Three Mo' Tenors Give Nod to Pavarotti

The unconventional opera legend Luciano Pavarotti paved the way for many performers, including the black singing trio Three Mo' Tenors. Three of the group's members — Duane Moody, James Berger and Victor Robertson — talk with Farai Chideya.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya. And this is NEWS & NOTES.

Some people sing and some people channel the divine. Luciano Pavarotti seemed to bring the heavens to the Earth.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. LUCIANO PAVAROTTI (Opera Singer): (Singing) (Italian spoken)

CHIDEYA: Pavarotti died yesterday at age 71 after a yearlong battle with pancreatic cancer. He often broke the mold of traditional opera by collaborating with acts like Barry White, Bono and James Brown.

(Soundbite of song, "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World")

Mr. JAMES BROWN (Singer; Songwriter): (Singing) This is a man's world.

Mr. PAVAROTTI: (Singing) (Italian spoken)

CHIDEYA: Pavarotti was one of the three original Three Tenors along with Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras.

There's a trio that continues that legacy but adds a little twist, and we are talking about Three Mo' Tenors. They infuse an African-American sensibility into music that includes, not only opera, but jazz, gospel, soul and blues. That singing puts a lot of strain on the vocalists, so the Three Mo' Tenors actually rotate among six different singers.

And today, we've got three of them Duane Moody, Victor Robertson and James Berger.

Welcome guys.

Mr. DUANE MOODY (Member, Three Mo' Tenors): Thank you.

Mr. JAMES BERGER (Member, Three Mo' Tenors): Hello.

CHIDEYA: And so I saw you guys in Baltimore with my mom. I totally loved it.

Mr. MOODY: Get out of here.

CHIDEYA: Yes, it was just fabulous. So what was the first time that you heard Pavarotti sing - Duane, Victor, James? I don't know who wants to answer.

Mr. MOODY: The first time I heard Pavarotti, actually, was a recording. And I never had the pleasure of hearing him live. So - it was a recording in college.

Mr. VICTOR ROBERTSON (Member, Three Mo' Tenors): I think that everyone, if I remember a succession of(ph) singers where they - were the first time I heard Pavarotti and I was in the car, he was singing an aria from Boheme and it literally changed my life. I mean, there's a few moments if you're lucky that you can be changed like that, and I just thought that was the most glorious sound by a human ever.

Mr. BERGER: Right. I think my first exposure was in high school, which, you know, I just was forever changed because he's definitely a heavenly voice or something that's out of this world, absolutely.

CHIDEYA: So you guys sing in these different modes, what is it about - opera has - it's a sort of cultural double-edged sword. It can come to symbolize exclusion…

Mr. MOODY: Yes.

CHIDEYA: …keeping people out.

Mr. MOODY: Right.

CHIDEYA: What is it that you find in opera - and, Victor, I'll go to you - that makes you think that it can inclusive as well?

Mr. ROBERTSON: Well, I mean, the key is to keep opera relevant in today's society. We need new audiences. We need the younger people and you have directors like Baz Luhrmann, Francesca Zambello, Three Mo' Tenors. We're right now, we're off Broadway doing at the Little Schubert. What we're trying to do is bring people - bring the younger audiences to opera where it's not so intimidating and we - that's where we add a little twist to it.

Mr. MOODY: Right.

Mr. ROBERTSON: And that's what they can relate to and be culturalized(ph) also.

Mr. BERGER: Culturalized? Culturalized?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: I love that.

Mr. BERGER: New word.

Mr. ROBERTSON: I just made it up.

Mr. MOODY: Culturalize? Love it.

CHIDEYA: Yeah. It's like you sprinkle a little culture fertilizer and it's - you're culturalize.

Mr. ROBERTSON: That's why I made up that word.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROBERTSON: So I'm sticking to that.

CHIDEYA: Yeah.

Mr. ROBERTSON: Right.

CHIDEYA: So James, what was one of the most unusual reactions you ever got from someone who maybe said something like, you know, I hate opera but you guys are great?

Mr. BERGER: What was one of the most?

Mr. ROBERTSON: The children.

Mr. MOODY: It had to be the children.

Mr. BERGER: The children, yeah. I think we've done some things like at Lehman College before for, like, kindergarteners to eighth grade, and it's been amazing - the response. We even did some things at - the Albemarle(ph) School for, like, children that are…

Mr. MOODY: No, Dance Theater of Harlem, sorry.

Mr. BERGER: Dance Theater of Harlem. I'm Sorry.

Mr. ROBERTSON: They seemed to be more attentive to the opera, weren't they?

Mr. MOODY: Yeah.

Mr. BERGER: Very attentive. I never - what, it's Italian, and what were you saying and what was going - I mean, it was very - it was cool and all they need is exposure.

Mr. MOODY: That's all it is.

Mr. BERGER: I think they'd be very, you know, interested in after that so…

CHIDEYA: So you guys are playing off Broadway.

Mr. MOODY: Yes.

CHIDEYA: What else do you have coming up?

Mr. MOODY: Oh, right now, that's it, the off-Broadway run at the Little Schubert on 42nd, and, hopefully, that run will extend until about January 27th, but we're looking forward to possible tours in the future as well. But right now, we're doing our sole concentration at the Little Schubert on 42nd.

CHIDEYA: That sounds great. Well, of course, we have to ask you to sing us a couple of bars in honor of Pavarotti.

Mr. MOODY: Sure.

Mr. ROBERTSON: That's right. Yeah.

Mr. MOODY: Not a problem. Are you ready?

CHIDEYA: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MOODY: We're doing the short one.

CHIDEYA: Ready.

(Soundbite of singing)

THREE MO' TENORS (Singing Group): (Singing) (Italian spoken)

CHIDEYA: Bravo. Bravo.

Mr. MOODY: Grazie. Grazie.

CHIDEYA: Duane, Victor, James, thank you so much.

Mr. ROBERTSON: You're welcome. Thank you.

Mr. BERGER: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: We were speaking with Duane Moody, Victor Robertson and James Berger of the eclectic musical trio, Three Mo Tenors. They joined us from our New York studios.

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