Lukewarm Luciano

Having seen his movie, read his biography, video-recorded his operas, and collected his records for years, I was especially eager to see Luciano Pavarotti for the first time in person at the Wang Center here last week.

With white tie and vest, black swallow-tailed coat and familiar white handkerchief, his presence is commanding. His smile - as wide as the grill of a Lincoln Continental, is warm and inviting.

The magic we've come to expect, however, just wasn't there for most of the evening. Mr. Pavarotti's singing was adequate but never really inspired. Those mellifluous tones that can wrap a ound you like a warm towel were generally missing. That smooth style of taking a note from pianissimo, turning it like a curl of smoke, and ending fortissimo wasn't done without noticeable effort. To be sure, his love affair with his audience and his art was ever apparent, but the singing simply lacked luster.

Fortunately, this devoted audience demanded encores and Pavarotti offered some of those rich, cream-filled arias that have become his hallmark. The Puccini works from La Boheme and Turandot were reminders of what was lacking in the program itself.

The generally complacent singing coupled with orchestral interludes that were little more than Pops extras (''William Tell Overture,'' ''Dance of the Hours,'' and a flute solo of ''Flight of the Bumblebee'') made the entire evening no more than mediocre. A loss to all, and a financial one to those who paid up to $60 a seat.

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