ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

On this date in 1994, a trio of famous opera singers - Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti - gave a one-night only show in Los Angeles. It was a massive spectacle watched by more than 1 billion people around the globe. And it permanently changed how a large amount of classical music is presented, packaged and sold. NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas tells us more.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: The critics didn't think much of the show. But that didn't matter. Twenty years ago today, on the evening before the final game of the 1994 World Cup, 56,000 fans headed to Dodger Stadium.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA DONNA E MOBILE & BRINDISI")

TSIOULCAS: But the spotlight wasn't on soccer. It was on The Three Tenors. An even larger audience watched it on TV in more than 100 countries.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA DONNA E MOBILE & BRINDISI")

TSIOULCAS: After the television special, the CD and DVD of their performance sold more than 8 million copies worldwide.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA DONNA E MOBILE & BRINDISI")

TSIOULCAS: Carreras, Domingo and Pavarotti became the fathers of a new genre - popera - also called stadium classical. And it was a hugely expensive endeavor. Hungarian-born impresario Tibor Rudas dreamed up a Hollywood set - enormous columns, lush greenery and waterfalls. All supposed to make the audience forget they were inside a baseball stadium.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AQUARELA DO BRASIL")

TSIOULCAS: The LA show was also very profitable. It sparked years of tours, albums and television specials for the trio. Each singer earned about $1 million for the Los Angeles show alone. And you can thank these three for the legions of imitators who have followed, from The Irish Tenors to Il Divo and even to Andrea Bocelli.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE THREE TENORS SONG)

TSIOULCAS: 20 years later, the performances sound loose, even sloppy.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE THREE TENORS SONG)

TSIOULCAS: Far from the rigors of the opera stage, these three tenors hammed it up. Pavarotti was even chewing gum on stage through most of the evening. Still, you can't help but get drawn in by the power of those voices.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE THREE TENORS SONG)

TSIOULCAS: Back in 1994, the conductor then working with The Three Tenors, Zubin Mehta, called the group a phenomenon like a comet. Instead, it turned out to be one of the industry's longest burning stars.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE THREE TENORS SONG)

SIEGEL: That was NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas. To read her full essay and see some of the performances, you can go to npr.org.

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