A genuine ‘celebrity’, Pavarotti is credited with bringing opera to the masses, perhaps most famous for his performance of “Nessun Dorma”, which became the anthem for the 1990 World Cup in Italy, and his role as one of the “Three Tenors” - alongside Placido Domingo and José Carreras.
Pavarotti last appeared at the Royal Opera House in 2002, when he sang the role of Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca, despite the death of his mother to whom he dedicated his performance. He repeated his success at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 2004. In 2005, Pavarotti began a farewell tour which was frequently interrupted by his ailing health and a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Although on record as saying in 2006, “I have every intention of returning to singing”, his plans to resume touring in 2007 were never realised.
Born in Modena, northern Italy, on 12 October 1935, Pavarotti first sang in the Modena chorus with his father, who was a fervent lover of opera and an amateur tenor. When the chorus went on to win first prize in an international competition, Pavarotti began to dream of a solo singing career, first becoming an elementary school teacher before making his singing debut in 1961 as Rodolfo in La Bohème in Reggio Emilia. The success of his performance led to engagements all over the world, which also took him to London and then in 1965 to the US, where he sang in a production of Lucia di Lammermoor in Miami with Joan Sutherland.
But perhaps what really made him an international star was his performance in a 1972 production of La Fille du Regiment at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where he was required to sing nine top Cs in the aria “Ah! Mes amis”. He received a long standing ovation and was nicknamed the “King of the High Cs” by the press. His fame spread along with his enduring appeal.
Following that landmark performance, Pavarotti consistently drew record-breaking audiences to packed arenas and auditoria as well as open-air performances in public. His 1991 concert in Hyde Park, in the presence of the Prince and Princess of Wales, was widely televised. It was the first concert in the history of the park featuring classical music. Despite a downpour, the concert drew a record attendance of some 150,000 people. The singer returned to Hyde Park in 2001 to give another concert, including a duet with Italian soprano Annalisa Raspagliosi, a year before his 2002 appearance in Covent Garden's Tosca.
Pavarotti's records were always consistent best-sellers, selling over 100 million copies. Along with a wide range of audio recordings and soundtracks, including the video game Grand Theft Auto III, many of his performances have been recorded for broadcast: Canio in Pagliacci, the title role in Don Carlo, Nemorino in L’elisir d’amore, Riccardo in Un Ballo in maschera, Cavaradossi in Tosca, Manrico in Il Trovatore, Rodolfo in La Bohème, Radames in Aida, and the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto.
Frequent and generous television appearances in interviews on talk shows as well as in documentaries added to his popularity and fame. His most recent TV appearance in the UK was in September 2005 on Newsnight in a programme marking his retirement. He has also appeared on Parkinson and The Tonight Show as well as numerous Pavarotti & Friends concerts to raise money for war zones and world causes such as “Children of Bosnia”, “War Child”, “Children of Liberia”, “Guatemala and Kosovo”, “Kosovo’s Children”, “Cambodia and Tibet” and most recent a concert “for Afghanistan” in 2001.
In an issued statement, his manager Terri Robson said: "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."
Pavarotti’s official website has been updated to display only a simple memorial image along with a moving quote from the late star: “I think a life in music is a life beautifully spent, and this is what I have devoted my life to.”
- by Tom Atkins
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