Thousands of mourners bid Pavarotti farewell

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MODENA, Italy -- Thousands of mourners filed past the open coffin of Luciano Pavarotti in the cathedral of his Italian hometown Friday, in an emotional farewell to the singer whose death prompted tributes from around the world.

The doors of Modena's ancient cathedral opened at dawn to allow saddened fans a last look at one of the greatest tenors of his generation before his funeral on Saturday.

The imposing, bearded opera star, who died on Thursday of cancer at the age of 71, was dressed in a black tuxedo, hands folded on his stomach and holding a white handkerchief -- a favorite prop during his recitals -- and a rosary.

Wreaths of flowers stood at the head of the coffin.

Mourners included his second wife, Nicoletta Mantovani, who carried their four-year-old daughter Alice in her arms, and his first wife, Adua Veroni, with two of his three daughters from that marriage, who are all in their 40s.

"He brought to the world everything that is good about this town: simplicity, honesty and happiness," said Luigi Febbrano, a 51-year-old court clerk waiting outside the 12th-century church.

Condolences flooded in from around the world, with U.S. President George W. Bush and Russia's Vladimir Putin joining opera singers Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras in praising the voice and the man.

"The world at your feet," read the headline in a local paper in Modena, the town where Pavarotti was born into a humble family -- his father a baker, his mother a cigar factory worker -- and which he never forgot despite his stardom.

Pavarotti spent his final days in his villa near Modena, where he also owned a restaurant and gave lessons for the local music school even in the final months of his illness.

A local music store said Pavarotti records were selling as fast as they could be stacked on the shelves.

"Sales are always good but since yesterday it has been crazy," said Giovanni Ricci, store manager. "The only thing that matters is that they have Pavarotti's name on them."

His gilded voice and huge personality touched millions around the world, and he achieved superstardom at the celebrated "Three Tenors" concert with Domingo and Carreras in Rome during the 1990 soccer World Cup in Italy.

The aria "Nessun Dorma" from Puccini's "Turandot", sung at the concert, has became as familiar to soccer fans as the usual stadium chants.

Pavarotti had surgery for cancer in New York in July 2006, then retreated to Modena where he had two weeks' treatment in hospital last month before going home for the last time.

He spent his final hours at home with family and friends by his side, said his manager Terri Robson. She told Reuters that Pavarotti's family wanted the funeral to be private, but celebrity friends and fans are expected from around the world.

Blind Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli is set to sing the hymn "Panis Angelicus" -- "bread of angels", often performed by Pavarotti -- in the church service which is scheduled for 3 p.m. (1300 GMT) on Saturday.

The Italian and English national teams will play "Nessun Dorma" before their respective Euro 2008 fixtures on Saturday.

The Italian air force's aerobatic squadron will fly over the cathedral, from where the service will be broadcast live on television and on giant screens for crowds outside.

The tenor will be laid to rest at the Montale Rangone cemetery near his villa, where his parents and his stillborn son Riccardo are buried.

The atmosphere was somber at Modena cathedral as mourners of all ages passed slowly by the coffin, some stopping to kneel in the pews and pray, others signing memorial books outside.

But a black-and-white picture of a smiling Pavarotti watched over the mourners to remind them of the singer's bonhomie and legendary fondness for the good things in life.

"He loved tortellini, zampone, Lambrusco..." said mourner Diomira Rossi, reeling off a list of the Italian dishes and wines that contributed to Pavarotti's monumental girth.
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