Pavarotti Battling Pancreatic Cancer

By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 8, 2006

Luciano Pavarotti is suffering from pancreatic cancer and has canceled all of his remaining concerts for the year, his manager announced yesterday.

The tenor -- unquestionably the most famous opera singer in the world and often one of the finest -- underwent surgery in New York last week at an undisclosed hospital after doctors discovered what was described as a "malignant pancreatic mass."

"Fortunately, the mass was able to be completely removed at surgery," the singer's manager, Terri Robson, said in a statement from her London office. "Mr. Pavarotti is recovering well, and his physicians are encouraged by the physical and emotional resilience of their patient."

Pavarotti, 70, had intended the 2005-06 season to be a "Worldwide Farewell Tour," but he was forced to cancel eight concerts in April and another five in June, citing what was described as "complications from back surgery." (He had been scheduled to sing in Washington at Verizon Center on June 21.) The latest round of concerts would have taken him to Great Britain and, in September, he was slated to sing in Finland, Norway, Austria, Switzerland and Portugal.

Pancreatic cancer is usually fatal, with only a 4 percent survival rate five years after detection. Up to 80 percent of those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer die within the first year. Still, perhaps optimistically, Robson said the farewell tour would resume in early 2007.

Pavarotti's colleague and sometimes rival, tenor Placido Domingo, the general director of the Washington National Opera, released a statement yesterday saying that his "thoughts and prayers are with my friend Luciano for a speedy and complete recovery.

"I saw him last in May when I visited him in a New York hospital when he was recuperating from back troubles. His innate strength seemed to have conquered those troubles and I hope that this same inner fortitude will make him overcome his current problems."

Domingo and Pavarotti made up two-thirds of the Three Tenors, a spectacularly successful partnership they formed with Jose Carreras in 1990. Their first album together -- a live concert performance to celebrate the World Cup -- has sold some 20 million copies, making it far and away the biggest-selling classical record of all time. There were several further concerts and recordings; their last joint appearance took place in the British city of Bath in August 2003.

Still, few musicians would suggest that these stadium concerts represented the tenors at or near their best. As Domingo himself acknowledged, with a mischievous smile, in 1994, the tenors chose to take on "different projects for different reasons." There was no need to elaborate: Each Three Tenors concert brought Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras in excess of $1 million each.

There are, in effect, two Pavarottis. One of them is a great artist -- an ineffably musical lyric tenor whose voice suggested all the sun and sweetness in the world. The other is an overblown media attraction who sang through heavy amplification at football stadiums, lip-synced to his own recordings in concert, lolled lazily through mundane pop songs and generally did as little work as possible for some of the largest paychecks in the history of classical music.

Any criticism of the "second" Pavarotti is bound to upset his myriad fans, who not only worship him with a passion that has rarely been accorded any classical musician but also like his carefully cultivated regular-guy persona. But the only reason operaphiles and critics have been hard on Pavarotti the Commodity is because they knew and venerated Pavarotti the Artist.

Even well past his 60th birthday, he retained the most sheerly beautiful tenor voice since that of the late Jussi Bjoerling, who died in 1960. And on those occasions when Pavarotti threw himself wholeheartedly into a role -- knowing every note, thinking about the music, attending all the rehearsals, working closely and sympathetically with his colleagues, shepherding his resources for the long haul -- there was nobody else like him. And only Pavarotti had that sound -- that honeyed, lambent, never-to-be-forgotten sound .

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