Stop me if you’ve heard this one: When the star is unable to perform, a talented underdog is plucked from the chorus and thrown into the spotlight with just minutes to prepare.
It’s a crowd pleasing plot, one that occasionally plays out in real life, as it did at the 1998 Grammy Awards, above.
Given the nature of the event, the Radio City Music Hall audience probably wouldn’t have minded had the planned programming been scrapped in favor of “Respect,” “Natural Woman,” or any number of tunes Franklin can crush without batting an eyelash.
Instead, she stuck with “Nessun Dorma,” the famous final act opener from Giacomo Puccini’s Turnadot. Never mind that it was Pavarotti’s signature aria, that the man had popularized it to such a degree that your average football hooligan could identify his voice from a recording. Over a billion viewers tuned in to catch it on 1994’s Three Tenors special on TV, then rushed out to buy the subsequent live album, a rare crossover hit.
Franklin wasn’t totally green in the Puccini department. As master of ceremonies Sting informed the crowd, she’d performed the song two nights earlier at a fundraiser for MusiCares. Still, a fair amount of chutzpah was necessary.
Naturally, a handful of opera purists refused to fall under the spell, even when Franklin hit that celebrated high B, but they seem to comprise a minority.
Pavarotti, whom Sting presented with a living Legend Grammy immediately following Franklin’s performance, died in 2007.
As for that other Grammy legend, Franklin reprised “Nessun Dorma” for Pope Francis in Philadelphia last fall, again putting her personal stamp on it by switching from Italian to English midway through.
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