- Born in October
Who hasn’t heard of Luciano Pavarotti, a man who was larger than life during one that was a prolific span of opera performances, television appearances and finally the stage as the First of the Three Tenors?
Pavarotti was revered as one of the finest opera singers the 20th century has ever produced. With a voice that could soar to the highest octave and remain as pure of tone without wavering, he, with his ebullient personality, became so well known, the world grieved when he died in Modena in north-central Italy in 2007 at age 71. But not before he left an operatic legacy.
On 12th October 1935, Luciano became the son of Fernando Pavarotti, a baker who was also a tenor although an amateur and his wife, a factory worker, Adele Venturi. He co-inhabited a two room apartment with three other members of his family until WWII drove the family out of the city in 1943. They would rent a single room from a neighbouring countryside farmer for the following year and it was here, Luciano developed an interest in farming.
But, he would follow a stronger passion for singing and spent 7 years perfecting his voice as he filled his home with tuneful melodies. Although influenced by Enrico Caruso, Pavarotti’s favourite was Guiseppe Di Stefano but when he returned home from watching Mario Lanza on the silver screen in the threatre, he would emulate him in the mirror. When he was 9 he sang with his father in the local church choir and according to Pavarotti during an interview, he often wondered why his father rejected the possibility of a singing career. He later learned Fernando was fearful of his nerves. They would surely let him down.
Pavarotti enjoyed a typical childhood with an interest in football but when he graduated from the Scuola Magistrale, without an idea of career choice, he became easily influenced when his mother convinced him to become a teacher. He followed that path for two years only. His interests lay elsewhere and when he advised his father his intention was to become a singer, Fernando consented but it was with reluctance.
Luciano began to seriously study music in 1954. He was 19 whilst under the direction of Arrigo Pola, a professional tenor and teacher who taught him without remuneration. It was during these formative years that Pavarotti held part-time jobs and even became an insurance salesman. He never learned to read music but in 1955 when he sang as a member of the Corale Rossini, a choir comprising all male voices which also included his father, they won first prize at the International Eisteddfod in Llangollen, Wales. It was the turning point in his life and it inspired him to follow through and become a professional singer. It was also at this time he met and married Adua Veroni in 1961.
He began his career as a tenor in small Italian opera houses and in the April of the same year made his debut as Rodolfo in La bohème at the Teatro Municipale in Reggio Emilia. He would make his first international appearance in Belgrade Yugoslavia. By 1963 he had debuted at the Vienna State Opera. His career was rolling now and he sang in Dundalk, Ireland for the St. Cecilia’s Gramophone Society and the Royal Opera House where he appeared as Rodolfo, standing in for Giuseppe Di Stefano.
[Dame] Joan Sutherland sought a young tenor who was taller than she, one she and her husband could take to Australia Pavarotti fit the bill and with an undeniable presence would be the one who would accompany them. Together, Sutherland and Pavarotti sang in more than forty performances over a two month period. It was Sutherland who taught Pavarotti how to use the breathing technique which preserved him throughout his singing career. And it was with Sutherland that Pavarotti captured the imagination of London’s Covent Garden and the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1972.
He was the Voice and every one of his performances was powerful and kept very much in the tradition of the Italian tenor. He became internationally known as a concert performer and when he joined with Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras, the world came to appreciate the classical music The Three Tenors provided. Every concert was a sell-out and the level of attendance of the masses had never been witnessed before. He brought significant presence to stages he shared with Eric Clapton, U2, the Spice Girls and Celine Dion.
He worked alongside Bono during the Bosnian War and collected humanitarian aid; he helped the late Princess Diana raise funds to assist in the ban of landmines worldwide and was later granted Freedom of The City Of London. He became a Red Cross Award recipient for Services to Humanity and finally, performed his signature song “Nessun Dorma” during the opening of the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy in February 2006. It was to be his final performance.
Somehow fittingly, he received the longest standing ovation from an adoring international yet unsuspecting audience. It was later revealed that Pavarotti had turned down the invitation to sing several times, ever aware it would have been near impossible for him to sing in sub-zero temperatures during a February night in Turin. Frozen air would have taken away his breath, literally. Instead, he was persuaded to pre-record the song which he had done three weeks earlier.
On the night of the opening performance, as Luciano Pavarotti, shoulders enshrouded with a cloak and his signature white handkerchief in hand, stood on the massive stage, the orchestra pretended to play for the audience, the conductor pretended to conduct and Luciano pretended to sing. It was a smash and the audience applauded. It would be the longest, loudest, most adoring standing ovation the operatic world had ever seen.
Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer which he fought for twelve months, he underwent surgery, but his final curtain fell when Pavarotti died in Modena on September 6, 2007. He had left behind four daughters, three of whom he had fathered with his first wife, his youngest with his second wife, Nicolette Mantovani and a granddaughter.
He received his final standing ovation after the recording of “Panis Angelicus” he and his father had made in 1978. Whilst that song filled the silent reaches of the cathedral, the ovation of over 700 attendees continued. A black hearse bearing the body of Pavarotti rolled slowly down the streets past applauding, grieving mourners and he was laid to rest at Montale Rangone where his parents and his still born son Riccardo are interred.