On June 23, 2001 about 3 billion television viewers saw and heard a concert presented by “the Three Tenors” (Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and José Carreras) in the Forbidden City of Beijing, where a live audience of some 30,000 filled the vast courtyard of the Meridian Gate before the imperial palace. It was the grandest media event the Communist regime had ever organized. Against a palatial backdrop glistening with the lacquer-like brilliance of traditional Chinese gold and red, the three aging singers reached high and low as they sang in Italian, English, French and Spanish, ranging in selection from grand opera to American musical. It was far-reaching entertainment, global culture, a theater in the earthly round. And yet, though spectacular, it was also, as Yogi Berra is famous for having

said, “déjà vu all over again.” The three tenors had been doing this for over ten years and their thirty concerts had all been staged in improbable locations. Pop culture gives such places cachet by using the word “venue.” The threesome began in Rome in 1990, singing at the Baths of Caracalla as part of the celebration attending the World Cup (soccer) finals. Next they gathered under the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Then they came together in the luminescent opulence of Las Vegas. At the Rome concert, Domingo said that “Music and sport are the most universal things in the world.” Ten years later in Las Vegas, he speculated that some people came to the concerts because they liked classical music and others came “because of the event.” (An “event” – which one historian described as an eruption, a bursting forth as a tear in the otherwise only wrinkled cloth of the past – changes things. Domingo’s event was, however, like a bright artifice, theater at its best.) These performances by the three tenors exemplify a contemporary condi-

tion, a postmodern truth: we sit before a world stage. Whether in a vast audience outdoors or as an audience of one of the television set indoors, we now open our eyes to the world. This is the age of the spectacle and the spectacular. The old adage “Seeing is believing” is still taken for granted but now “Seeing is enjoying” too. Analysts use the term “spectacularization” for the way activities and places are set up or rearranged to assure entertainment at its most dazzling: political conventions, theme parks, the opening of major

sports events, “native” performances for tourists, rock music concerts, the interior decor of cruise ships – and the global 24-hour celebration of the new millennium, topped off by the fireworks display for which the Eiffel Tower was both the frame and the symbol. Long before this particular display of Gallic verve, however, outdoor dis-

plays bore the French signature. In 1947, the first of the now globally popular son et lumière shows was produced. Attractive artifices, these light-and-sound productions recount the history of major monuments and edifices, using a varying display of lights to illuminate features of the building that figured in history, all enacted before an audience sitting on the grass or on chairs under a canopy of stars. It made relaxing nighttime entertainment, a welcome relief from the wearying tourist strolls of the daytime. It was new expression of docudrama that illuminated and vividly described what the structure stood for historically, and what its occupants lived or died for. The châteaux of the Loire Valley were among the first grand piles of

stones that lent their magnificence to son et lumière. The concept soon crossed the Channel to England where in 1969 it came to Blenheim Palace, family home of the Churchills, a stately eighteenth-century structure now further ennobled by the rich voice of Richard Burton providing the narrative, accompanied by the changing light effects. Seemingly always in the forefront of global trends, the United States had its first son et lumière show in San Francisco in 1959. More recently, the Pyramids of Egypt have been bathed in light and rhetoric, with the once silent Sphinx speaking “of the 5,000 years I have seen all the suns man can remember come up in the sky” (website “Son et lumière: Giza” 2001: n.p.). The French government gave a son et lumière show to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home, on the occasion of the bicentenary of the American Declaration of Independence. By the end of the century, such shows recounted the history of the Acropolis in Athens, the cities of Delhi in India and Mombasa in Kenya, and the battle of Ladysmith as part of the centenary (2000) of the AngloBoer War in South Africa. In such manner, the historical site became the historical stage. Even as Europe was still burdened by the destruction of World War Two,

the son et lumière shows illuminated the fact that entertainment was becoming an industry marked by technological enhancement, geographical extension and cultural diversification. In effect, the theaters of war were replaced by the theaters of distraction. Instead of the horror of firebombs, fireworks burst forth in celebration of uneventful things, like the nightly closing of an amusement park. The cities blacked out during the war soon were ablaze in light. Wartime searchlights were replaced by floodlights and laser beams (and light pollution became a new atmospheric problem). Even Adolf Hitler’s briefly contemplated construction of a 100,000-ton battleship has its peacetime counterparts in tonnage, but freighted with different purpose. Several cruise ships are now of that size but move only to assure maximum entertainment.