Luciano Pavarotti was one of the most acclaimed and popular tenors of all time. Celine Dion is the best-selling Canadian musician, and the best-selling French-language recording artist, to date. In 1996, Dion invited Pavarotti to sing on her song "I Hate You Then I Love You" for her album Let's Talk About Love (1997; #1 around the world).
On 9 June 1998, Celine Dion returned the favour when she joined Pavarotti for a performance of the song at the Pavarotti and Friends benefit concert for the children of war-torn Liberia. The show was broadcast live on BBC, PBS, and US cable channels. It was later released as a compilation album and DVD.
For fans of Luciano Paverotti, the duets with Celine Dion are one song amongst many. Towards the end of his long and distinguished career, Pavarotti became known to, and loved by, a global audience while performing as The Three Tenors with Plácido Domingo and José Carreras during the 1990 FIFA World Cup. Thereafter, Pavarotti crossed over into popular music and became famous for his many collaborations.
Pavarotti used his late-career popularity to raise funds for charity. Notably, he embarked on a series of Pavarotti and Friends benefit concerts, where each song featured a special musical guest. Between 1992 and 2003, there were ten of these concerts, each supporting a different cause. The list of Pavarotti's "friends" is astonishing: Sting, James Brown, Bono, Lou Reed, Lisa Minelli, Meatloaf, Barry White and many more. Predictably, Pavarotti was criticised for performing pop songs.
Pavarotti had little time for those who denigrated popular music. He said:
"Some say the word pop is a derogatory word to say 'not important'—I do not accept that. If the word classic is the word to say 'boring,' I do not accept. There is good and bad music."
Of all Pavarotti’s performances with his friends, it is the duet with Celine Dion that is the most polarising. For Dion’s many fans, the live version of "I Hate You Then I Love You" is a highpoint of her illustrious career. One need only look at the glowing comments under the video for confirmation of this.
Critics have been less kind. In this regard, the Wikipedia entry on the duet is unusually forthright. Under “Critical Reception” it quotes New York Observer editor Jonathan Bernstein:
""I Hate You Then I Love You," a retitled remake of an old Shirley Bassey song, "Never Never Never," is a clattering camp travesty during which the big man and the little sparrow indulge in some pent-up sexual jousting. All the unleashed octaves in the world fail to expunge the mental image of the most unfeasible coupling since Biggie Smalls and Li’l Kim".