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Obituary: Luciano Pavarotti

Obituary by Jack Foley

ITALIAN tenor Luciano Pavarotti has died at his home in Modena, his manager has announced. He was 71.

The much-loved opera singer was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year and had surgery in July 2006 in New York, five months after his last performance. He had not made any public appearances since.

He received a further five chemotherapy treatments in the past year and was admitted to hospital with a fever on August 8 – but released two weeks later following diagnostic tests.

Although his wife had told Italian newspapers that he was fighting like a lion, it was feared that he had gone home to die among friends and family.

His charismatic performances – particularly alongside fellow tenors Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras – helped bring a new audience to opera.

Born in Modena, Italy, on October 12, 1935, Pavarotti was the first and only child of a baker and, as a boy was more interested in football than music and found local fame playing for his town’s soccer team.

His passion for football remained throughout his life, however, and helped him to achieve world-wide success – performing a classical concert during the 1990 World Cup as one of the Three Tenors.

Together with Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo, Pavarotti was broadcast around the world singing a selection of famous arias and popular songs and they helped to raise the profile of opera and classical music as a result.

Their subsequent record became one of the biggest-selling classical discs of all time, particularly the signature tune Nessun Dorma, from Puccini’s Turandot, which became synonymous with that World Cup.

But Pavarotti’s rise to fame started much earlier and he quickly developed a reputation as a special talent, ever since first singing in the Modena town chorus with his father, also an opera lover and gifted amateur tenor.

It was when the Rossini Male Chorus won first prize in an international competition that Pavarotti decided to pursue music full-time and he made his professional debut on April 29, 1961, in one of the great tenor roles, Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Boheme, at the opera house in Reggio Emilia.

Success in Italy paved the way for world-wide acclaim and Pavarotti quickly went on to performer in Amsterdam, Vienna, Zurich and London.

In 1965, he made his American debut in a Miami production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor with Joan Sutherland, to begin a historic partnership.

And it was in the US in 1972 that Pavarotti produced one of his legendary performances, singing nine effortless high Cs in La Fille du Regiment at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

His recordings rapidly became best sellers and covered a wide range of opera as well as anthologies of Neapolitan and other Italian songs.

Following his success with the Three Tenors, he performed a 1992 concert in London’s Hyde Park in the presence of Charles and Diana, the Prince and Princess of Wales, which was the first classical concert in the park’s history, attracting a crowd of some 150,000 people.

And in June 1993, more than 500,000 fans gathered to hear him in New York’s Central Park, before he followed that up with a concert in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower in Paris to a further 300,000 fans that September.

There was criticism of the way he sought to make opera more popular, especially through duets with high-profile stars like Bono and Bryan Adams, but Pavarotti’s worth was due to have been recognised with an Italian award that highlighted his tireless work to promote the medium and encourage young singers.

The tenor was dedicated to the development of young talent and regularly conducted master classes at conservatories around the world.

His final opera performance came in March 2004, when he appeared in Puccini’s Tosca in New York and received an 11-minute standing ovation.

He then intended to complete a 40-city farewell tour in 2005 before “taking his leave” but ill-health broke up the schedule and many concerts had to be cancelled or postponed as he battled back problems, laryngitis and a throat infection.

But he produced another memorable version of Nessun Dorma at the opening of the Winter Olympics in Turin in February 2006, which became Pavarotti’s final performance.

Announcing his death in the early hours of Thursday, September 6, 2007, Pavarotti’s manager Terri Robson said in a statement: “The Maestro fought a long, tough battle against the pancreatic cancer which eventually took his life. In fitting with the approach that characterised his life and work, he remained positive until finally succumbing to the last stages of his illness.”

Tributes have been already been paid by friends, colleagues, politicians and admirers.

Fellow tenor Placido Domingo said he had “always admired the God-given glory” of Pavarotti’s voice.

In a statement from Los Angeles, Domingo said he still had fond memories of the Three Tenors shows, adding: “We had trouble remembering we were giving a concert before a paying audience, because we had so much fun between ourselves.”

London’s Royal Opera House described Pavarotti “one of the finest singers of our time”, stating: “He was one of those rare artists who affected the lives of people across the globe in all walks of life.

“Through his countless broadcasts, recordings and concerts he introduced the extraordinary power of opera to people who perhaps would never have encountered opera and classical singing, in doing so he enriched their lives. That will be his legacy.”