Luciano Pavarotti Dies
Luciano Pavarotti, dead at 71, sang with such beauty that he beguiled listeners around the globe. Some were opera fans, but most were just fans of his honeyed tenor and outsize personality.
By Cathleen McGuigan
Sept. 6, 2007 - Luciano Pavarotti was one of the biggest opera stars of the last century, but he was much bigger than opera. A lyric tenor whose remarkable voice was so honeyed and brilliant that even non-opera lovers were readily moved by its beauty, he married his natural musicality with a gift for blatant showmanship. Besides his triumphs in the world’s greatest opera houses, he sold more than 50 millions record albums; his arena concerts were packed like a rock star’s; and he would happily sign autographs for his fans for hours. As he aged, and performing on the opera stage became more demanding, Pavarotti and his manager found amazing ways for him become even bigger in the public eye, especially with the phenomenally successful Three Tenors gigs, where he joined Plácido Domingo and José Carreras: their televised concerts were seen by 1.5 billion viewers worldwide. For his charity concerts and albums, “Pavarotti & Friends,” he roped in such singers as Bono, Elton John and even the Spice Girls. Critics may have disdained such commercialism, but with the help of recordings and television, Pavarotti doubtless reached the widest audience of any opera singer in history. Dubbed at various times “Lucky,” “Lurch,” “Deep Throat” and “Lucianissimo,” he took a long time to let go of his career. Like Sinatra's, his farewell tour didn’t seem a final goodbye—but after surgery for pancreatic cancer in July 2006, he never appeared in public again.
Pavarotti died, at 71, where he was born, in the northern Italian city of Modena, where his father had worked in a bakery, his mother in a cigar factory. His father was a tenor too—and Luciano grew up listening not just to his father’s voice but also to his phonograph recordings of such greats as Enrico Caruso. Pavarotti sang in the Modena opera chorus, and when the chorus took first prize at a music festival in Wales, he began to seriously embrace the idea of a singing career. He took lessons, though he never had conservatory training, and it was said he couldn’t really read music. His first big break came when he filled in for a sick tenor in “La Bohème” at Covent Garden in 1963, and he went on to sing the role of Rodolfo in his La Scala debut and in his 1968 debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where, over the course of his career, he sang 378 performances, more than he did anywhere else. In 1972 at the Met, when he sang Tonio in Donizetti’s “La Fille du Régiment” opposite Joan Sutherland, he so magically hit the nine high C’s in a row that audiences went crazy and he was invited to appear on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. That began the crossover to show business.
“The King of the High Cs,” as his record company called him, lived large and was famous for his outsize appetites—for food, wine, sports. A few years back he hit the gossip pages when he left his wife of 35 years—they had three daughters—for his much younger assistant, Nicoletta Mantovani, whom he married in 2003 (they have one daughter). He sang at the Met for the last time in Puccini’s “Tosca” in 2004. Though most of his great roles were in Italian operas, he was never as big a star in Italy as he was abroad, where his ebullient personality won him a wide legion of fans. His personality overpowered most of his roles; as critics pointed out, his acting ability was no match for his singing. Pavarotti was always Pavarotti—and that’s what his fans loved. That and the beautiful voice, which reached across the world.