King of the High Cs
"I think a life in music is a life well spent and this is what I have devoted myself to." Luciano Pavarotti
Legendary Italian opera tenor Luciano Pavarotti, possibly the most best-known opera singer of his lifetime, earned the title of "King of the High Cs" while performing as Tonio in Gaetano Donizetti's two-act comic opera "La fille du régiment" at the Royal Opera House, in June 1966. He gained his major breakthrough in the United States in February 1972 when the opera was brought to New York's Metropolitan Opera, in which he left the crowd gasping with his nine effortless high Cs in the signature aria that gave him a record 17 curtain calls.
The Maestro, whose rendition of "Nessun Dorma" (from Giacomo Puccini's Turandot) was used as the theme song of the World Cup in 1990 and became a minor hit record (as well as his signature song), cemented his superstar status with successful collaboration concerts with The Three Tenors (with fellow opera greats Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras) at the World Cup concerts in Los Angeles (1994), Paris (1998) and Yokohama (2002). The best-selling classical singer, who has won five Grammy awards and holds two spots in the Guinness Book of World Records, was also known for his humanitarian work.
Pavarotti made his last appearance at New York's Metropolitan Opera House in 2004 before his health began to decline because of pancreatic cancer. After a long and painful battle with the disease, he died at age 71 on September 6, 2007, in his homeland in Modena, Italy. He is survived by four daughters: Lorenza, Cristina, Giuliana (from first wife Adua) and Alice (from second wife Nicoletta Mantovani).
"Learning music by reading about it is like making love by mail." Luciano Pavarotti
Childhood and Family:
Son to a baker father (Fernando) and a tobacco factory employee mother (Adele), Luciano Pavarotti was born on October 12, 1935, in the outskirts of Modena, Emilia-Romagna, in Northern Italy. The first child and only son of the family, Pavarotti, nicknamed Lucianone, Big Luciano, or Big P, had an ordinary childhood and was interested in soccer. He excelled in the sport and earned his first local fame as a member of the town’s soccer team.
Pavarotti's father was also a talented amateur tenor and instilled a love for music and singing in young Luciano. He brought young Pavarotti along to sing in Modena's Corale Rossi. Pavarotti would eventually abandon the dream of becoming a professional soccer goalkeeper and turn his direction to opera after winning the first prize in an international competition in Wales. He graduated from the Schola Magistrale.
While following studies that led him to a teaching position, Pavarotti met his future wife, Adua Veroni. They exchanged wedding vows on September 30, 1961, and had three kids together, Lorenza (born in 1962), Cristina (born in 1964), and Giuliana, (born in 1967). However, after three decades of marriage, Pavarotti left Adua to live with his assistant, Nicoletta Mantovani, who is 35 years his junior. With Nicoletta, Pavarotti has one daughter named Alice (Nicoletta actually bore twins, but due to complications at the time of birth, only one child survived), who was born in January 2003. Pavarotti and Nicoletta eventually married on December 13, 2003, in a song-filled ceremony held in the main theater of the tenor's hometown in northern Italy.
Despite his busy and vocally demanding schedule, Luciano's voice remained in unusually good condition well into middle age, but his health became an issue in the late 1990s as his mobility on-stage was sometimes severely limited because of leg problems. He was admitted to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York to repair two vertebrae in his neck on March 9, 2005, and had become the most-famous living operatic tenor by his 70th birthday on October 12, 2005.
While undertaking an international "farewell tour" in July 2006, Pavarotti was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and underwent major abdominal surgery. He lost the battle against the deadly disease and passed away on September 6, 2007, in his homeland in Modena, Italy.
Pavarotti published two autobiographies, both of which were written with William Wright: “Pavarotti: My Own Story” (1981) and “Pavarotti: My World” (1995). He was a close friend of Princess Diana and a childhood friend of Italian opera soprano Mirella Freni (both her mother and Pavarotti's mother worked in the same cigarette factory in Modena).
"In my teens I used to go to Mario Lanza movies and then come home and imitate him in the mirror." Luciano Pavarotti
Son to a baker and an amateur tenor, Luciano Pavarotti began singing with his father in a small local church choir at age nine. In his youth, Pavarotti abandoned the dream of becoming a professional soccer player and spent seven years in vocal training. In 1954, when he was 19, he began the serious study of music with Arrigo Pola, a respected teacher and professional tenor in his hometown. A huge fan of Giuseppe Di Stefano, Jan Kiepura and Mario Lanza, Pavarotti got his earliest musical influences from his father's recordings, most of them featuring such popular tenors of the day as Beniamino Gigli, Giovanni Martinelli, Tito Schipa and Enrico Caruso.
