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Luciano Pavarotti (October 12, 1935 – September 6, 2007) was an Italian tenor and one of the most popular contemporary vocal performers in the world of opera and across multiple musical genres. Known for his televised concerts, and as one of the Three Tenors, Pavarotti was also noted for his award-winning charity work for raising money on behalf of refugees and the Red Cross.
Luciano Pavarotti was born on the outskirts of Modena in north-central Italy, the son of Fernando Pavarotti, a baker and singer, 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 neighboring countryside, where young Pavarotti developed an interest in farming.
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. At around the age of nine he began singing with his father in a small local church choir. Also in his youth he had a few voice lessons with a Professor Dondi and his wife, but he ascribed little significance to them.
After what appears to have been a normal childhood with a typical interest in sports — in Pavarotti's case football (soccer) above all — he graduated from the Schola Magistrale and faced the dilemma of a career choice. He was interested in pursuing a career as a professional soccer player, 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. Recognizing the risk involved, his father gave his consent only reluctantly, the agreement being that Pavarotti would be given free room and board until age 30, after which time, if he had not succeeded, he would earn a living by any means that he could.
Pavarotti began serious study in 1954 at the age of 19 with Arrigo Pola, a respected teacher and professional tenor in Modena who, aware of the family's indigence, offered to teach without remuneration. Not until commencing study with Pola was Pavarotti aware that he had perfect pitch. At about this time Pavarotti met Adua Veroni, who also was an opera singer; the couple married in 1961. When Pola moved to Japan 2½ years later, Pavarotti became a student of Ettore Campogalliani, who was also teaching Pavarotti's childhood friend, the now well-known soprano Mirella Freni. During his years of study Pavarotti held part-time jobs in order to help sustain himself — first as an elementary school teacher and then, when he failed at that, as an insurance salesman.
The first six years of study resulted in nothing more tangible than a few recitals, all in small towns and all without pay. When a nodule developed on his vocal chords 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."
Pavarotti made his opera début in the role of Rodolfo in La bohème on April 29, 1961 in the town of Reggio Emilia. 1963 saw the debut of the famous Franco Zeffirelli production, conducted by Herbert Von Karajan with Mirella Freni singing Mimi and Pavarotti in the role of Rodolfo. This production played in Milan, Vienna, Salzburg and Moscow and dominated the repertoire for decades. He 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 was ill and had 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 April 28, Pavarotti made his La Scala debut in La bohème. After an extended Australian tour he returned to La Scala where he added Tebaldo from I Capuleti e i Montecchi to his repertoire on March 26, 1966, with Giacomo Aragall as Romeo. His first appearance as Tonio in Pagliacci took place at Covent Garden on June 2 of that year.
He scored another major triumph in Rome on November 20, 1969 when he sang I Lombardi opposite Renata Scotto. This was recorded on a private label and widely distributed, as were various takes of his I Capuleti e i Montecchi, usually with Aragall. Early commercial recordings included a recital of Donizetti and Verdi arias (the aria from Don Sebastiano was particularly highly regarded), as well as a complete L'elisir d'amore with Sutherland. His major breakthrough in the United States came on February 17, 1972, in a production of Donizetti's 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 17 curtain calls. From then on he began to make frequent television performances, such as in his role as Rodolfo (La bohème) in the first Live From The Met telecast in March of 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 favorita with Fiorenza Cossotto and his I puritani with Sutherland stand out.
He made his international recital début at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri in 1973 as part of the college’s Fine Arts Program, now known as the Harriman-Jewell Series. Perspiring before the debut, he asked for a handkerchief to hold while on stage. The prop was a signature part of his act ever since.
At the beginning of the 1980s, he set up The Pavarotti International Voice Competition for young singers, performing with the winners in 1982 in excerpts of La bohème and L'elisir d'amore. The second competition in 1986 staged excerpts of La bohème and Un ballo in maschera. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of his career he brought the winners of the competition to Italy for gala performances of La bohème in Modena and Genoa and then to China where they staged performances of La bohème in Beijing. To conclude the visit, Pavarotti performed the first ever concert in the Great Hall of the People before 10,000 people, receiving a standing ovation for nine effortless high Cs. The third competition in 1989 again staged performances of L'elisir d'amore and Un ballo in maschera. The winners of the fifth competition accompanied Pavarotti in performances in Philadelphia in 1997.
Pavarotti's pivotal step in becoming an internationally known celebrity occurred in 1990 when his rendition of Giacomo Puccini's aria, "Nessun Dorma" from Turandot, became the theme song of the BBC TV coverage of the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy. The aria achieved pop status and has, to date, 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. 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 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, Three Tenors concerts were held during the Football World Cups; in Los Angeles in 1994, in Paris in 1998, and in Yokohama in 2002.
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 December 12, 1998 he became the first (and, so far, 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.
In 1998, Pavarotti was presented with the Grammy Legend Award. Given only on special occasions, it has only been awarded 15 times since its first presentation in 1990 (as of 2007).
