The scene is the benefit concert at Carnegie Hall, NYC, for The Rainforest Foundation Fund, April 9, 1994. The Rainforest Foundation Fund was established by Trudie Styler, her husband Sting and Jean-Pierre Dutilleux to stage concerts where Sting gets to try his hand at singing opera in public with Luciano Pavarotti. Jokes aside, the Foundation advocates for the projection of Rainforests and their indigenous inhabitants. It was founded in 1998 at the request of the Kayapo people of Brazil.
Since 1991, Rock for the Rainforest has been an annual fundraiser, mostly held at Carnegie Hall. In 1994, the guests included James Taylor, Elton John, Luciano Pavarotti, Whitney Houston, Branford Marsalis, Aaron Neville and Tammy Wynette. In our first video, showing the encore of the 1994 event, Pavarotti graciously shepherds Sting, Elton John and Whitney Houston through the aria La donna è mobile from the Verdi opera Rigoletto.
According to Deseret News, Pavarotti extended the invitation to all the singers, but only Sting, John and Houston felt up to the challenge. You can see why. For someone not trained in opera, it is hard not to sound like an amateur when accompanying Pavarotti’s resonant full-bodied mellifluous voice. Sting and Elton John sound like Sting and Elton John gamely doing their best to sing opera, which is not to say that they do badly.
Sting finishes off with what Classic FM describes as “a triumphant ‘pensier!’ on a top B flat for an impressive seven-and-a-half seconds”. Nonetheless, there is some truth in Forum Opera’s quip that the exercise shows that attempting to sing opera doesn’t make you an opera singer. You would have noticed that I haven’t mentioned Whitney Houston’s contribution. Reviewers were blown away by Houston “chiming in with a pure soprano tone and pitch perfect accuracy”’ Here is Houston earlier that night
Unfortunately, the recording of Houston singing Dolly’ Parton’s 1973 song I Will Always Love You – a song Houston made her own on the Bodyguard soundtrack (1992) – isn’t the best quality, but what a powerful performance!
Going back to Whitney Houston’s contribution to the Verdi aria, you see Sting applauding and, if you look at the right edge of the video, you see Pavarotti making a dramatic hand gesture of approval. To be technical (thank you Classic FM) Houston lingers “on a G5 (that’s the second G above middle C) with tasteful vibrato and impressive breath control.” A little later, after Elton John’s verse, Sting and Pavarotti sing together while Houston “once again steals the show with a top G floating high above the men’s voices”. No wonder Whitney Houston was known as “The Voice”.