It was a fine night for movie premie res and Italian opera singers and even the Redskins. The football team won its game yesterday, George Stevens, chairman of the American Film Institute, told the audience in his remarks before "Yes, Giorgio" began.
It was renowned opera singer Luciano Pavarotti's film debut. He was as nervous about the opening as one might imagine he is before he goes on stage to sing. He was whisked from the Fairfax Hotel to the Kennedy Center loading docks -- to avoid mob scenes -- to his dressing room backstage. (He was not singing, however). He made a brief appearance at the champagne reception in the Kennedy Center foyer before the movie. His fans applauded and surged around him. "I haven't seen that since Liz Taylor," said Tom Kendrick of the Kennedy Center, who has watched quite a number of celebrities at the traditional pre- post-film receptions.
Also in the lobby was actor Donald Sutherland, an AFI board member, signing autographs. When all the guests had taken their seats in the Eisenhower Theater, and Stevens and director Franklin Schaffner had said a few words, Pavarotti came into the theater by a side entrance to applause.
"Before both of you made your speeches," Pavarotti said, "I was very nervous. Now I am dead nervous. I try almost everything in the world of entertainment, everything I can reach . . . I try to make a movie. I hope it is not going to be a disappointment."
The film, a light, colorful vehicle for Pavarotti's singing, got enthusiastic applause from the audience, which included such administration notables as Charles Wick, director of the United States Information Agency; Bendix Corp. official Nancy Reynolds, friend of the Reagans; Carolyn Deaver, wife of the White House deputy chief of staff; and Joan Clark, wife of the national security adviser.
"It's good--for what it is," said actress Kathryn Harrold, the female lead in the movie. Of working with Pavarotti, she said, "He was really nice. He took to film really well. I thought he might be really big. He is very good at comedy and the character is not far from the way he is."
Pavarotti plays a famous, adored Italian opera singer who loves his public, women and the high style of living to which he has become accustomed. Asked later at the Italian Embassy supper if he was really that way, Pavarotti replied, "The singing voice -- for sure, it's me. The rest, I don't think so. In fact, I try to stay away from what I am like in real life. I don't have the handkerchief in the movie [Pavarotti's trademark in concert is a white handkerchief] but the face -- it is the same."
Pavarotti could only stay at the Italian Embassy for a little while. He was being flown to New York that evening by MGM in a rented plane. He is singing at the opening of the Met tonight. But he stayed long enough to sign numerous autographs.
"Do you have a piece of paper? asked Channel 9 weatherman Paul Anthony. "My son would love to get his autograph. He's in 'Carmen.' " Anthony obtained the autograph and examined the signature -- a continuous fine curve of a scribble with a little blip where the "p" in Pavarotti should be. "Looks like an EKG," Anthony said.
Eddie Albert, another costar of the movie, was also at the Italian Embassy. "Oh it was so much fun that I refused to take the money," Albert said about making the movie. "No, it was a lot of fun, but I took the money."
The screenwriter, Norman Steinberg, also had a part in the movie for which he received warm congratulations. "Thank you," Steinberg said to one well-wisher. "Are you a director? Do you want to use me in another film? I work cheaply."
The film was a benefit for AFI, making it an even finer evening for that institution. As George Stevens said, "We made $120,000. It beats stealing." The film opens in Washington on Friday.