The internet went into a state of amusement when President Trump went off-script during a joint press conference back in 2017, suggesting that he is, or was, a close friend with Pavarotti — one of the world’s greatest tenors who died over 10 years ago.
“Friend of mine. Great friend of mine,” Trump said, leaving the verbs to the imagination.
“That’s an interesting statement to make because Luciano Pavarotti has been dead since 2007,” Kimmel noted on Jimmy Kimmel Live! “He’s been dead for 10 years, so it kind of makes you wonder about how deep their friendship is.”
The question begs to answer, so we dug a little deeper to find out just how close Trump and Pavarotti really were. The results show they were friends, but like many BFFs, their relationship was complicated.
Trump first met Pavarotti when he hired him to sing at the Mark Etess Arena at his Atlantic City Taj Mahal Casino on November 11, 2000.
Pavarotti had been performing in Atlantic City since 1983, and worked with Hungarian promoter Tibor Rudas, of the Three Tenors fame.
“I have Pavarotti coming,” Trump said to New Yorker columnist Mark Singer. “Pavarotti doesn’t perform for anybody. He’s the highest-paid performer in the world. A million dollars a performance. The hardest guy to get. If I call him, he’ll do it — for a huge amount less. Why? Because they like me; they respect me; I don’t know.”
Trump had flown his then model girlfriend, Melania Knauss on a private jet for the promise of a star-studded performance with one of the highest-paid artists in the world. Pavarotti’s performance fee was in the range of $1.5 M, and tickets for the event sold for a cool $1,000 each.
But the concert did not go well. “He was singing and he lost his voice,” said Norma Foederer, a spokeswoman for Trump. “He stopped mid-note and he said ‘Forgive me’ and ‘I’m not feeling well’.”
Newark ‘Star-Ledger’ critic Willa Conrad lambasted the performance, calling it an embarrassment. “To repeat the Atlantic City show might indeed be a gracious act, but I can think of an even more respectful motion toward his audience, his talent and himself,” she quipped. “Retirement.”
Trump was allegedly furious at the lacklustre performance and stormed backstage to confront Pavarotti. Pavarotti apologized and blamed the disaster on his having a cold. Trump reportedly asked him to refund half of his $1M performance fee. Instead, Pavarotti offered to come back the following year to sing again for free for the same audience.
Pavarotti made good on his Taj Mahal do-over in February 2001.
“I was ecstatic,” said Deborah Collier of Westchester. ”It improved tremendously compared to last time. It was worth the wait.”
“At the concert, he didn’t hold back and showed some flashy high notes and rainbow phrasing,” New York Times (NYT) Critic Leslie Kandell described in her review of the hour-long performance. “His is an older voice, strong in the low range, heavy and sometimes grainy, with the wisdom that comes with age.”
Trump was unable to attend the second performance, but according to a subsequent interview with the NYT, he denied asking Pavarotti for his money back. ”That’s totally false. He went backstage and apologized to everybody. He wasn’t satisfied and wanted to come back. He had the flu. Luciano is a great friend. I don’t get angry at my friends.”
Pavarotti’s promoter Tibor Rudas corroborated parts of the story, stating “he wanted to repeat what was not sung properly. He came back free […] He’s beloved, and we want to make sure he stays beloved.”
The second Pavarotti-Trump connection is not so cut and dry, and may suggest they had a falling out, or were not a chummy as Trump would have us believe.
Trump had been using a recording of Pavarotti’s famous Nessun Dorma aria as hype-music for his events on the 2016 presidential campaign trail.
Pavarotti had long since passed away, but Pavarotti’s widow, Nicoletta Mantovani, heard about Trump’s unauthorized use of his music and demanded that it be pulled. “The values of brotherhood and solidarity that Pavarotti upheld are incompatible with the world vision of Trump,” Mantovani said in a public statement.
That’s a strange response from the widow of someone Trump claims to be a “great friend of mine.”
Either way, since the ghost of Pavarotti hasn’t come to us with his side of the story, we may just have to take Trump’s word for it.