"Everything I had learned came together with my natural voice to make the sound I had been struggling so hard to achieve." Luciano Pavarotti
In 1955, after winning first prize at the International Eisteddfod in Llangollen, Wales, as a member of the Choral Rossini, a male choir from Modena that also included his father, then-20-year-old Pavarotti decided to pursue his career professionally. He worked on his craft with Ettore Campogalliani, who was also teaching Pavarotti's childhood friend Mirella Freni at that time. He also worked part-time as a primary school teacher and later as an insurance salesman to support himself.
Pavarotti’s first breakthrough came in 1961 when he won an international competition at the Teatro Reggio Emilia. In April that year, he began his career as a professional tenor, appearing as Rodolfo in Giacomo Puccini's four-act opera “La Boheme” at the Teatro Municipale in Reggio Emilia, Italy. He subsequently performed in productions all across Western Europe and eventually landed his London debut in 1963 where he also made his international television debut by appearing at the London Palladium. His reputation grew even more in Britain in 1964 when he sang at the Glyndebourne Festival.
In February 1965, Pavarotti made his American debut with the Greater Miami Opera in a production of Gaetano Donizetti's three-act tragic opera "Lucia di Lammermoor," which marked his first collaboration with soprano diva Joan Sutherland. He would have a turning point in his career during his association with Sutherland as he joined the Sutherland-Williamson company on an Australian tour in 1965, during which time he sang Edgardo to Ms. Sutherland's Lucia. Pavarotti later credited Sutherland's advice, encouragement and example as a major factor in the development of his technique.
After an extended Australian tour, Pavarotti earned the title of "King of the High Cs" while performing in Gaetano Donizetti's two-act "La fille du régiment" at the Royal Opera House on June 2, 1966. His major breakthrough in the United States came on February 17, 1972, when the opera was brought to New York's Metropolitan Opera, in which he, alongside Sutherland, left the crowd gasping with his nine effortless high Cs in the signature aria that gave him a record 17 curtain calls.
“You don’t confuse my voice with another voice.” Luciano Pavarotti
Over the next few years, Pavarotti's fame in the world of opera and classical music continued to grow. His appearance in the debut “Live from the Met” performance in March 1977 attracted one of the largest audiences ever for a televised opera event. Later renamed "The Metropolitan Opera Presents," the broadcast continued in the U.S. so people would be able to witness Pavarotti's outstanding performances from the New York opera house.
In 1978, Pavarotti took home his first of five Grammys for Best Classical Vocal Soloist Performance in 1978. He had his first American hit record in 1980 with an album of non-classical pieces, “O Sole Mio” a globally famous Neapolitan song written in 1898 that earned gold-selling status and cracked Billboard's Top 100 album chart. He followed it up with an equally well-received double “Greatest Hits” collection. Also in 1980, the Maestro became interested in finding and guiding aspiring new tenors that led him to hold The Pavarotti International Voice Competition, which took place every three-to-four years with Pavarotti performing alongside the winners in both Italy and overseas, including China.
Pavarotti ventured to film in 1982 with the romantic/musical comedy feature “Yes, Giorgio,” which was roundly panned by the critics. His performance as the titular Italian opera singer who loses his voice while in America and falls for a female throat specialist (played by Kathryn Harrold) who treats him, earned him two Razzie Award nominations, one for Worst Actor and one for Worst New Star.
In 1986, Pavarotti starred in the TV movie adaptation of Puccini's classic opera, “La Boheme,” which was filmed in China at Beijing's Tianqiao Theater. Two years later, he was reunited with opera star Joan Sutherland in the made-for-TV version of Donizetti's classic tragedy about Mary, Queen of Scots, “Maria Stuarda.” That same year, he also released “Distant Harmony -- Pavarotti in China,” which chronicled the tenor's visits to opera houses, master classrooms and schoolrooms in China.
By the end of the decade, however, Pavarotti became recognized in the opera world for his unreliability and frequent cancellations. He canceled almost half of his scheduled performances with Chicago's Lyric Opera due to back problems that led the Lyric's Ardis Krainik vow never to work with him again.
