Italian Tenor Luciano Pavarotti, Superstar of Opera

By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 7, 2007

Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

Hundreds of mourners filled the grand piazza in Modena, Italy, yesterday to mourn and pay tribute to their native son, Luciano Pavarotti, one of the opera world's greatest musical ambassadors.

Mr. Pavarotti, 71, who died of pancreatic cancer Sept. 6 at his home in Modena, combined a lustrous lyric tenor voice with a radiant and expansive personal charm to win the largest and most diversified audience ever accorded an opera singer.

After his death, his Web site posted a statement attributed to him about his legacy: "I think a life in music is a life beautifully spent, and this is what I have devoted my life to."

Millions of listeners who never came close to setting foot in an opera house knew and loved Mr. Pavarotti through his countless appearances on television and in stadium concerts -- especially the spectacularly successful Three Tenors marathons with Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras. The Decca recording of their first collaboration became far and away the best-selling classical album in history, with upward of 15 million copies distributed to date.

Connoisseurs acclaimed Mr. Pavarotti for his voice of surpassing sweetness, full and vibrant throughout its range, and for his warmly lyrical performances of standard Italian roles, such as Alfredo in Verdi's "La Traviata," Nemorino in Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'Amore," Rodolfo and Caravadossi in Puccini's "La Boheme" and "Tosca."

Mr. Pavarotti -- in tandem with his shrewd, aggressive longtime manager, Herbert H. Breslin -- also courted a popular audience with unprecedented zeal. And so Mr. Pavarotti made commercials for the American Express card, led New York's Columbus Day parade, clowned through the expensive Hollywood flop "Yes, Giorgio" (1982) and posed for press photographs with mountains of pasta.

The world was kept informed of Mr. Pavarotti's joie de vivre, his ebullient flirtations and his halfhearted struggle with his weight, which fluctuated between 250 and 350 pounds. At the peak of his career, he received more than 50,000 fan letters a year, and it was said that he never turned down a request for an autograph, a picture or a kiss. His rivalries with other singers -- notably Domingo (which was mostly friendly) and the soprano Renata Scotto (which was not) -- were also widely chronicled.

As Mr. Pavarotti's death grew imminent, Domingo said in a statement: "One of the most gratifying aspects of my life is that Luciano and I became friends in spite of what many important people in the entertainment industry had planned for us.

"They thought that feuding would not only be good for promoting our then still young careers, but also for the music business in general. What really happened was that our careers encouraged each other. . . . Eventually we both fooled everybody by becoming real friends who respected each other for their individual strengths and weaknesses."

Carreras, interviewed yesterday by Italian broadcaster RAI, said of Mr. Pavarotti: "Besides being an extraordinary singer, he was also very amusing and, at times, a philosopher. We will all miss him very much."

Some found the unrelenting onslaught of personal publicity distasteful, but it helped make Mr. Pavarotti the best-known and highest-paid classical artist of his time. And he could not be dismissed: Behind the huggy-bear, "I'm just a happy, regular overweight Italian guy who loves to sing" persona was a great and serious artist.

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