Luciano Pavarotti - Biography


Luciano Pavarotti the great Italian tenor and perhaps the most famous of classical singers was born in Modena Italy on October 12th 1935 and died there on September 6th 2007. His father Fernando was a baker who had a fine tenor voice. Modena a small city had two world class singers who were the same age. Mirella Freni a frequent singing partner and lifelong friend was a few months older but shared the same wet nurse and both of their mothers worked in the same cigar factory. Pavarotti when he was growing had as a primary ambition to become a professional soccer player. He received vocal training in his youth and sang in church often with his father. Much of his knowledge about opera singing came from his father’s collection of 78’s where he listened to great tenor like Gigli, Caruso and Schipa. He was also a fan of Mario Lanza. His idol was the then young tenor Giuseppe di Stefano. Pavarotti got a teaching certificate and taught elementary school for a few years. He did though pursue professional vocal training with Ettore Campoglianni who was also Freni’s teacher. Early in his career he developed nodules in his throat and almost gave up on a singing career.


He eventually recovered and started to sing in Italian regional theatres. He soon graduated to the Vienna State Opera and London’s Covent Garden. At Covent Garden he caught the eye of Joan Sutherland and her husband conductor Richard Bonynge. Bonynge felt Pavarotti could become the tenor equivalent of his wife and revive all the great Donizetti and Bellini roles that were sung by the great Italian singers of the Bel Canto era in the first half of the nineteenth century. Pavarotti made his American debut in 1965 singing Lucia Del Lammermoor in Miami with Sutherland. In 1965 he made his La Scala debut as Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Boheme with Freni in the famed Zefferrelli production conducted by Herbert von Karajan. He continued singing with Sutherland at Covent Garden. Pavarotti became world famous overnight when in 1966 he appeared with Sutherland in Donizetti’s Daughter of the Regiment the tenor aria for the character Tonio requires nine high C’s and Pavarotti sung all of them and created a sensation and was given him the nickname “King of the High Cs’”. Pavarotti by this time had signed a contract with Decca/ London records and his first releases of a Donizetti/Verdi recital along with a Verdi Requiem with Sir Georg Solti and Donizetti’s L’elisir d’ Amore were critical and commercial successes.His breakthrough in the US occurred with Met Opera with Daughter of the Regiment in February of 1972. Pavarotti in this country and in the UK became a fixture on the talk show circuit where his charm compensated for his sketchy English. Besides Opera he now often gave recitals with his ubiquitous handkerchief in hand to mop his brow. Even though a very hefty man he became a sort of sex symbol for middle aged women and a cultural icon to Italian Americans akin to Sinatra. He was also to make a Hollywood movie in 1982 Yes Giorgio that was a critical and financial failure


Pavarotti had a large voice but it was essentially a lyrical voice but he did as he entered the later part of his career started to take on more dramatic roles like Manrico in Il Trovatore , Radames in Aida and a onetime concert performance of Otello for Solti and the Chicago Symphony. As Pavarotti became more of a world celebrity he concentrated more on concerts in large arenas and stadiums. This caused critical backlash and talk about Pavarotti’s lack of seriousness particularly contrasted to his rival Placido Domingo who took on new unfamiliar roles and was becoming a conductor and administrator. Pavarotti and Domingo played along with this “feud” to some extent. Domingo and Pavarotti when the they put together a concert to celebrate the 1990 Soccer World Cup and decided to invite their friend Jose Carreras who had a recent bout with leukemia to perform at the concert at the Roman amphitheatre at Caracalla . BBC had already been using Pavarotti’s recording of Nessun Dorma from Puccini’s Turandot as the theme for the World Cup (the last phrase is the repeated word Vincinor ‘Victory’). The broadcast concert was huge success with Carreras and Domingo and gently teasing Pavarotti’s about his huge ego. The subsequent CD and Video became a worldwide phenomena becoming quickly the best selling classical recording in history. It gave rise to sequels in Los Angeles and Paris that lacked the spontaneity of the first one.


In the 1990’s Pavarotti began to develop health problems that often caused cancellation of his operatic appearances that put him into conflict with opera house directors. Pavarotti could give a concert without moving around much as was required in an opera performance. He became involved in a series of benefit concerts with international pop stars like Sting, Elton John and Brian Adams to raise money for disaster victims that were known as Pavarotti and Friends (he was a close friend of Princess Diana who he worked with on charities). While the intention was laudable the musical quality of the concerts were often not taken seriously by critics. He broke up with his wife of thirty four years Adua to marry his former personal assistant with whom he already had a daughter. His ex manager Herbert Breslin wrote a book about Pavarotti The King and I that revealed his foibles including a charge that Pavarotti vehemently denied that he couldn’t read music. Pavarotti contracted the highly fatal cancer of the pancreas in 2006; he put a hard fight against it but succumbed on September 6th 2006. His elaborate funeral worthy of a pope was televised by CNN and throughout Europe.


Pavarotti’s genial personality and status as a world celebrity often obscures the fact that he was one of the great singers of the Twentieth Century. The parallels to the career of Enrico Caruso are obvious. Pavarotti besides his musicality and quality of voice had superb diction and projected a text with great clarity. Pavarotti with his long relationship with Decca has documented every aspect of his career on record and video.

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