He was larger than life in so many ways, a huge man who was always battling his weight, a big booming voice that could fill the Met, and a life filled with drama. He died thursday of pancreatic cancer.
Yesterday was his funeral. The news was full of it. "The Greatest Tenor of His Generation." But even as that claim was made, there was discussion of whether he had compromised his classical music base by doing concerts with rock stars. Okay, Bono, I can see, even James Brown, but The Spice Girls? His signature tune, Nessun Dorma from Puccini's Turandot was played as his coffin left the cathedral.
More than 100,000 people (I've seen numbers ranging from 20,000 to 100,000...I went with the higher) were at his funeral in his hometown of Modena, including such diverse personalities as Franco Zeffirelli, Bono, Kofi Annan, and Andrea Bocelli (no Spice Girls?), not to mention his first wife, Adua Veroni and his second wife, 37-year-old Nicoletta Mantovani whom he left his wife for in 1996 and married in 2003.
His personal life might have been a mess, and he often looked like a large, unmade bed. He may have cancelled too many performances, but he had a large heart and a larger voice, and when he opened his mouth in song, the world listened.
Pavarotti played leading men, even without the ideal physique for the role. I remember when I was quite young watching him on TV or videotape with my folks as he played a young lover singing and hiding behind a tree. He stuck out from both sides of the tree, and we laughed heartily, but he wasn't there for his looks. He was there because his voice was one of the best in opera. I was saddened as he grew older that rather than accepting the changes of aging, he took to dying hair, beard and eyebrows an unnatural black, giving him a rather hideous look. (Yes, I color my hair, but I try to stay away from such extremes.)
For all of that, I don't mean to dis Mr. Pavarotti. When he sings "Nessun Dorma", my heart races. I heard him sing "Vesti la Giubba" from Pagaliacci by Leoncavallo, and tears ran down my face. This is the aria where Canio, who knows his wife is cheating on him, must still don his makeup and clown garb and go on stage, for the show must go on.
A wonderful voice has been stilled.
Ciao, Luciano Pavarotti.
[Links to "Vesti la Giubba" and "Nessun Dorma" are to YouTube performances by Pavarotti]
[Image from La Scena Musicale]