"The Maestro fought a long, tough battle against the pancreatic cancer"

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated September 06, 2007 01:30 AM

Luciano Pavarotti, the great Italian tenor who helped popularize opera in the 20th century, has died. He was 71.

The singer, who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year, passed away at his home in Modena, Italy, at 5 a.m. local time, his manager, Terri Robson, said in a statement.

“The Maestro fought a long, tough battle against the pancreatic cancer which eventually took his life. In fitting with the approach that characterized his life and work, he remained positive until finally succumbing to the last stages of his illness,” the statement said.

Citing medical sources, Italian news agencies reported on Wednesday that the singer was in “very serious condition” and had lost consciousness for brief moments over the last few days.

Last month, the singer spent two weeks in the hospital with a high fever. In July, 2006 he had surgery for pancreatic cancer.

With a voice as smooth as silk, a charismatic personality (especially where women were concerned) and a massive physical frame, Pavarotti was arguably the most famous opera singer in the world for the past 35 years.

Born in Modena, Italy, the only child of a baker whose love was opera, Pavarotti’s childhood inclination was not music but soccer, though he did sing with his dad in the town chorus. It was after the local chorus won an award that young Luciano decided to pursue a professional vocal career, making his professional debut at the opera house in Reggio Emilia in 1961, as Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Boheme.

Very quickly his voice was heard throughout Europe, and in 1965 he crossed the Atlantic for his American debut in Miami, of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, with Joan Sutherland

By 1972 he was a sensation at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, where, during La Fille du Regiment, he delivered nine flawless high Cs.

His records now bestsellers, he even made a movie loosely based on his own personality, 1982’s Yes, Giorgio – about a larger-than-life opera star.

But it was 1990’s Three Tenors concert, with Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo, that helped popularize Pavarotti – and opera – among the masses.

“I always admired the God-given glory of his voice – that unmistakable special timbre from the bottom up to the very top of the tenor range,” Domingo said Thursday in a statement from Los Angeles.

In late 2003, Pavarotti married his second wife, former assistant Nicoletta Mantovani, who is 35 years his junior, at a theatre in his hometown of Modena. Among the guests were Sting, Bono and Donatella Versace.

Mantovani survives him, as do three daughters by his first wife, Adua; and another daughter, Alice, who was born to Mantovani in 2003.