BUENOS AIRES -- "La Locura Pavarotti," the newsmagazine Somos calls it. "Pavarotti madness."
Call it what you will -- madness, hysteria, Luciano lunacy -- the visit here by Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti has been nothing short of a Roman triumph.
"The fiesta-like climate, the mood that precedes great events and whose temperature rose as 'La Bohe`me' went on, dissipated whatever doubt" there may have been about the importance of the occasion, the normally sedate newspaper La Nacio'n marveled in its coverage of Pavarotti's opening night last week at the ornate Colon Theater.
"Pavarotti, the long-awaited Pavarotti, shone with the brilliance of his glorious ancestors."
"Sei grande, Luciano," fans at that performance shouted in Pavarotti's native Italian. "You are great." The end of every aria was greeted with thunderous applause, and the clearly elated tenor was summoned for 15 curtain calls, breaking his personal record of 14, set four years ago in San Francisco.
"In the world of opera," declared Ricardo Szwarcer, the Colon's general manager, "Buenos Aires has never seen anything like it."
The renowned tenor is here for a three-week series of performances, but Pavarotti mania has not been limited to those fortunate enough to see him on stage. Weekly picture magazines and local newspapers have given the 52-year-old, nearly 300-pound singer the kind of awestruck coverage usually reserved for visiting royalty.
Opera fans and Pavarotti buffs traveled from the far reaches of Argentina's vast provinces and from neighboring countries to attend his five performances of "La Bohe`me." The last will be broadcast live nationwide on state television Sunday night.
Hundreds of people have braved the clammy chill of the Southern Hemisphere winter and queued up overnight for "Bohe`me" tickets, at prices ranging from 4 to 40 australs (about $2 to $20). Scalpers were getting as much as 2,000 australs (nearly $1,000) on resale of the best seats.
Along Lavalle Street, a pedestrian thoroughfare in downtown Buenos Aires, record shops report that sales of Pavarotti records and tapes have more than doubled, with one item -- a collection of Italian folk songs -- outstripping the rest. Bookstores report brisk sales of the singer's biography, "Pavarotti: My Own Story."
Even movie theaters have gotten into the act, recycling the critically panned 1982 film "Yes, Giorgio," in which Pavarotti plays an opera superstar who falls in love with an eye-ear-nose-and-throat specialist.
Pavarotti arrived here Aug. 11 accompanied by his wife, two of his three children and his 74-year-old father Fernando -- like his son a tenor -- who plays Parpignol in "Bohe`me."
Playing Mimi opposite Pavarotti's Rodolfo in the opera is American soprano Kallen Esperian, whose performance La Nacio'n called "admirable perfection." Esperian's credits include appearances in Berlin, Vienna, Genoa and China.
On Wednesday, Pavarotti called on President Raul Alfonsin at the presidential residence in suburban Olivos. Alfonsin returned the gesture by attending the performance at the Colon that night.
"I feel at home in Argentina," Pavarotti told Alfonsin, "and at home I feel very comfortable."
From the president to the cooks at the elegant Plaza Hotel, where the tenor is staying, Pavarotti seems to have done his best to make sure everyone else feels comfortable too.
There have been a few sour notes heard among the overwhelmingly favorable chorus, however. "Buenos Aires has known throats a thousand times more gifted than his," wrote Cesar Magrini in Somos, "but never has there been this circus, this disagreeable collective hysteria."
Magrini also divined a dark political intent in Pavarotti's failure to live up to a commitment to appear here in 1982 -- the year of the Falklands War -- and castigated the singer as a lackey of the United States