Italian tenor Pavarotti dies at age 71

(AP)
Updated: 2007-09-06 14:01

 
Tenor Luciano Pavarotti performs during the opening ceremony for
the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, in this Feb.[AP]

 

Luciano Pavarotti, whose vibrant high C's and ebullient showmanship made him the most beloved and celebrated tenor since Caruso and one of the few opera singers to win crossover fame as a popular superstar, died Thursday. He was 71.

His manager, Terri Robson, told the AP in an e-mailed statement that Pavarotti died at his home in Modena, Italy, at 5 a.m. local time. Pavarotti had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year and underwent further treatment in August.

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

For serious fans, the unforced beauty and thrilling urgency of Pavarotti's voice made him the ideal interpreter of the Italian lyric repertory, especially in the 1960s and '70s when he first achieved stardom. For millions more, his charismatic performances of standards like "Nessun Dorma" from Puccini's "Turandot" came to represent what opera is all about.

In fact, "Nessun Dorma" was Pavarotti's last performance, sung at at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, in February 2006. His last full-scale concert was in Taipei in, December 2005.

It was the second monumental loss in the opera world in recent months. American soprano Beverly Sills, whose widespread popularity mirrored Pavarotti's, died July 2 at her home in New York. She was 78 and suffered from cancer.

Instantly recognizable from his charcoal black beard and tuxedo-busting girth, Pavarotti radiated an intangible magic that helped him win hearts in a way Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras — his partners in the "Three Tenors" concerts — never quite could.

"I always admired the God-given glory of his voice — that unmistakable special timbre from the bottom up to the very top of the tenor range," Domingo said in a statement from Los Angeles.

"I also loved his wonderful sense of humor and on several occasions of our concerts with Jose Carreras — the so-called Three Tenors concerts — we had trouble remembering that we were giving a concert before a paying audience, because we had so much fun between ourselves," he said.

Pavarotti, who seemed equally at ease singing with soprano Joan Sutherland as with the Spice Girls, scoffed at accusations that he was sacrificing his art in favor of commercialism.

"The word commercial is exactly what we want," he said, after appearing in the widely publicized "Three Tenors" concerts. "We've reached 1.5 billion people with opera. If you want to use the word commercial, or something more derogatory, we don't care. Use whatever you want."

In the annals of that rare and coddled breed, the operatic tenor, it may well be said the 20th century began with Enrico Caruso and ended with Pavarotti. Other tenors — Domingo included — may have drawn more praise from critics for their artistic range and insights, but none could equal the combination of natural talent and personal charm that so endeared Pavarotti to audiences.

"Pavarotti is the biggest superstar of all," the late New York Times music critic Harold Schonberg once said. "He's correspondingly more spoiled than anybody else. They think they can get away with anything. Thanks to the glory of his voice, he probably can."

In his heyday, he was known as the "King of the High C's" for the ease with which he tossed off difficult top notes. In fact it was his ability to hit nine glorious high C's in quick succession that first turned him into an international superstar singing Tonio's aria "Ah! Mes amis," in Donizetti's "La Fille du Regiment" at New York's Metropolitan Opera in 1972.

In the 1990s, Pavarotti's teaming with Domingo and Carreras became a music business phenomenon and spawned copycats such as the Three Irish Tenors.

Pavarotti starred in a film called "Yes, Giorgio" (though its failure scuttled his hopes for a Hollywood career) and appeared in a filmed version of "Rigoletto." He wrote an autobiography, "I, Luciano Pavarotti," and made more than 90 recordings.

From Beijing to Buenos Aires, people immediately recognized his incandescent smile and lumbering bulk, clutching a white handkerchief as he sang arias and Neapolitan folk songs, pop numbers and Christmas carols for hundreds of thousands in outdoor concerts.

His name seemed to show up as much in gossip columns as serious music reviews, particularly after he split with Adua Veroni, his wife of 35 years and mother of their three daughters, and then took up with his 26-year-old secretary in 1996.

In late 2003, he married Nicoletta Mantovani in a lavish, star-studded ceremony. Pavarotti said their daughter Alice, nearly a year old at the time of the wedding, was the main reason he and Mantovani finally wed after years together.

In the latter part of his career, some music critics cited what they saw as an increasing tendency toward the vulgar and the commercial.

He came under fire for canceling performances or pandering to the lowest common denominator in his choice of programs, or for the Three Tenors tours and their millions of dollars in fees.

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