Luciano Pavarotti (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: Possessing a rigorously trained voice of exceptional beauty, Pavarotti became the leading lyric tenor of his time and a musical superstar who reached a larger audience than any classical artist who preceded him.
Operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti was born on October 12, 1935, in Modena, Italy. His father, Fernando, a baker with a strong tenor voice, sang as a soloist and a choir member with the local church but was too shy to attempt a singing career. Fernando collected recordings of his favorite singers, including the famed Italian tenors Enrico Caruso, Beniamino Gigli, Tito Schipa, and Mario del Monaco. His son would carry on the lyric legacy of these great singers. During his boyhood, Pavarotti was surrounded by doting girls and women who populated the modest apartment house in which his family lived. He was a particular favorite of his grandmother Giulia, who cared for him while his mother worked in a local cigar factory to supplement the family income. During World War II, the Pavarotti family faced dangers and privation, but on the whole, they led a normal life in wartime Italy.
An indifferent student at the local Modena school, Pavarotti was fond of sports and music, although his vocal talent was not generally recognized. At age twelve he attended a live concert by fifty-seven-year-old Gigli and was impressed by Gigli’s discipline and dedication to practice. At age...
(The entire section is 1831 words.)
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Pavarotti, Luciano (Contemporary Musicians)
Luciano Pavarotti is one of the only contemporary opera singers to gain so much fame that he became a household name. He inspired opera fans and intrigued other listeners to discover an interest in opera. He even developed a program to encourage young opera singers. But he also received a significant amount of criticism throughout and because of his success. Critics and others in the industry chastised him for his popularity and concert performances, television appearances, and film roles. However, even his detractors cannot deny the power of his reach as the most listened to opera singer in history. Alain Levy, president/CEO of Polygram Records summed up the span of his influence to Paul Verna in Billboard. "Pavarotti's remarkable talents have encouraged both a new generation of music lovers and an older generation which hadn't listened to opera for a long time," he said.
Pavarotti was born in Modena, Italy, on October 12, 1935. His father was a baker, and sang in the chorus at the local opera house on the side. His mother worked in a cigar factory. Pavarotti discovered his love for music at a young age. He began singing in the church choir at the age of five. He also spent his childhood as the neighborhood entertainer. "As a little boy in my apartment house, they would fight to have me for dinner because I was funnyhe way I imitated the grownups," Pavarotti told Mary Ellin Barrett in Cosmopolitan. "But at home, I imitated the voices on the Victrolaaruso, Bjoerlin, Gigli, and my father."
Pavarotti struggled with a blood infection at the age of 12. He fell into a coma for 20 hours before regular doses of antibiotics saved his life. "These tragedies leave you sensitive to the beauties of the world," Pavarotti explained to Sarah Moore-Hall in People. Although he continued his singing by joining his father in the opera chorus, he didn't consider a career in music until later. He played soccer as a teenager and had decided to become a teacher of math and gymnastics.
The Modena opera chorus won first prize in an international music festival in Wales, when Pavarotti was a teenager. After that, his mother began encouraging him to pursue his singing. He eventually decided to follow her suggestion, and he took a job as an insurance salesman to help pay for his voice lessons.
Prized Professional Debut
In 1961, Pavarotti won the Concorso Internazionale, along with the prize of a professional performance of a complete opera. On April 29, 1961, he claimed his reward with his debut appearance as Rodolfo in Pucci- ni's La Boheme at Reggio Emilia. During the same year, he married Adua Veroni, his wife of nearly 35 years. He repeated the role of Rodolfo in Vienna in 1963. Establishing himself as a professional opera singer, Pavarotti went on to sing Lucia di Lammermoor in Amsterdam, Vienna, and Zurich.
The World Appreciates Pavarotti
He gained worldwide notoriety in September of 1963, when he filled in for an ailing Giuseppe de Stefano in La Boheme at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. This experience led to his first appearances on television and a growing popularity. By the end of the year, he had sung in Spain, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary. His performances caught the attention of conductor Richard Bonynge, husband of the Australian opera singer Joan Sutherland. The exposure led Sutherland to ask Pavarotti to sing with her on a 14-week tour of Australia.
Pavarotti continued his notoriety in the role of Idamante in Mozart's Idomeneo at the prestigious Glyndeboume Festival. In February of 1965, he made his U.S. debut with Joan Sutherland in a performance of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. He also sang the role of Rodolfo at La Scala in Milan with his childhood friend Mirella Freni, under the direction of Herbert von Karajan. He-continued to sing La Bohèmes Rodolfo, with appearances in San Francisco in 1967 and at New York's Metropolitan Opera (the "Met") in 1968. It became his signature role in the early years of his career.
