Aretha Franklin Slays “Nessun Dorma” Opera While Filling In For Pavarotti

When you think of Aretha Franklin, opera might not be the first thing that comes to mind. Yet, the late soul legend proved her versatility and vocal prowess by delivering a stunning rendition of the opera classic “Nessun dorma” at the 1998 Grammy Awards. Franklin’s performance was not planned; she stepped in as a last-minute replacement for her friend Luciano Pavarotti, who had fallen ill.

Pavarotti, renowned for his powerful tenor voice, popularized Giacomo Puccini’s aria “Nessun dorma” when he performed it at the 1990 FIFA World Cup. However, fate intervened at the 1998 Grammys when Pavarotti had to cancel his appearance. With little time to spare, Grammy producers turned to Franklin, who had recently showcased her vocal prowess at a MusiCares dinner.

Witnessing a contemporary singer like Franklin, with no formal training in opera, effortlessly tackle such a challenging piece was truly remarkable. “Nessun dorma” demands vocal dexterity, including hitting a sky-high top B at the climax, a feat Franklin accomplished with aplomb. Despite the orchestra’s preparation for a male tenor vocalist, Franklin rose to the occasion, infusing her soulful and R&B touch into the performance.

Introduced by rock icon Sting, Franklin’s rendition captivated the audience and garnered a standing ovation. Together with Sting, she honored Pavarotti, who was awarded the Grammy Living Legend Award in absentia. Franklin’s rendition, viewed by one billion people worldwide, showcased her ability to transcend genres and captivate audiences with her unparalleled talent.

Although Franklin’s performance at the Grammys remains iconic, her legacy with “Nessun dorma” continued. She recorded the aria in the studio and included it in her live repertoire, with her final performance of the piece taking place in 2015 for Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Franklin’s rendition of “Nessun dorma” stands as a testament to her enduring musical legacy and ability to captivate audiences across genres and generations.

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