Renowned tenor Pavarotti dies at 71


Opera superstar Luciano Pavarotti, beloved by millions of fans who heard him in venues ranging from the Metropolitan Opera to Dodger Stadium, died early Thursday morning at his home in Modena, Italy, after a year-plus battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 71.

Pavarotti was arguably more successful than any other post-war classical performer in straddling both the worlds of opera and pop culture, especially through his association with fellow singers Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras as the Three Tenors, as well as charity work with such pop icons as U2 and Mariah Carey.

The Italian music industry paid tribute to the opera great. "Luciano Pavarotti wasn't only an extraordinary artist and interpreter, he also made a great contribution to the development of the record industry," says Enzo Mazza, president of labels body FIMI.

"We mustn't just think of him as an Italian artist," adds Mazza, "he represented a patrimony for music the world over."

Popular Italian singer-songwriter Luciano Ligabue also paid respect. "I once had the privilege of hearing him sing from just two metres away and it was like listening to something from another world. His was the strongest voice of all," comments Ligabue, who hails from Emilia Romagna, the same region as Pavarotti.

"His physical strength was also evident when I went to visit him in Modena a couple of months ago, when he was fighting against his terrible illness, and yet, there he was, giving singing lessons to his students. It helped me understand that he wasn't just an immense talent, but he was also a man of great dedication and determination and that's what made him what he was."

Pavarotti was born in Modena on Oct. 12, 1935. An outstanding soccer player in his youth, he was drawn to the world of singing by his father, a fine singer in his own right. He debuted in La Boheme in Italy in 1961, and after making a name for himself in Europe, premiered in the U.S. in a 1965 performance of Lucia di Lammermoor. The rotund tenor became a true U.S. sensation in 1978, when his debut at the Metropolitan Opera was broadcast live on PBS.

While hardcore opera aficionados still breathlessly recall a 1972 performance of Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment during which the tenor tossed off nine high C's, for sports fans around the world his signature aria, "Nessun dorma" (from Puccini's opera Tosca) is now forever associated with soccer's World Cup, thanks to Pavarotti's appearance at the 1990 Games.

As a recording artist, the tenor had stunning success. Over the course of his career, he was featured on some 110 releases, including 18 albums that reached No. 1 on the Billboard Classical Chart.

Pavarotti shared a particular triumph with Carreras and Domingo in a 1990 performance in Rome that gave birth to the Three Tenors concept, in which opera selections were alternated with more light-hearted fare. Both the audio and video versions of that performance, which the trio repeated on tour for years after, sold in the millions, far surpassing any previous classically oriented recordings. A 1994 live album, recorded at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, peaked at No. 4 on The Billboard 200.

In 1995, Pavarotti turned heads by collaborating with Irish rock band U2 and producer Brian Eno for the track "Miss Sarajevo," which was released under the moniker "Passengers."

Pavrotti's last album, 2003's "Ti Adoro," was a more pop-oriented affair that featured an homage to tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921), with whom he was frequently compared. "In Caruso's day, every line had to rhyme," Pavarotti told Billboard in 2003. "So always there were more trivial ideas, rhyming 'amore' [love] with 'cuore' [heart]. These were noble sentiments, but staple ideas of the genre. But here, now, there is more drama. Love is there, always, but there are more surprises, more kinds of stories."

Pavarotti gave his last opera performance on March 13, 2004, at the New York Metropolitan Opera. He sang the role of Cavaradossi in Tosca, after which he received a 12-minute standing ovation. In December of that year, he embarked on a farewell tour, but many dates were scrapped due to his failing health.

He was healthy enough to sing at the 2006 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Turin, Italy, but required surgery that July to remove a pancreatic tumor. He made no public appearances after that time.

In the 2003 Billboard interview, Pavarotti was asked whether he planned to still make the occasional performance as the concert element of his career wound down. "Maybe once I retire," he mused, "I'll sing in the shower. I've never done that before."

Pavarotti is survived by wife Nicoletta Mantovani, four daughters and a granddaughter.