Luciano Pavarotti moved to a whole new level in his career in 1972, with a performance at the Metropolitan Opera. In his role of Tonio in La Fille du Regiment ("Daughter of the Regiment") he belted out nine high C's in a row, impressing every audience that season. His accomplishment led to an appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, where he gained a whole new legion of fans. From then on, he became known as the "King of High C's."
Pavarotti explained how he felt during those famous opera nights at the Met to David Remnick in the New Yorker. "I was so scared, I didn't know which muscle to use most, the throat or the sphincter," he said. When he sang his first formal recital on February 1, 1973, in Liberty, Missouri, Pavarotti began what one critic called "Pavarotti Pandemonium." His performances and records began to sell out regularly. In 1976, he became the first classical artist to receive a platinum album with O Holy Night. The following year, he sang La Boheme with Mirella Freni in the first "Live from the Met" telecast. Mary Ellin Barrett described Pavarotti in Cosmopolitan as, "The charismatic who, in the 'Live from the Met' telecast of La Bohemenother historic firstroved that a fat man with a receding hairline and a jovial round face, pouring forth heavenly song, could become a sex symbol."
Although he continued to sing in opera houses all over the world, such as his 1977 performance of Turandot at the San Francisco Opera, he also perpetuated his records and television appearances. His album release Hits from Lincoln Center won a Grammy Award in 1979. Along with his popularity, Pavarotti felt a distinct connection with his audiences. He referred to his public as his "boss." He was in the midst of his role as Nemorino in L'Elisir d'Amore, when he had one of his most memorable experiences from the appreciation of his "boss." "In Chicago, when I was age 44, after L'Elisir d'Amore, the orchestra played 'Happy Birthday,' and the audience sang," Pavarotti recalled to Leslie Rubenstein in Opera News. "It was so unexpected; I wept."
From Arias to Academy Awards
Pavarotti won another Grammy Award in 1980 for his hit album O Sole Mio. The new decade led to even more exposure and rising comparisons to the tenor Enrico Caruso. In June of 1980, he sang the role of the duke in Rigoletto for more than 200,000 people on the Metropolitan Opera's summer stage in Central Park. He went on to perform a successful stint of Turandot at the Met the following season. "The attention is like a drug to him," his wife Adua Pavarotti told Life. "He likes to feel grand."
Indeed, his quest for more attention did not wane, nor did the public's willingness to give it to him. In 1981 Pavarotti received an invitation to sing "Torna a Sorrento" at the Academy Awards. The following year, he initiated an international competition for young, aspiring opera singers to fuel the interest in the art form. The winners of the competitions would receive the opportunity to sing on stage with Pavarotti himself.
In 1982 Pavarotti ventured into another medium with his starring role in the $18 million movie, Yes, Giorgio. He played an Italian opera singer who had fallen in love with ayoung American woman. As Pavarotti approached his early 1950s, his schedule of singing appearances slowly diminished. He began to receive more criticisms of his commerciality and his changing voice. "Unfortunately, there are those who don't take me seriously because I make commercials or cook spaghetti on a talk show," Pavarotti told Sarah Moore-Hall in People. "But these are things that will bring this little world of opera to a larger audience, and I don't care how we do it. We have to go to the people, and if someone doesn't understand, it's too bad."
The Globetrotting Tenor
Luciano Pavarotti spent the mid-1980s traveling across the globe. In 1986, he sang La Boheme in Beijing, China. The performance was broadcast to a Chinese audience of more than 250 million. The film Distant Harmony depicts his journey to China along with footage of the show. He returned to the Met before the end of the year to play the role of Radames in Aida. Two years later, he opened the opera season at the Metropolitan Opera with II Trovatore, which he sang with Eva Marion and Sherril Milnes.
The 1990s brought Pavarotti into a new era of his musical career, less focused on opera and more on commercial records and concerts. He participated in the recording of Carreras, Domingo, Pavarotti in Concert, which became known as "The Three Tenors," and sold over a million copies. The trio sang at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome for the closing ceremonies of the World Cup Soccer Championship. In July of 1991, he sang a concert for Prince Charles and Princess Diana of Wales, along with an audience of 150,000 others, in London's Hyde Park.
The Metropolitan Opera continued to host Pavarotti during its season. In 1990 the Met organized a new production of Un Ballo in Maschera for the famous tenor. The following year, he starred with Kathleen Battle in Elisir d'Amore. Mostly, though, Pavarotti increased his concerts and peppered them with opera shows.
In February of 1992, he sang the role of Canio for the first time in a concert performance of Pagliacci, with Riccardo Muti and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Then, he opened La Scala's next season with Verdi's Don Carlo. He presented another concert in Central Park in June of 1993. This time, he sang to a crowd of 500,000 in person and to millions more in the telecast on PBS and throughout Europe.
