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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 September 2007, 10:18 GMT 11:18 UK
An audience with Pavarotti
By Stephen Dowling
BBC News

Pavarotti at the opening of the Winter Olympics in Turin, 2006
The farewell tour took him around the world
Luciano Pavarotti's farewell tour two years ago brought the famous tenor to theatres and concert halls from Iceland to New Zealand.

The tenor was due to play in New Zealand late in 2005, and a single interview had been granted to a daily paper. It led to me travelling to Merano, in the Italian Alps, for an audience with the world's best-known tenor.

To a music writer more used to interviewing indie bands in central London watering holes, it was a glimpse into a far more genteel arm of the music business, and the respect the classical world afforded living legends like the man dubbed "Maestro".

Preparations for the interview took weeks to sort out.

There were rumours it may take place in London. Then it would be at Pavarotti's home in Modena (I had my fingers crossed it would be over one of Pavarotti's legendary lunches).

Finally, management decided, it would be at his favourite spa, a hotel in the Tyrolean hideaway, near the Austrian border.

Darkened suite

Even then, the finer points took some time to work out - and Pavarotti, it seemed, was not one to be rushed into meeting the press.

The hour-long chat would take place on one of three possible days. Management would foot the hotel bill. I, in the meantime, did serious damage to my credit card at some of Merano's better restaurants.

Pavarotti took regular retreats at the spa, Palace Merano, and, on the day of the interview, it seemed, had an entire floor to himself.

Assistants busied themselves from room to room, adding to the sense of anticipation. Finally, the door was opened to Pavarotti's suite.

Pavarotti in New Zealand in November 2005
Pavarotti spoke more about family than his musical prowess

The curtains were closed and Pavarotti sat, dressed in a silk dressing gown, in the gloom. He had recently undergone neck surgery and apologised for not being able to move. He sat stiffly, and the interview began. For a man of such imposing frame, he seemed surprisingly small.

A few minutes later, after asking a fairly innocuous question, the great man leaned forward and put his hand on my arm. "Could I ask you to be a little quieter - my daughter is trying to sleep in the other room."

Father's legacy

It was to spend more time with his family that Pavarotti had decided to end his singing days. He was doing so with the critics starting to declare his voice was on the wane - but his popularity was undimmed. Audiences were still clamouring to see him and the tour was to prove an enormous success.

There was no denying that this was a man looking back on his vocation - the farewell tour was not a stunt to hype a flagging career, but a last attempt to get opera's most famous voice to countries and audiences who had never had the chance to see or hear him before.

He spoke quietly, spun tales about his opera-loving father, about himself as a boy standing on the kitchen table trying to sing like him, about the charity concerts he held to aid a music rehabilitation centre in Bosnia, about football and his desire to spend more time with his daughter Alice.

He downplayed his own legacy, preferring to namecheck singers who had influenced him, or to praise his late father, the man who gave him his love for music in the first place.

For a man who had been hyped as a classical giant, it was an unexpectedly modest meeting.


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