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Wednesday, 2 May, 2001, 07:26 GMT 08:26 UK
King of the high Cs
Luciano Pavarotti
The great tenor preferred football as a boy
In recent years Luciano Pavarotti has been troubled not only by tax demands but by the gradual diminution of one of the most amazing voices ever heard.

The autumn of an opera tenor's career is a difficult time, when a voice trained well beyond its natural capacity and starting to decline has to be nurtured through demanding arias - which the audience will often remember from the singer's prime.

He can still do some things of which most others can only dream

Martin Kettle, The Guardian

Pavarotti was unable to hit a high C during a 1995 performance of Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment, and there were decidedly mixed reviews for January's Ramades in Aida in New York.

But even his critics accept that his voice can still display something of the ringing perfection of his glory years.


Pavarotti was born in Modena, Italy, on October 12, 1935, the first and only child of a baker.

As a boy, he was more interested in football than music and earned his first local fame as a member of the town's soccer team.

He first sang in the town chorus with his father, an opera lover and gifted amateur tenor.

When the Rossini Male Chorus won first prize in an international competition, Pavarotti decided to pursue music full-time.

His debut came on 29 April, 1961, in one of the great tenor roles, Rodolfo in Puccini's La Bohème at the opera house in Reggio Emilia.


After Italian success came engagements in Amsterdam, Vienna, Zurich, and London.

Pavarotti in Puccini's Tosca
Pavarotti in Puccini's Tosca

His American debut came in February 1965, in a Miami production of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor with Joan Sutherland - the start of what would become a historic partnership.

It was in the United States in 1972 that Pavarotti produced one of his legendary performances, when in La Fille du Regiment at New York's Metropolitan Opera he sang nine effortless high Cs - causing the audience to erupt in a frenzied ovation.

He has long been associated with London/Decca Records and his recordings are consistently best sellers, covering a wide range of the opera repertoire as well as anthologies of Neapolitan and other Italian songs.

But Pavarotti's fame broadened dramatically when he took part in one of the most remarkable classical concerts of recent times during the 1990 World Cup - as one of the Three Tenors.


With José Carreras and Placido Domingo, Pavarotti was broadcast around the world singing a selection of famous arias and popular songs.

The Three Tenors
The Three Tenors: a worldwide success

The broadcast was a major ratings hit and the subsequent record one of the biggest selling classical discs of all time.

His concert in London's Hyde Park, in the presence of Charles and Diana, the Prince and Princess of Wales, was the first classical concert in the history of the park and drew some 150,000 people.

In June 1993, more than 500,000 fans gathered to enjoy his performance in New York's Central Park and in September 1993 he sang in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower in Paris to a further 300,000 fans.

While there were many in the classical world who criticised the outdoor concerts as a stunt, his defenders said that doing a valuable job in popularising opera - and letting large numbers hear one of history's great voices.

There were also critical grumbles about his duets with pop stars like Sting, Bono and Bryan Adams.

But Pavarotti has also been dedicated to the development of young singers, conducting standing-room-only master classes at conservatories around the world.


In 1982, he initiated a prestigious international vocal competition, culminating in final performances in Philadelphia.

But recent allegations of tax evasion threaten to leave quite the wrong memories as the singer's career draws to a close.

Pavarotti was also a celebrity patron of troubled charity War Child UK, but quit along with other celebrities after the co-founder and a charity consultant were accused of accepting an alleged bribe.

Few would argue that his has not been a historic career.

As the Guardian's Martin Kettle said of Pavarotti's last, troubled performance of Aida:

"If this proves to be Pavarotti's operatic stage swansong, he will have gone out proving he can still do some things of which most others can only dream."

See also:

16 Mar 01 | South Asia
Pavarotti to sing for Afghan refugees
27 Jul 00 | Entertainment
Pavarotti settles tax wrangle
02 Jun 00 | Entertainment
Michael and Pavarotti double act
21 Apr 00 | Entertainment
Pavarotti under fire over taxes
14 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Pavarotti dreams of Madonna duet
16 Dec 99 | Entertainment
Pavarotti's divorce drags on
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