Pavarotti’s Swan Song
One of the Greatest Tenors of His Age, Luciano Brought Grand Opera to Thousands of New Fans
"Nessun dorma! Nessun Dorma! Tu pure, o, principessa…!" With these lines of Giaccomo Puccini’s opera Turandot, Luciano Pavarrotti celebrated his debut and assured his own success in the role of the main character Rodolfo. The recently deceased tenor looked back at a versatile, fascinating and very successful career. He is grieved by opera lovers worldwide, not only in his native Italy, where he is credited with bringing grand opera to mainstream audiences who might never have called it theirs.
"We have lost the most beautiful voice of a tenor and a man who had the ability to impress his audience in a very exceptional way," said Vienna State Opera director Ioan Holender, "who gave the people something indescribable."
Of his many colleagues, Placido Domingo was perhaps one of the closest, who, as one of the famed Three Tenors Trio, performed with Pavarotti and Spaniard Jose Carreras for 17 years.
"I always admired his divine voice as well as his great humor," Domingo said and continued, "They threw away the mold when they made Luciano."
Born in Modena in 1935, the son of a baker, Luciano Pavarotti made his debut in 1961 and was soon lavished with invitations from Italian as well as international opera houses in Zurich, Amsterdam, Vienna and many others. By the time he was 28 years old he had performed in Paris, London, Barcelona and New York, sharing the stage with the greatest singers of his day, including Joan Sutherland and Ilena Cotrubas.
In spite of his fame, Pavarotti developed a reputation early on for helping the disadvantaged, organising annual concerts in his hometown under the title "Pavarotti and Friends" where he performed with big-name artists from the pop world such as Bono, Lionel Richie, James Brown, Andrea Bocelli and Freddie Mercury. The concert and album revenues were spent to support several UN causes, including a campaign to raise money for children who were victims of war.
In 1990, Pavarotti founded The Three Tenors for the World Cup soccer tournament in Italy. The trio were an immediate hit which they used to further support and raise awareness for social, charitable and medical purposes.
From his social activism, Pavarotti was appointed Messenger of Peace by the UN WHEN and three years later received the Nansen Medal by the UN High Commission for Refugees and was honoured with the Red Cross Award for Service to Humanity.
Although Pavarotti remained popular with audiences, the opera houses’ enthusiasm waned, because of what was described as the singer’s uncontrollable temper and unreliable nature, which frequently led to his cancelling performances, apparently from illness. During one eight year period, he cancelled 26 out of 41 scheduled appointments at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, leading director Ardis Krainik to ban him from the opera house.
Earning the name the "King of Cancellations," the portly man was still such a unique talent that he was listed twice in the Guiness Book of World Records for receiving 165 curtain calls, and for the best selling classical album of all time.
In 2004, at the age of 69, and after a career of some four decades, Pavarotti began a farewell tour during which he planned to perform in 40 all cities around the world. Because of his weakening health, he was forced to interrupt the tour several times. His last major appearance was at the opening of the Winter Olympics in Turin, in February 2006, where his performance was honoured with sustained standing ovation.
In July 2006 he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and after several difficult operations, he died on Sept. 6, at the age of 71.
The man who was especially known for his powerful high C was buried on Sept. 8 in Modena, honoured by the thousands of admirers, friends and family, including Italy’s Prime Minister Romano Prodi, and former UN Secretary Kofi Annan, accompanied by Andrea Bocelli singing Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus. As the coffin was carried out of the church, the crowd, many dressed in bright colours as he had requested, acknowledged the tenor with lasting applause.
"I think a life in music is a life beautifully spent," Pavarotti had once said, "and this is what I have devoted my life to."
For Luciano Pavarotti, music was life itself