Opera + Classical Music Features

Obituary: Luciano Pavarotti, 1935-2007



Luciano Pavarotti, or Fat Lucy as he was affectionately known, as the world’s most instantly recognisable opera singer, has lost his battle with pancreatic cancer, dying peacefully at home in the early hours of this morning. He was truly a phenomenon. Not only did he possess the only true Italian lyric spinto voice of his generation, but in the last few decades of the 20th century became a household name to millions across the globe.

I can think of no other opera singer who could fill Wembley Stadium, and whilst purists would often turn their noses up at the sheer audacity of these undertakings, he made a lot of people happy. True, I doubt many in the audience would sit through an opera at Covent Garden, but he was the real thing, unlike Russell Watson and his ilk.

He bestrode the stages of the world’s opera houses like a behemoth for over forty years and whilst he was prone in later years to cancellations, nothing could detract from the fact he had the securest technique and thrilling line of any Italian tenor currently before the public.

Although he appeared in all the major opera house around the world, he made many appearances at the Royal Opera and the audience’s love affair with him was considered mutual.

He shot to stardom when he replaced an ailing Giuseppe di Stefano in performances of La Boheme in 1963. Over the next four decades he sang a further nine roles for the house including Alfredo (La Traviata), Gustavus (Un Ballo in Maschera and Luisa Miller) Tonio (La Filled du Regiment) the Duke of Mantua (Rigoletto) and Cavaradossi (Tosca). Indeed his last performances at the Garden were in the latter role, as they were at the Metropolitan Opera New York, in 2006.

In a statement from the Royal Opera House, Music Director Antonio Pappano said:

“We count ourselves lucky at the Royal Opera House to have had wonderful farewell performances from him in January 2002 when he sang in Tosca, despite the death of his own mother in the final stages of rehearsals. The applause on those evenings was probably the most moving and heartfelt in the history of The Royal Opera.

“He had a unique ability to touch people with the emotional and brilliant quality of his voice. He was a man with the most extraordinary gift but with the ability to contact with anyone. He will be truly missed by millions.”

Pavarotti was born in Modena, Italy and made his professional stage debut on April 29, 1961 in Reggio Emilia as Rodolfo in La Boheme (with Mirella Freni as his Mimi). This was to become his signature role as he made his debuts at La Scala, Milan (1965 again with Freni, conducted by Karajan) and the New York Metropolitan (1968) as Puccini’s lovelorn poet.

He went on to sing in all the major opera houses of the world performing a repertoire, whilst small, yet in which he was peerless.

In later years he set up a special annual charity concert in his home town of Modena in aid of War Child and shared with the stage as such luminaries as Sir Elton John, Liza Minnelli, Ricky Martin and The Spice Girls.

He underwent cancer surgery in July 2006, following what proved to be his final performances in New York a few months earlier.

A statement from his manager Terri Robson said that the tenor died at 0500 local time (0400 BST) on Thursday.

“The Maestro fought a long, tough battle against the pancreatic cancer which eventually took his life,” she said. “In fitting with the approach that characterised his life and work, he remained positive until finally succumbing to the last stages of his illness.”

And one thing’s for sure as the old axiom goes: We shall not see his like again.

• Luciano Pavarotti born October 12 1935 died Sept 6 2007


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Obituary: Luciano Pavarotti, 1935-2007