Opera legend and superstar Luciano Pavarotti died in the early morning hours of September 6 at his home in Modena, Italy after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer. He was 71 years old.
With a persona as strong as his voice, Pavarotti was recognized around the world as having made opera accessible and enjoyable to an entire generation, and is credited with single-handedly reviving interest in a genre that had waned in popularity after the dawn of rock and roll music and commercial radio. Born October 12, 1935 in Modena, the singer debuted as Rodolfo in “La Boheme” in Reggio Emilia, Italy in 1961. It wasn’t until his performance as Rodolfo at London’s Royal Opera House (stepping in for Giuseppe di Stefano) that he began his fast climb to superstardom. Soprano Joan Sutherland, singing opposite Pavarotti, and her husband, conductor Richard Bonynge, immediately took him under their wing and brought him on board for an extended tour of Australia. Pavarotti looked back on this formative time as the secret to his technique and power, often closely studying Sutherland's breathing as she began and sustained phrases. His U.S. debut in 1965 led him to publicist and manager Herbert Breslin, who helped make “Big Lucy” a household name in just about every form of media imaginable.
Aside from the launch of his farewell world tour in 2005 and his performance of “Nessun Dorma” at the 2006 Winter Olympics on a telecast watched by 2.5 billion people all over the globe, Pavarotti's most recent spike in fame came when he teamed up with fellow tenors Plácido Domingo and José Carreras to form “The Three Tenors in Concert”—more affectionately known as “The Three Tenors.” At the 1990 World Cup soccer championships in Rome, Pavarotti seduced music fans of all persuasions before the final game with his performance of Verdi’s “Nessun Dorma.” His recording with Domingo and Carreras became the biggest-selling classical record of all time, and as talented as his two counterparts were, the trio catapulted Pavarotti's star even further no one in modern opera could rise completely out of his enormous shadow.
“I think a life in music is a life beautifully spent and this is what I have devoted my life to,” Pavarotti once said in his native tongue. At the ultimate end of his music-inspired life, the favorite son of Modena was laid to rest at home. Thousands of mourners, many in tears, filed past the open coffin at dawn Friday, September 7 as the whole country and the whole world saluted the passing of one of its greatest and adored opera superstars.
He leaves behind his second wife, Nicoletta Mantovani, and daughters Lorenza, 44, Cristina, 42, and Giuliana, 40 who put aside past differences to comfort Pavarotti as he lay dying on Wednesday at his villa.