Luciano Pavarotti, Cavaliere di Gran Croce OMRI (Italian pronunciation: [luˈtʃano pavaˈrɔtti]; 12 October 1935 – 6 September 2007) was an Italian operatic tenor who also crossed over into popular music, eventually becoming one of the most commercially successful tenors of all time. He made numerous recordings of complete operas and individual arias, gaining worldwide fame for the brilliance and beauty of his tone—especially into the upper register—and eventually established himself as one of the finest tenors of the 20th century.
As one of the Three Tenors, Pavarotti became well known for his televised concerts and media appearances. From the beginning of his professional career as a tenor in 1961 in Italy to his final performance of "Nessun dorma" at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Pavarotti was at his best in bel canto operas, pre-Aida Verdi roles, and Puccini works such as La bohème, Tosca, and Madama Butterfly. Pavarotti was also noted for his charity work on behalf of refugees and the Red Cross, amongst others. He died from pancreatic cancer on 6 September 2007.
Luciano Pavarotti was born in 1935 on the outskirts of Modena in Northern Italy, the son of Fernando Pavarotti, a baker and amateur tenor, and Adele Venturi, a cigar factory worker. Although he spoke fondly of his childhood, the family had little money; its four members were crowded into a two-room apartment. According to Pavarotti, his father had a fine tenor voice but rejected the possibility of a singing career because of nervousness. World War II forced the family out of the city in 1943. For the following year they rented a single room from a farmer in the neighbouring countryside, where the young Pavarotti developed an interest in farming.
After abandoning the dream of becoming a football goalkeeper, Pavarotti spent seven years in vocal training. Pavarotti's earliest musical influences were his father's recordings, most of them featuring the popular tenors of the day – Beniamino Gigli, Giovanni Martinelli, Tito Schipa, and Enrico Caruso. Pavarotti's favourite tenor and idol was Giuseppe Di Stefano and he was also deeply influenced by Mario Lanza, saying: "In my teens I used to go to Mario Lanza movies and then come home and imitate him in the mirror". At around the age of nine he began singing with his father in a small local church choir.
After what appears to have been a normal childhood with a typical interest in sports—in Pavarotti's case football above all, he graduated from the Scuola Magistrale and faced the dilemma of a career choice. He was interested in pursuing a career as a professional football goalkeeper, but his mother convinced him to train as a teacher. He subsequently taught in an elementary school for two years but finally allowed his interest in music to win out. Recognising the risk involved, his father gave his consent only reluctantly.
Pavarotti began the serious study of music in 1954 at the age of 19 with Arrigo Pola, a respected teacher and professional tenor in Modena who offered to teach him without remuneration.
According to conductor Richard Bonynge, Pavarotti never learned to read music.
In 1955, he experienced his first singing success when he was a member of the Corale Rossini, a male voice choir from Modena that also included his father, which won first prize at the International Eisteddfod in Llangollen, Wales. He later said that this was the most important experience of his life, and that it inspired him to become a professional singer. At about this time Pavarotti first met Adua Veroni. They married in 1961.
When his teacher Arrigo Pola moved to Japan, Pavarotti became a student of Ettore Campogalliani, who at that time was also teaching Pavarotti's childhood friend, Mirella Freni, whose mother worked with Luciano's mother in the cigar factory. Like Pavarotti, Freni was destined to operatic greatness; they were to share the stage many times and make memorable recordings together.
During his years of musical study, Pavarotti held part-time jobs in order to sustain himself – first as an elementary school teacher and then as an insurance salesman. The first six years of study resulted in only a few recitals, all in small towns and without pay. When a nodule developed on his vocal cords, causing a "disastrous" concert in Ferrara, he decided to give up singing. Pavarotti attributed his immediate improvement to the psychological release connected with this decision. Whatever the reason, the nodule not only disappeared but, as he related in his autobiography: "Everything I had learned came together with my natural voice to make the sound I had been struggling so hard to achieve".
