As a child, however, Luciano Pavarotti wasn’t thinking about a musical career; he aspired to be a physical education teacher. It’s difficult to imagine him in that role, yet Luciano did in fact start his career as a P.E. teacher for two years in a primary school.
Luciano was born to Adele Venturi and Fernando Pavarotti, a baker in the corps of the carabinieri who passionately sang as an amateur in the Gioachino Rossini Chorus of Modena. Luciano inherited his passion for opera music from his father. He would often put on a show at home, imitating the great artists in his father’s collection, and it wasn’t long before he began his musical studies. The lessons were frequent and intense and Luciano often attended them with his friend and schoolmate, Mirella Freni.
The “Little Tenor” achieved his first musical success in a show with his father and the Rossini Chorus in Galles, at the Festival of Llangollen, where the musical group of Modena awarded them first prize. It was this very event, this unexpected success, which helped Pavarotti’s musical ambitions to blossom and pushed him to dream of a career as a tenor.
On April 29, 1961 Pavarotti made his official debut in the opera world when he set foot on the stage of the Romolo Valli Theatre of Reggio Emilia, portraying Rodolfo in Puccini’s masterpiece La Bohème. His performance enchanted the audience and critics, and shortly afterwards Pavarotti was performing throughout Italy and the rest of the world.
In that same year, after eight years of being engaged, Pavarotti married Adua Venturi, whom he’d met at the age of 17 when he’d sung an aria from Verdi’s Rigoletto to her. “This is the girl who will become my wife,” Luciano thought when he saw Adua for the first time.
Nineteen sixty-three was a lucky year for Pavarotti as he sang in Vienna, Zurich, Spain, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. He also performed the role of Rodolfo at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in London, where he filled in for an unwell Giuseppe di Stefano, one of his childhood heroes. Luciano also replaced the Sicilian tenor for Sunday Night at the Palladium, a well-known English televised performance watched by more than 15 million viewers.
The tenor was beginning to be recognised on the world scene and the record company Decca Records offered to do his first recordings.
In the meantime, the young orchestra director Richard Bonynge asked him to sing alongside his wife, the Australian virtuoso Joan Sutherland. In 1965, Luciano arrived in Miami, where he portrayed Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti. Sutherland also invited him to accompany her in her six-week tour of Australia.
In the same year, Pavarotti made his debut at the Scala Theatre in Milan, under the guidance of director Herbert von Karajan and alongside his schoolmate Mirella Freni.
The following years were full of success and the tenor from Modena became increasingly famous. His success was also thanks to shows beyond the theatre—in open areas like parks and stadiums, and in frequently televised performances.
At the Metropolitan Opera in New York he performed nine High Cs at full voice – a very difficult thing. For this feat he received a standing ovation and a record-breaking 17 curtain calls.
Throughout the course of his career Pavarotti, the “King of the High Cs”, was always searching for new forms of theatre to help ever wider audiences appreciate opera. One of these was the series of extraordinary concerts by the Three Tenors, a group Pavarotti formed with his Spanish colleagues José Carreras and Plácido Domingo. The group was a fusion of voices and an artistic friendship that brought stratospheric international success in the following years. The Three Tenors sang for the finals of the World Cup in Los Angeles (1994), Paris (1998) and Yokohama (2002).
In 1992, the charity concerts Pavarotti & Friends began in Modena, where Italian and international pop-stars were called to perform duets with the great tenor. The events were organised by Luciano and his young secretary, Nicoletta Mantovani, to support humanitarian causes.
Before 1992 there had never been any collaborations between Pavarotti and pop singers. Everything changed when Zucchero Fornaciari, in February of that year, proposed a duet to Pavarotti and managed to convince him to record Miserere, one of his compositions. The result was a great success and it helped to promote numerous other collaborations with “Big Luciano”.
It was also in this period that rumours started circulating about a strong connection between Pavarotti and his assistant. In 2003, he and Nicoletta married after Pavarotti obtained a divorce from Adua.
Pavarotti already had three children from his first marriage when, in 2003, he and Nicoletta had Alice.
The following year saw the tenor’s official farewell to opera at the Metropolitan Opera House where he sang Puccini’s Tosca. In 2006, the Maestro gave his final performance for the opening ceremony of the XX Winter Olympic Games in Turin.
In July, Luciano underwent an operation for the removal of a tumour in his pancreas. He then settled down in his villa in Modena where he fought his illness, which by August was becoming increasingly worse. Luciano Pavarotti, born in Modena on October 12, 1935, passed away in his home city on September 6, 2007. Today, the word “opera” is still synonymous with Luciano Pavarotti.
To this the Maestro once responded: “I think that a life spent in music is a life spent in beauty and it is what I have devoted my life to.”