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2007-09 Luciano Pavarotti: Celebrate the voice

"THE People's Tenor" and the "King of the High Cs" has taken his final curtain call. Every singer, from every genre, bows their head in respect for the great man, who has left a vast shadow in the world of opera and music in general.

Italy was the birthplace of opera 400 years ago; a vitally important nation in the history of music; a nation synonymous with the whole notion of `the tenor'. Luciano Pavarotti's recent passing means that he joins a long, distinguished line of heavenly Italian tenors - Caruso, Gigli, Schipa, di Stefano and Corelli, to name but a small
handful.

The town of Modena was perhaps best known for balsamic vinegar, but now is much more famous for its celebrated son. The town's theatre bears the great tenor's name. Pavarotti's lifetime friend from Modena, Mirella Freni (soprano), sang with Luciano on countless occasions, and herself had a huge career. One of Freni's earliest engagements was at the Wexford Festival.

Luciano made his debut as Rodolfo (La Bohème) at the Opera di Reggio Emilia in 1961. Soon after, he stood in for di Stefano at Covent Garden in the
same role, then toured Australia with Joan Sutherland in Lucia, as well as performing at Dublin's Gaiety Theatre, also in La Bohème. Pavarotti went on to have one of the busiest, most high-profile careers in the history of opera - 400 performances at New York's Metropolitan alone.

At World Cup '90, alongside his friends Domingo and Carreras, Pavarotti invented the whole notion of `classical crossover', bringing opera and classical music to the masses. A worldwide audience of close to a billion, and recordbreaking CD sales, put the Three Tenors in the Guinness Book of Records. Pavarotti was already
in the book, having earned the most ever curtain calls for an opera performance (165!).

I was lucky enough to witness him in Tosca at Covent Garden, and despite having a larynx crafted in gold, and `kissed by God', Pavarotti's acting was at times embarrassing. He also earned the title "Maestro", but was not very musically intelligent (his sight-reading was almost non-existent).

But Pavarotti possessed that unmistakable, instantly recognisable timbre in his voice, from bottom to top. His voice was ringing, pristine, and remarkable for its colour and lightness, which belied the vast frame supporting it. Pavarotti had an ebullient stage persona. He was, in every sense, larger than life, both on and off
stage - his over-the-top grin, a sheet-size handkerchief, an extravagant lifestyle, a vast frame and appetite, and of course that signature boot-polish black hair, beard and eyebrows. With his impish stage antics, Pavarotti fulfilled the public's imagination of what an opera star ought to be, like a caricature.

Pavarotti performed with everyone from Elton John to the Spice Girls to Bono, and raised hugely generous amounts of money for charities such as the refugees in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

Sadly, as with many celebrities, in later years his personal life began to upstage his `great' talent - tantrums, cancellations, tax issues, divorce, eloping and marrying his 26 year-old secretary, and even being booed on bad days. A fairly recent concert at The Point in Dublin was an embarrassing disgrace on many levels.

Pavarotti never had a retirement to enjoy his family, and the fruits of his success. He performed long after he ought to have. But thankfully, he has left behind a wealth of astounding recordings.

There is something heart-breakingly poignant, and final, about a casket being applauded and Bravo-ed. We should join the applause and celebrate the voice, the life and achievements of "Big Luce". He loved life, and he thanked God for every performance, every season, every year.

Pavarotti once declared that "a life spent in music is a life beautifully spent."

And so say all of us. Requiesciat in pace Luciano.