March 11, 1996 12:00 PM

AS A WORLD-FAMOUS SOLOIST, Luciano Pavarotti is most at home in grand opera. But it’s a soap opera the titanic tenor has been living since the Italian magazine Chi published pictures last week of Big Luciano—as his countrymen call him—kissing his 26-year-old secretary-turned-mistress Nicoletta Mantovani while on vacation in Barbados. “Nicoletta and I are very happy as you can see,” Pavarotti, 60, told the magazine. “To hide it would be a crime. She is my favorite of my harem.”

Hmmm. And where does that leave Pavarotti’s wife of 35 years, Adua Veroni? Steamed, for starters. Indeed, Adua, 58, has already removed his name from the outside intercom of their home in Modena, Italy, where the couple raised three daughters—Lorenza, 33, Christiana, 31, and Giuliana, 28. In a statement released by her lawyer, Adua said the family “has been shaken by embarrassment.” She added, “If Luciano does choose to go forward [with the relationship], I hope that he does not do it with the present euphoria.”

Although Adua’s statement did not mention divorzio, a split seems imminent once a financial agreement is reached. Pavarotti, who last year described himself as “incredibly monogamous” after denying rumors that Nicoletta was pregnant, stands to lose part of his multimillion-dollar fortune.

Meanwhile, Mantovani, a Bologna-born former forest ranger who was hired to work for Pavarotti in 1992, seems transformed by the scandal. In an interview last October, she denied having an affair with her boss but said, “Luciano has expanded the horizons of my mind. Before him, I was a girl; today, I’ve become a woman.” The couple have also admitted they would like to have a child—the son that Pavarotti didn’t have with Adua. Ouch!

As for Pavarotti, reconciliation with Adua seems the last thing on his mind. “Nicoletta has become indispensable in my life,” he told Chi. “When she is not by my side, I feel lost.”

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