Italian tenor. Born on October 12, 1935. He died of pancreatic cancer on September 6, 2007, aged 71
Throughout his life Pavarotti remained intensely loyal to his birthplace, Modena. His father, a baker, possessed an impressive tenor voice that was heard in his church choir. Pavarotti often paid tribute to his father and the early encouragement he was given in modest surroundings. One of his earliest excursions outside Italy was to perform as a member of Modena’s Rossini Choir in the 1955 international singing competition at Llangollen, in North Wales, where it won first prize.
The young tenor studied under Arrigo Pola and Ettore Campogalliani (the latter was also the teacher of Pavarotti’s fellow Modenese, Mirella Freni, who was later to partner him on stage many times). In 1961 Pavarotti made his professional debut at Reggio Emilia as Rodolfo in La Bohème. It was soon to become a favourite role of Pavarotti’s.
A hugely important year for Pavarotti was 1965, which included his first appearance at La Scala (Bohème); his American debut as Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor (which would become one of his most affecting portrayals) at Greater Miami Opera, with Joan Sutherland in the title role; and — most important for his artistic development — a tour of Australia in a company put together by Sutherland with her husband, the conductor Richard Bonynge. Pavarotti noted years later that, at this early stage of his own career, observing and working with the technically incomparable Sutherland was hugely important for him.
For their part, the Bonynges found in Pavarotti the ideal tenor for much of the repertoire they were then performing in the opera house and in Decca recordings. With their encouragement, Pavarotti took on some of the most demanding bel canto roles. Opposite Sutherland he was to earn tremendous acclaim in such roles as Edgardo, Arturo in I puritani, Elvino in La sonnambula and Orombello in Beatrice di Tenda (this last role only in the recording studio, for his first complete opera for Decca). Another bel canto opera with Sutherland provided Pavarotti with the “superstar is born” moment of his career: La Fille du Régiment at Covent Garden (1966).
However, cancelled performances started to impact on his popularity, both with audiences and management. The cancellations were nothing new; they had already occurred during the 1980s in Australia and at Covent Garden, distressing audiences and theatre officials. Pavarotti’s withdrawal from Tosca at the Garden in 1983 produced an outcry, not least because the reason given was “a dust allergy” backed up by a doctor’s certificate of inordinate length. This caused a rift between Pavarotti and the ROH that was to last for some time.
By the mid-1980s Pavarotti was devoting considerable time to concerts, many of which were sung in stadiums and arenas with orchestras all over the world. Cynics declared that he was undertaking these appearances because the rehearsal time was minimal and the fees high. There can be little doubt that he thrived on the excitement of appearing live before audiences that on many occasions exceeded 100,000.
On one rain-soaked July night in 1990 in Hyde Park, London’s traffic stopped and the audience, though drenched, stayed in their seats. Only stars of the magnitude of Madonna or Michael Jackson could have cast a similar spell. In 1992 Pavarotti showed a new concern when, after stopping midway through a Sheffield concert because of a severe cold, he promised to return in good voice. This he did six weeks later, at reduced prices.
Also during the 1990s, Pavarotti put his fame to good use in staging six concerts entitled Pavarotti and Friends, raising money for the children of Bosnia, Liberia, Cambodia and Tibet. These performances brought together such performers as Jon Bon Jovi, the Corrs, Stevie Wonder and Andreas Vollenweider.
In 1990, just before the World Cup finals in Rome, Plácido Domingo, José Carreras and the conductor Zubin Mehta joined Pavarotti for a concert at the Baths of Caracalla. It was presented to raise funds for the foundation that Carreras, a leukaemia survivor, had established to combat the disease. Decca’s recording of the performance sold more than 10 million copies. The wild enthusiasm accorded The Three Tenors, as they soon became known, in their initial venture in Rome inspired them to reunite periodically in other venues. Their concerts included three held during subsequent World Cups (Los Angeles in 1994, Paris in 1998, Yokohama in 2002). Other recordings were released, and the gains for each tenor in world popularity were enormous.
Pavarotti’s activities during his years of greatest fame included master classes throughout the world. His intense interest in the development of young artists prompted him to start an international vocal competition, named for him and based in Philadelphia. Many competition winners were invited to perform opposite Pavarotti in concerts and opera productions worldwide.
Pavarotti’s financial success brought him unwelcome headlines in 1999, when it was stated in a Finance Ministry report that he owed the Italian tax authorities about £1.5 million. He argued that his main residence was in Monaco but magistrates rejected his appeal. Pavarotti agreed to pay the Government 24 billion lire (£7.5 million) in back taxes and penalties on civil tax evasion charges.
The tenor had planned to retire from performing by his 70th birthday. He sang his final Met performance (Tosca) in March 2004, beginning an international tour of farewell appearances. Health problems disrupted his concert schedule, initially with complications after a back operation. In July 2006 he was found to have pancreatic cancer, which required immediate surgery. He announced that he would reschedule concerts in Britain, Finland, Norway, Austria, Switzerland, and Portugal for 2007.
Despite the cancellations and other setbacks in Pavarotti’s later career, a huge public worldwide maintained its devotion to him. His popularity will surely endure for many decades, thanks largely to a remarkable legacy of recordings. The many recitals and live concerts give a taste of Pavarotti’s persuasive way with a vast array of Italian arias and songs. There are seemingly innumerable performances of his Nessun Dorma from Turandot, which became something of a signature piece for him. His version of it became the theme song of the BBC TV coverage of the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy.
Pavarotti and his first wife, the former Adua Veroni, whom he married in 1961, were the parents of three daughters. The couple divorced in 2001, five years after the revelation of an affair between Pavarotti and his secretary, Nicoletta Mantovani. In 2003 Mantovani gave birth to a twin boy and girl (only the latter survived). Later that year Pavarotti and Mantovani were married before 600 guests on the stage of the Teatro Comunale in Modena.
The magnificence of Luciano Pavarotti’s singing has secured an exalted position for him among the finest tenors of the 20th century. No one did more in our time to bring a new public to opera. The wave of the fluttering white handkerchief will be missed within the theatre, as well as in the wider world of those who have never set foot inside an opera house.