FEI Press Release. Luciano Pavarotti, the Italian singer whose pristine sound set a standard for operatic tenors of the postwar era, passed away on 6 September after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
Like Enrico Caruso, the most popular singer in the first twenty years of the twentieth century, Maestro Pavarotti made his vibrant presence felt far beyond the limits of Italian opera. After becoming the unequalled master of Bel Canto, he grew into a titan of pop culture. Millions saw him on television and found in his expansive personality, childlike charm and generous figure a link to an art form with which many had only a glancing familiarity.
Luciano Pavarotti was born on October 12, 1935 in Modena, the city of balsamic vinegar, the son of a baker, who was also an amateur tenor – a ‘singing baker’, the Maestro would later say. His musical career began in 1963 and he devoted himself with single-mindedness to the Bel Canto genre – Donnizetti and Bellini – to Verdi and the verist composers, quickly establishing his rich sound as the great male operatic voice of his generation.
He made his international recital début at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri in 1973 as part of the college’s Fine Arts Program. Perspiring due to nerves and a lingering cold, the tenor clutched a handkerchief throughout the début. The prop became a signature part of his solo performances.
In 1981, Luciano Pavarotti established a voice competition in Philadelphia and was active in its operation. Young, talented singers from around the world were auditioned in preliminary rounds before the final selections. High among the prizes for winners was a part in an opera staged in Philadelphia in which the Maestro would also appear.
His international fame increased in 1990 when his rendition of Giacomo Puccini's aria, "Nessun Dorma" from Turandot, became the theme song of the BBC televions coverage of the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy. The aria achieved pop status and remained his trademark song. This was followed by the hugely successful Three Tenors concert held on the eve of the Final at the ancient Baths of Caracalla in Rome with fellow tenors Plácido Domingo and José Carreras and conductor Zubin Mehta, which became the biggest selling classical record of all time. Throughout the 1990s, Pavarotti appeared in many well-attended outdoor concerts, including his televised concert in London's Hyde Park which drew a record attendance of 150,000. In June 1993, more than 500,000 listeners gathered for his performance on the Great Lawn of New York's Central Park, while millions more around the world watched on television. The following September, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, he sang for an estimated crowd of 300,000. Following on from the original 1990 concert, Three Tenors concerts were held during the FIFA World Cups: in Los Angeles in 1994, in Paris in 1998, and in Yokohama in 2002.
Opera and football were not the Maestro’s only passions. His heavy vocal schedule made him feel imprisoned in a gilded cage from which only horses released him. His love of horsesport began in 1960 when he was 25. That year, the Olympic Games had taken place in Rome and the D’Inzeo brothers had won the gold in Jumping. “My general love of the horse became a particular one – jumpers,” Pavarotti said. He bought his first horse in Ireland, started riding himself – “Donkeys, cats and dogs are small, but horses are big, even bigger than me. Horses are a challenge,” – and enrolled his three daughters and other household members in the renowned Irish Kellet Riding School. His love of the animal and sport grew. “I became a nut, a nut of the horse. One day [Mr D’Inzeo] suggested I should have my own show and I became even more of a nut.”
And so from 1992 to 2001, a CSIO in Modena, at Pavarotti’s own equestrian centre, would be held over four days in June, directly after the Pavarotti and Friends Concert, which featured, of course, The Three Tenors, but also Sting, Mariah Carey, U2, Lionel Richie, B.B. King, The Spice Girls and Ricky Martin. These concerts were held in support of Warchild for the benefit of children in countries such as Kosovo, Tibet, Bosnia, Cambodia and Guatemala
Although there were external sponsors involved, the event, the Grand Prix of which boasted the largest prize pot in Europe, was funded and underwritten by Pavarotti himself. Course Designers at Modena included Olympic officials Frank Rothenberger and Leopoldo Palacios.
Upon hearing the sad news of the Maestro’s death, German Jumping star Ludger Beerbaum said, “It is an enormous blow for all of us riders whom he welcomed so warmly every year at his show, and concert. We are all in shock, and extend our heartfelt sympathy and condolences to his family and loved ones in these hard times. He will leave a huge gap in our lives and we will miss him terribly. He was a gift to the world of music, but also a true friend to the Show Jumping family.”
There is a poignant Song of Farewell (Chanson de l’adieu in the original French) the Maestro used to sing to the accompaniment of a piano.
Partir c'est mourir un peu
– (To leave is to die a little)
He has now left. Left for a place fit for the King of High Cs, left to join the ultimate diva Maria Callas, gone to the stars. But he most definitely has left behind his music and, most importantly, the happiness and joy his irreplaceable talent and generosity gave to so many.
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