female vocalists who live Brown’s lyricism in testament and tempo. There isstrength in symphony; the backbone of inspired creation stems from this concert of power and prowess. In this man-made world, perfection is the product of natural synergy when the stellar align.