That same year, he celebrated his 25th anniversary season of singing at the Metropolitan Opera. On the season's opening night, Pavarotti sang the first act of Verdi's Otello on stage for the first time in his career. Recognizing his longevity, Pavarotti and others in the opera community also noted a lack of young potential replacements in the genre. "When I was growing up, there were 30 great tenors, not three," Pavarotti told David Remnick in the New Yorker. "I don't know why things are now the way they are."
Pavarotti's long-time record label, Polygram's Decca Records, extended his contract in 1994. Since he first signed with them in 1967, the opera tenor sold more than 50 million albums and had made more than 60 recordings. On July 16, 1997, The Three Tenors returned to the World Cup Soccer Championship for an encore performance. They sold-out the Los Angeles concert and sang to about 56,000 people at Dodger Stadium. Telecast live all over the world, the trio actually performed for an estimated audience of about 1.3 billion. Decca released the performance as Three Tenors II.
Collaborated with Friends
Luciano Pavarotti organized several more collaborations for his Pavarotti & Friends albums, which included duets with pop star Bryan Adams, soprano Nancy Gustafson, tenor Andrea Bocelli, and new age artist Andreas Vollenweider. In September of 1995, he organized a benefit concert for the children of Bosnia, which included Michael Bolton, Brian Eno, U2's Bono, and the Chieftains. The concert was also released on an album.
With the help of writer William Wright, Pavarotti published his autobiography called My World in November of 1995. The book exemplified the extent of Pavarotti's success as a singer and as a celebrity. Michael Walsh wrote in New York, "With stadium concerts, TV specials, and a chatty new autobiography, Pavarotti is biggeray biggerhan opera itself."
In 1996, Pavarotti sang Giordano's Andrea Chenier at both the Met and at Lincoln Center. Terry Teachout wrote in Opera News, "The remarkable thing about Pavarotti, of course is not merely that he is still singing, but that his essential vocal qualities remain, for the most part, intact."
The Three Tenors returned in 1997 with a 12-city world tour, beginning on New Year's Eve. The mid-to late-1990s began to produce more and more critical reviews of Pavarotti's performances. Heidi Waleson wrote in a review of his recital at the Metropolitan Opera, "Listening to Mr. Pavarotti today is like looking at a well-made mummy. The shape is there, but the blood and breath that gave the creature life have withered away."
Pavarotti announced his retirement date as the year 2001. By that time, he will have worked as a professional opera singer for 40 years. "I am always a student till the last day of my profession, when perhaps I will think [I know] what I am," Pavarotti told Barrett in Cosmopolitan. "But now, that is not my character. My character is to take life as it is. The mutual love I have with the public is everywhere. But I am ready to accept this situation when the public will not love me. Then, I will stop."
O Holy Night, Decca Records, 1976.
Hits from Lincoln Center, Decca Records, 1978.
O Sole Mio, Decca Records, 1980.
Arias, Airs, Arien, Decca Records, 1982.
Mamma, Decca Records, 1984.
Passione, Decca Records, 1985.
In Concert, Decca Records, 1987.
Volare, Decca Records, 1987.
At Carnegie Hall, Decca Records, 1988.
Carreras Domingo Pavarotti in Concert, Decca Records, 1990.
Live Recordings (1964-1967), Decca Records, 1991.
Pavarotti in Hyde Park, Decca Records, 1991.
Pavarotti Songbook, Decca Records, 1991.
Ti Amo, Decca Records, 1993.
My Heart's Delight, Decca Records, 1993.
Early Years, Volume 1, Decca Records, 1994.
Three Tenors II, Decca Records, 1994.
Early Years, Volume 2, Decca Records, 1995.
Pavarotti & Friends 2, Decca Records, 1995.
Verdi: Il Travature, Decca Records, 1995.
Pavarotti Plus, Decca Records, 1995.
Pavarotti & Friends for War Child, Decca Records, 1996.
Pavarotti & Friends Together for the Children of Bosnia, Decca Records, 1996.
Los Angeles, Decca Records, 1996.
The Great Luciano Pavarotti, Decca Records, 1996.
Billboard, November 16, 1985; April 9, 1994; May 13, 1995.
Cosmopolitan, November 1980.
Entertainment Weekly, December 13, 1996.
Harper's Bazaar, September 1988.
Information Please Almanac, 1995.
Life, October 1980.
Maclean's, January 13, 1997.
New York, May 18, 1981; November 13, 1995.
New Yorker, June 21, 1993.
Opera News, September 1982; March 29, 1986; September 1993; December 14, 1996.
People, November 17, 1980; September 29, 1986; March 11, 1996.
Time, March 4, 1996.
Wall Street Journal, January 23, 1997.