Addio Luciano

September 07, 2007

He had neither the grace nor the repertoire of his rivals, but Luciano Pavarotti had that voice - a distinctive, sonorous sound that could enchant and seduce - and he had a showman's personality that popularized opera beyond the great houses and stages where he sang. That may be his most endearing gift, both to the classical art to which he came late and to the world of popular culture he so robustly embraced.

Mr. Pavarotti, 71, who died this week after a year's battle with pancreatic cancer, was an Italian tenor whose performance in a French opera earned him the moniker the "King of the High C's" (one signature aria had nine of them). Though he starred in productions at the world's great opera houses, he reached the homes of thousands more through television, in PBS broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera and in stadium concerts of the Three Tenors, a vehicle for him, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras that has spawned several other tenor trios.

He is the opera singer who holds the Guinness Book of World Records honor for greatest number of curtain calls, 165, and his rendition of Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" became a signature theme of the 1990 World Cup once the BBC played it, prompting Frank Johnson of the National Review to write then that Britons "who have never before bought a classical disc are flocking to record shops, asking for such works as `Nessie Duma' or just `The Official World Cup Song.'" That was Mr. Pavarotti's power and reach.

The world of opera couldn't contain a performer of his size or ego. A can't-miss figure, sometimes sporting a cape and always those arching, comic eyebrows, Mr. Pavarotti was as recognizable as the popular artists with whom he performed - Sting or Paul McCartney or Celine Dion.

His voice could finish off an afternoon supper of pasta as well as accompany a jog through Central Park. That, too, is his tribute, but as one fan wrote:

Please, no words.

Merely close your eyes.

Listen.

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