While generally successful, Pavarotti's early roles did not immediately propel him into the stardom that he would later enjoy. An early coup involved his connection with Joan Sutherland (and her conductor husband, Richard Bonynge), who in 1963 had sought a young tenor taller than herself to take along on her tour to Australia. With his commanding physical presence, Pavarotti proved ideal. The two sang some forty performances over two months, and Pavarotti later credited Sutherland for the breathing technique that would sustain him over his career.
Pavarotti made his American début with the Greater Miami Opera in February 1965, singing in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor opposite Joan Sutherland on the stage of the Miami-Dade County Auditorium in Miami. The tenor scheduled to perform that night became ill with no understudy. As Sutherland was traveling with him on tour, she recommended the young Pavarotti as he was well acquainted with the role.
Shortly after, on 28 April, Pavarotti made his La Scala debut in the revival of the famous Franco Zeffirelli production of La bohème, with his childhood friend Mirella Freni singing Mimi and Herbert von Karajan conducting. Karajan had requested the singer's engagement. After an extended Australian tour, he returned to La Scala, where he added Tebaldo from I Capuleti e i Montecchi to his repertoire on 26 March 1966, with Giacomo Aragall as Romeo. His first appearance as Tonio in Donizetti's La fille du régiment took place at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on 2 June of that year. It was his performances of this role that would earn him the title of "King of the High Cs".
He scored another major triumph in Rome on 20 November 1969 when he sang in I Lombardi opposite Renata Scotto. This was recorded on a private label and widely distributed, as were various recordings of his I Capuleti e i Montecchi, usually with Aragall. Early commercial recordings included a recital of Donizetti (the aria from Don Sebastiano were particularly highly regarded) and Verdi arias, as well as a complete L'elisir d'amore with Sutherland.
His major breakthrough in the United States came on 17 February 1972, in a production of La fille du régiment at New York's Metropolitan Opera, in which he drove the crowd into a frenzy with his nine effortless high Cs in the signature aria. He achieved a record seventeen curtain calls.
Pavarotti sang his international recital début at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, on 1 February 1973, as part of the college's Fine Arts Program, now known as the Harriman-Jewell Series. Perspiring due to nerves and a lingering cold, the tenor clutched a handkerchief throughout the début. The prop became a signature part of his solo performances.
He began to give frequent television performances, starting with his performances as Rodolfo (La bohème) in the first Live from the Met telecast in March 1977, which attracted one of the largest audiences ever for a televised opera. He won many Grammy awards and platinum and gold discs for his performances. In addition to the previously listed titles, his La favorite with Fiorenza Cossotto and his I puritani (1975) with Sutherland stand out.
In 1976, Pavarotti debuted at the Salzburg Festival, appearing in a solo recital on 31 July, accompanied by pianist Leone Magiera. Pavarotti returned to the festival in 1978 with a recital and as the Italian singer in Der Rosenkavalier in 1983 with Idomeneo, and both in 1985 and 1988 with solo recitals.
In 1979, he was profiled in a cover story in the weekly magazine Time. That same year saw Pavarotti's return to the Vienna State Opera after an absence of fourteen years. With Herbert von Karajan conducting, Pavarotti sang Manrico in Il trovatore. In 1978, he appeared in a solo recital on Live from Lincoln Center.
In the mid-1980s, Pavarotti returned to two opera houses that had provided him with important breakthroughs, the Vienna State Opera and La Scala. Vienna saw Pavarotti as Rodolfo in La bohème with Carlos Kleiber conducting and again Mirella Freni was Mimi; as Nemorino in L'elisir d'amore; as Radames in Aida conducted by Lorin Maazel; as Rodolfo in Luisa Miller; and as Gustavo in Un ballo in maschera conducted by Claudio Abbado. In 1996, Pavarotti appeared for the last time at the Staatsoper in Andrea Chénier.
