Stars set tenor for Eye

If the Three Tenors songfest in the Baths of Caracalla four years ago turned out to be the No. 1 sleeper hit in concert history, then Three Tenors II at a packed Dodger Stadium will surely be remembered as the mother of all sequels.

More a glitz blitz than a concert, the event prompted a greatingathering of superstars from Hollywood and Washington, with 56,000 onlookers lavishing acclaim on their favorites like teens at a rockfest.

Only here would Luciano Pavarotti wind up a megadecibel version of “My Way” by waving to Frank Sinatra in the first row, Sinatra waving back with a stunned look as if to say, “My God, is that how the tune goes?”

Only here could Pavarotti’s rendition of Puccini’s “Nessun Dorna” cause the biggest audience meltdown since the Beatles took over Ed Sullivan’s stage.

Cheering on Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras and the handkerchief-flourishing Pavarotti was a crowd of megastars that the producers of the Oscar show only wish they could attract. The litany of celebs included Michael Douglas, Whoopi Goldberg, Tom Cruise, Gregory Peck, Dustin Hoffman, Gene Kelly, Bob Hope and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Also in attendance were political marauders such as George Bush, Jack Kemp, Sen. John Kerry and Henry Kissinger.

The show was broadcast around the world to an audience that promoter Tibor Rudas modestly estimated at 1 billion viewers. The concert alone was expected to gross up to $ 15 million. Since the album from the first concert turned out to be the biggest classical seller ever, the Warner Music Group guaranteed nearly $ 1 million up front against royalties to each singer for the album.

The vast reaches of Dodger Stadium left many concertgoers yearning for the more intimate confines of the third-century ruins at Caracalla, with its 6,500 seats. At Dodger Stadium, some 13,000 holders of thousand-dollar seats were arrayed in vast rows of white folding chairs, with souvenir cushions, the aisle numbers scrawled crudely on wooden planks.

It seemed as though another assemblage entirely — 43,000 strong — looked down on this spectacle from their seats in the stands, priced from $ 15 to $ 150 , like an audience watching an audience watch a concert.

The stage itself, a miracle of instant construction hammered together in two days, loomed so high over the ground-floor crowd that the concert became an exercise in neck-craning. Many watched the tenors on the Dodgervision screens, where the lips of the performers seemed to be on time delay.

Similarly, since the audience in the stands was in a different zip code, their occasional rhythmic applause on some pop numbers resonated back to the stage a beat or two late.

The vast backdrop itself in centerfield seemed an odd mismatch of Catalina and Caracalla: Roman columns were arrayed around the fringes of the stage, but the backdrop consisted of waving palms, painted green hills and two faux waterfalls.

The onslaught of more limousines than appeared at the inauguration created a cosmic traffic jam around Dodger Stadium, causing thousands to arrive after Zubin Mehta conducted Leonard Bernstein’s overture from “Candide.”

The audience seemed distracted and disoriented until Carreras launched into “With a Song in my Heart,” which seemed to announce to the crowd, “OK, folks, it’s pops time, relax.”

Thousands of people beat the rush, arriving hours before the concert, picnicking around their vans, drinking wine and listening to CDs of the 1990 concert. “It was like an operatic Woodstock,” an enthused concertgoer said.

By the time the celebs started pouring in, accompanied by the usual grim-faced security guards, tension gripped the stadium.

The ordinary civilians had the last laugh at intermission, however. While the superstars were herded to a private party that offered champagne but no food, other concertgoers feasted on Dodger dogs and beer.

Perhaps as a result, the second half of the concert began to warm into more of a celebration than a concert.

There were standing ovations for one aria after another, and by the time the three tenors did their now-famous comedy turn with “O Sole Mio,” each pretending to one up the other, the audience was in a state of ecstasy.

For that matter, so was promoter Tibor Rudas, who before the concert was thought to be a small river in Bosnia, but who by now has achieved a certain immortality in the arcane history of concerts.

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