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Luciano Pavarotti in recital at the Wang Center for the Performing Arts, Sept. 17.

Listening to the jaundiced tones of a faded Luciano Pavarotti at the Wang Center Tuesday night was painful. The ill-conceived program pitted time-killing frothy overtures against over-played opera "favorites" and schmaltzy Italian songs.

The orchestra, under Emerson Buckley, started the evening with plenty of oom-pah, but little charm. Not that an audience locked in pre-concert chatter paid much attention to the orchestral opener, Rossini's Overture to La Gazza Ladra.

Pavarotti set the tone for much of the rest of the evening with an emotionless rendition of Quando le sere al placido from Luisa Miller. Colorless and devoid of involvement, his singing was mechanical, automatic, jaded.

There was one brief telling moment in Donizetti's Fra poco a me ricovero, one phrase upon which Pavarotti dwelled reflectively, one little peak in a valley of mediocrity. But the fleeting high-spot rapidly degenerated; Pavarotti seemed to be bored, detached for the rest of the aria.

The orchestra then revved up the oom-pah once more for a loud Overture to Nabucco.

The first half ended with two arias from Rigoletto, and Pavarotti was mercifully on better form for these. Questo o quella was given with good despatch, lightness and a nice touch of humor. La donna e mobile was cleanly done, too.

But the second half of the concert, dominated by popular Italian songs, brought worse embarrassments. The insubstantial songs, hardly the most demanding of repertoire, were done blandly. This part of the concert did, nonetheless, include one triumph, though not from Pavarotti. Flautist Andrea Griminelli performed the "Dance of the Blessed Spirits" from Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice with a transfixing beauty. There was a soft, meditative quality to Griminelli's playing, and the orchestra provided a sympathetic, sensitive backdrop. We were taken on an exploration of depths to which Pavarotti could not lead us; in Griminelli's piquant colors, we were exposed to a multitude of complex feelings.

The spell was broken when Pavarotti returned to sing Amor ti vieta from Fedora: it was no more than a superficial exercise in artifice. There was some tragedy to Vesti la giubba from I Pagliacci, and Che gelida manana -- done as an encore -- luckily did come across with some warmth, but neither could rescue an evening of inadequacies.

Jonathan Richmond->