In 1985, Pavarotti sang Radames at La Scala opposite Maria Chiara in a Luca Ronconi production conducted by Maazel, recorded on video. His performance of the aria "Celeste Aida" received a two-minute ovation on the opening night. He was reunited with Mirella Freni for the San Francisco Opera production of La bohème in 1988, also recorded on video. In 1992, La Scala saw Pavarotti in a new Zeffirelli production of Don Carlos, conducted by Riccardo Muti. Pavarotti's performance was heavily criticized by some observers and booed by parts of the audience.
Pavarotti became even better known throughout the world in 1990 when his rendition of the aria "Nessun Dorma" from Giacomo Puccini's Turandot was taken as the theme song of BBC's TV coverage of the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy. The aria achieved pop status and remained his trademark song. This was followed by the hugely successful Three Tenors concert, held on the eve of the World Cup final at the ancient Baths of Caracalla in Rome with fellow tenors Plácido Domingo and José Carreras and conductor Zubin Mehta, which became the biggest selling classical record of all time. A highlight of the concert, in which Pavarotti hammed up a famous portion of di Capua's "O Sole Mio" and was mimicked by Domingo and Carreras to the delight of the audience, became one of the most memorable moments in contemporary operatic history. Throughout the 1990s, Pavarotti appeared in many well-attended outdoor concerts, including his televised concert in London's Hyde Park, which drew a record attendance of 150,000. In June 1993, more than 500,000 listeners gathered for his free performance on the Great Lawn of New York's Central Park, while millions more around the world watched on television. The following September, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, he sang for an estimated crowd of 300,000. Following on from the original 1990 concert, the Three Tenors concerts were held during the Football World Cups: in Los Angeles in 1994, in Paris in 1998, and in Yokohama in 2002.
In 1995, Pavarotti's friends, the singer Lara Saint Paul (as Lara Cariaggi) and her husband showman Pier Quinto Cariaggi, who had produced and organised Pavarotti's 1990 FIFA World Cup Celebration Concert at the PalaTrussardi in Milan, produced and wrote the television documentary The Best is Yet to Come, an extensive biography about the life of Pavarotti. Lara Saint Paul was the interviewer for the documentary with Pavarotti, who spoke candidly about his life and career.
Pavarotti's rise to stardom was not without occasional difficulties, however. He earned a reputation as "The King of Cancellations" by frequently backing out of performances, and his unreliable nature led to poor relationships with some opera houses. This was brought into focus in 1989 when Ardis Krainik of the Lyric Opera of Chicago severed the house's 15-year relationship with the tenor. Over an eight-year period, Pavarotti had cancelled 26 out of 41 scheduled appearances at the Lyric, and the decisive move by Krainik to ban him for life was well noted throughout the opera world, after the performer walked away from a season premiere less than two weeks before rehearsals began, saying pain from a sciatic nerve required two months of treatment.
On 12 December 1998, he became the first (and, to date, only) opera singer to perform on Saturday Night Live, singing alongside Vanessa L. Williams. He also sang with U2 in the band's 1995 song "Miss Sarajevo" and with Mercedes Sosa in a big concert at the Boca Juniors arena La Bombonera in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1999.
In 1998, Pavarotti was presented with the Grammy Legend Award.
Luciano Pavarotti performing on 15 June 2002 at a concert in the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille
He received an enormous number of awards and honours, including Kennedy Center Honors in 2001. He also holds two Guinness World Records: one for receiving the most curtain calls (165) and another for the best-selling classical album (In Concert by the Three Tenors; the latter record is thus shared by fellow tenors Plácido Domingo and José Carreras).
In late 2003, he released his final compilation—and his first and only "crossover" album, Ti Adoro. Most of the 13 songs were written and produced by Michele Centonze, who had already helped produce the "Pavarotti & Friends" concerts between 1998 and 2000. The tenor described the album as a wedding gift to Nicoletta Mantovani. That same year he was made a Commander of Monaco's Order of Cultural Merit.