Pavarotti would revive his image in the early 1990s when he delivered iconic performance of “Nessun Dorma” with fellow tenors Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras (collectively known as the Three Tenors) at the 1990 World Cup in Italy. The next year, he serenaded the late Princess of Wales, then U.K. Prime Minister John Major, and Sir Michael Caine at a televised concert in London's Hyde Park, the biggest outdoor music event in the park since the Rolling Stones' performance in 1969.
He also founded The Pavarotti & Friends concerts in his hometown of Modena in 1993 and subsequently held annual fund-raising concerts for victims of war and violence. He was joined by major stars, including Sir Elton John, Mariah Carey, Bryan Adams and Bono of U2. In 1995, he recorded a duet with U2 titled “Miss Sarajevo.” In 1997, he received a Special Achievement Award for raising $8.2 million for the war children of Bosnia.
“I care about giving people a place where they can go to enjoy themselves and to begin to live again. To the man you have to give the spirit, and when you give him the spirit, you have done everything.” Luciano Pavarotti
Meanwhile, in mid 1994, Pavarotti cemented his superstar status with a successful collaboration concert with The Three Tenors at the World Cup concerts in Los Angeles (1994), and later Paris (1998) and Yokohama (2002). Despite some unfavorable criticism, Pavarotti reportedly earned up to $1 million per concert.
Meanwhile, Pavarotti's marriage to Adua Veroni suffered a breakdown following his possible affair with his personal secretary, Nicoletta Mantovani. Pavarotti divorced Adua in 2000 and married Nicoletta in 2003. He was also convicted of tax evasion in 1999 and agreed to repay the Italian government over $11 million in back taxes and penalties. The case was eventually thrown out in 2001. Despite all this personal problems, Pavarotti was presented with the World Social Award in 2001 for his humanitarian and charitable work. He also was a recipient of the John F. Kennedy Center Honors in 2001.
Pavarotti soon returned to the spotlight in mid 2001 when he performed alongside the Three Tenors in Beijing's Forbidden City as part of the Chinese capital's bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games, where he performed an impromptu duet of "O Sole Mio" with Chinese president Jiang Zemin. The famous tenors released “The Best of the Three Tenors” in June 2002 following a reunion concert at Yokohama Arena, in Japan at the World Cup 2002. During this time, the Maestro hinted of his retirement. He later announced he was retiring on his 70th birthday in 2005.
Meanwhile, Pavarotti released his first solo studio album in 15 years, “Ti Adoro,” in September 2003. The collection of all new songs was also Pavarotti's first pop album and quickly became a best seller on the classical charts. After marrying Nicoletta in a star-studded ceremony in December 2003, Pavarotti made his final appearances at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in March 2004, playing the signature role of Mario Cavaradossi in a series of three sold-out performances of “Tosca.” In December that year, he announced a 40-city farewell tour in Europe, the Middle East, and the US.
In January 2005, Pavarotti was reunited with U2 for the B-side of their single "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" and made his last full-scale concert in Taipei in December 2005.
In February 2006, Pavarotti gave what would be his final vocal performance at the opening ceremony of the 20th Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. He performed what had become his signature tune, “Nessun Dorma,” for which he received the longest standing ovation of the night.
The tenor was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July 2006, following a string of health problems that included laryngitis and neck surgery that forced him to pull out of a series of concerts. He planned to resume his farewell tour in 2007. In July 2007, his manager announced that the Maestro was “feeling stronger” and was returning to the studio to record an album of classical religious music. However, the opera legend was admitted to hospital in early August that same year and died on September 6, 2007, in his birthplace of Modena, Italy. He was 71.
“I think an important quality that I have is that if you turn on the radio and hear somebody sing, you know it’s me.” Luciano Pavarotti
People to People International (PTPI): Eisenhower Medallion, 2004
IFPI Platinum Europe: Special Honor, 2002
World Social: for his humanitarian and charitable work, 2001
Grammy: Best Classical Vocal Soloist Performance, "Luciano Pavarotti in Concert," 1988
Emmy: Outstanding Individual Achievement - Classical Music/Dance Programming - Performing, "Great Performances," 1985 (for episode "Duke of Mantua, Rigoletto")
Grammy: Best Classical Vocal Soloist Performance, "Luciano Pavarotti—Hits From Lincoln Center," 1978
Guinness Book of World Records: Best-Selling Classical Album of All Time
Guinness Book of World Records: Most Curtain Calls (at 165)