In 2002 Pavarotti split with his manager of 36 years Herbert Breslin. The breakup, which was acrimonious, was followed in 2004 with the publication of a book by Breslin entitled The King & I, seen by many as sensationalist and largely critical of the singer's acting (in opera), his ability to read music and learn parts, and of his personal conduct, although acknowledging their mutual success. In an interview in 2005 with Jeremy Paxman on the BBC, Pavarotti rejected the allegation that he could not read music, although acknowledging he sometimes had difficulty following orchestral parts.
He received Kennedy Center Honors in 2001 and holds two Guinness World Records: for receiving the most curtain calls — at 165 — and for the best selling classical album (this album is In Concert by The Three Tenors and is thus shared by fellow tenors, Plácido Domingo and José Carreras).
In 2003 he released his final compilation, Ti Adoro, which has Pavarotti singing in more of a "popera" style.
On 13 December 2003 he married his former personal assistant, Nicoletta Mantovani, with whom he already had a daughter, Alice. He started his farewell tour in 2004, at the age of 69, performing one last time in old and new locations, after over four decades on the stage.
Pavarotti gave his last performance in an opera at the New York Metropolitan Opera on March 13, 2004 for which he received a 12-minute standing ovation for his role as the painter Mario Cavaradossi in Giacomo Puccini's Tosca. On December 1, 2004, he announced a 40-city farewell tour to be produced by Harvey Goldsmith.
In March 2005, Pavarotti underwent neck surgery to repair two vertebrae. In June of the same year, he had to cancel a Three Tenors concert in Mexico due to laryngitis.
In early 2006, he had back surgery and contracted an infection while in the hospital, forcing cancellation of concerts in the U.S., Canada and the UK.
On February 10, 2006, Pavarotti sang "Nessun Dorma" at the 2006 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony in Turin, Italy. The final act of the opening ceremony, his performance received the longest and loudest ovation of the night from the international crowd.
Film and television
Pavarotti's one venture into film, a romantic comedy called Yes, Giorgio (1982), was roundly panned by the critics. He can be seen to better advantage in Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's adaptation of Rigoletto for television, released that same year, or in his more than 20 live opera performances taped for television between 1978 and 1994, most of them with the Metropolitan Opera, and most available on DVD.
Decline and death
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Opera singer Luciano Pavarotti dead at 71
Pavarotti was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July 2006 and required emergency surgery to remove the tumor. Shortly after surgery he was reported to be "recovering well." His remaining appearances for 2006 were canceled because of his ongoing cancer treatment; however, his management stated that it was anticipated that his farewell tour would resume in early 2007.
On Thursday, August 9, 2007, he was hospitalized for observation in his hometown of Modena, in Northern Italy, hospital officials there said. Hospital spokesman Alberto Greco declined to give the reason the 71-year-old tenor was hospitalized, but local daily Il Resto del Carlino reported that it was pneumonia. Announcement of his "imminent release" was made on August 15, 2007, but with no date cited. The report stated that he planned to return to recording his "sacred songs" and teaching his young pupils. On August 21, it was announced that he was being treated in the cancer ward, given tests related to his pancreatic cancer, and would not be released for another few days.
On September 5, 2007, Italy's AGI news agency reported that Luciano Pavarotti's health had deteriorated and the 71-year-old singer was in a "very serious condition". He was reported to be in and out of consciousness multiple times, suffering kidney failure.
Luciano Pavarotti died the morning of September 6, 2007 at home in Modena, Italy where he was surrounded by his wife and three older daughters. In an email statement, his manager, Terri Robson, wrote, "The Maestro fought a long, tough battle against the pancreatic cancer which eventually took his life. In fitting with the approach that characterized his life and work, he remained positive until finally succumbing to the last stages of his illness." In a text message to Reuters, Robson confirmed: "Luciano Pavarotti died one hour ago".
The Vienna State Opera and the Salzburg Festival Hall flew black flags in mourning. London's Royal Opera House issued a statement saying, "He was one of those rare artists who affected the lives of people across the globe, in all walks of life. Through his countless broadcasts, recordings and concerts, he introduced the extraordinary power of opera to people who perhaps would never have encountered opera and classical singing. In doing so, he enriched their lives. That will be his legacy."
Pavarotti's mother, Adele Venturi Pavarotti, died in 2002, aged 86. His father, Fernando, died less than five months later, aged 89.
Pavarotti is survived by four daughters: three with first wife Adua - Lorenza, Cristina and Giuliana; one with second wife Nicoletta Mantovani, who gave birth to Alice in January 2003. He has one granddaughter.
Pavarotti annually hosted the "Pavarotti and Friends" charity concerts in his home town of Modena in Italy, joining with singers from all parts of the music industry to raise money for several worthy UN causes. Concerts were held for War Child, and victims of war and civil unrest in Bosnia, Guatemala, Kosovo and Iraq. After the war in Bosnia, he financed and established the Pavarotti Music Center in the southern city of Mostar to offer Bosnia's artists the opportunity to develop their skills. For these contributions, the city of Sarajevo named him an honorary citizen in 2006.
He performed at benefit concerts to raise money for victims of tragedies such as an earthquake in December 1988 that killed 25,000 people in northern Armenia.
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, as he felt he could not sing well "with his grief in his throat".
In 1998, he was appointed the United Nation's 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 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 US$1.5 million, more than any other individual.
Other awards he received for charity work 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.