Pavarotti began his farewell tour in 2004, at the age of 69, performing one last time in old and new locations, after more than four decades on the stage. On 13 March 2004, Pavarotti gave his last performance in an opera at the New York Metropolitan Opera, for which he received a long standing ovation for his role as the painter Mario Cavaradossi in Giacomo Puccini's Tosca. On 1 December 2004, he announced a 40-city farewell tour. Pavarotti and his manager, Terri Robson, commissioned impresario Harvey Goldsmith to produce the Worldwide Farewell Tour. His last full-scale performance was at the end of a two-month Australasian tour in Taiwan in December 2005.
In March 2005, Pavarotti underwent neck surgery to repair two vertebrae. In early 2006, he underwent further back surgery and contracted an infection while in the hospital in New York, forcing cancellation of concerts in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.
On 10 February 2006, Pavarotti sang "Nessun Dorma" at the 2006 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Turin, Italy, at his final performance. In the last act of the opening ceremony, his performance received the longest and loudest ovation of the night from the international crowd. Leone Magiera, who directed the performance, revealed in his 2008 memoirs, Pavarotti Visto da Vicino, that the performance was prerecorded weeks earlier. "The orchestra pretended to play for the audience, I pretended to conduct and Luciano pretended to sing. The effect was wonderful," he wrote. Pavarotti's manager, Terri Robson, said that the tenor had turned the Winter Olympic Committee's invitation down several times because it would have been impossible to sing late at night in the subzero conditions of Turin in February. The committee eventually persuaded him to take part by prerecording the song.
He received the America Award in memory of the Italy-USA Foundation in 2013.
He performed at benefit concerts to raise money for victims of tragedies such as the Spitak earthquake that killed 25,000 people in northern Armenia in December 1988, and sang Gounod's Ave Maria with legendary French pop music star and ethnic Armenian Charles Aznavour.
He was a close friend of Diana, Princess of Wales. They raised money for the elimination of land mines worldwide. He was invited to sing at her funeral service, but declined to sing, as he felt he could not sing well "with his grief in his throat". Nonetheless, he attended the service.
In 1998, he was appointed the United Nations Messenger of Peace, using his fame to raise awareness of UN issues, including the Millennium Development Goals, HIV/AIDS, child rights, urban slums and poverty.
In 1999, Pavarotti performed a charity benefit concert in Beirut, to mark Lebanon's reemergence on the world stage after a brutal 15 year civil war. The largest concert held in Beirut since the end of the war, it was attended by 20,000 people who travelled from countries as distant as Saudi Arabia and Bulgaria.
In 2001, Pavarotti received the Nansen Medal from the UN High Commission for Refugees for his efforts raising money on behalf of refugees worldwide. Through benefit concerts and volunteer work, he has raised more than any other individual.
Other honours he received include the "Freedom of London Award" and The Red Cross "Award for Services to Humanity", for his work in raising money for that organization, and the 1998 "MusiCares Person of the Year", given to humanitarian heroes by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
He was a National Patron of Delta Omicron, an international professional music fraternity.
Pavarotti's funeral was held in Modena Cathedral. The then Prime Minister Romano Prodi and Kofi Annan attended. The Frecce Tricolori, the aerobatic demonstration team of the Italian Air Force, flew overhead, leaving green-white-red smoke trails. After a funeral procession through the centre of Modena, Pavarotti's coffin was taken the final ten kilometres to Montale Rangone, a village part of Castelnuovo Rangone, and was entombed in the Pavarotti family crypt. The funeral, in its entirety, was also telecast live on CNN. The Vienna State Opera and the Salzburg Festival Hall flew black flags in mourning. Tributes were published by many opera houses, such as London's Royal Opera House. The Italian football giant Juventus F.C., of which Pavarotti was a lifelong fan, was represented at the funeral and posted a farewell message on its website which said: "Ciao Luciano, black-and-white heart" referring to the team's famous striped shirt.