How We Met: 53. Adua and Luciano Pavarotti

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The Independent Culture
Luciano Pavarotti (56), the most famous opera singer in the world, was born in Modena, northern Italy. His father was a baker who sang in the local choir, and his mother worked in a cigar factory. His wife, Adua (55), whose book, Life with Luciano, was published here last week, was born in the same town. They went to school together and married in 1961, after being engaged for seven years. The couple still live - operatic schedules permitting - just outside their home town in a magnificent villa dating back to 1800, with their three daughters and 16 horses.

ADUA PAVAROTTI: It was a hot Sunday afternoon in 1953 and I'd been invited to a birthday party by a schoolmate. I didn't like him much and in fact we'd tried to organise a boycott of the party. But then this boy came round and begged us to come, and we relented because we felt sorry for him. Luciano lived in the house opposite him so, of course, he came to the party too. He was 17 at the time, and I a year younger. We went to the same school in Modena, though I'd never met him.

My first impression was that Luciano was a bit strange: he had this smart suit on with only a T-shirt underneath, and no tie - in 1953] But he was very good-looking and athletic. Really simpatico. He asked me out to the cinema, to see Don Camillo, the following Sunday. I said I'd go if my cousin could come too. He agreed reluctantly, and said he'd invite a friend. The friend never came, and much later I discovered that was because Luciano persuaded him not to.

I was attracted to him because I felt that behind the facade of boy-about- town - he loved football and going out with his friends - here was someone serious, stable and molto formato, or mature for his age. He wasn't your usual sort of Latin lover at all. He knew exactly what life had to offer, and how to get on.

There were no other girls around. One of his schoolfriends was in love with him but he wasn't interested in her. There was much more competition on my side because lots of boys were courting me, but Luciano was never jealous.

We met again some time later at another party where everyone had to sing a song. Luciano, who was the only one with any talent, sang 'Rondino al nido', which has become part of his concert repertoire. I wasn't terribly impressed because I didn't really like opera. I thought it was so boring. All this 'Andiamo, partiamo, torniamo.' If I heard opera at home I would always yell: 'Turn off that radio]' Even so, that afternoon, I sang something from Rigoletto, a piece for a baritone, not a woman's voice at all. It was dreadful. Really embarassing.

Luciano and I quickly realised that we wanted our relationship to be more serious. So we got engaged, just to be able to spend more time together. We'd join up with friends and go dancing, usually at the Eden cafe in Modena, or to the local skating rink or to volleyball and football matches. In the summer we went for walks along the Secchia that runs through the west of Modena, or if we could borrow bicycles we'd take a picnic and go off for the day.

One day we persuaded my uncle to lend us his motor scooter so we could visit my elder sister Loredana who lived on Lake Garda, about three hours away. We left at five in the morning just as the sun was rising. Once we were well away from town, Luciano urged me to sit in front and try steering. 'Dai provaci' ('Come on, try it') he shouted. I was reluctant but he persisted.

There was a bend in the road and, as we got near, Luciano told me to swing round to follow the curve. I turned round to tell him not to worry, and he was still shouting 'Curva] curva] curva]', when we hit a signpost and were pitched into a field.

We had a lot of fun. Luciano is someone who gives so much and who generates so much fun around him. But it wasn't always easy and there were stormy arguments and separations at least three times a week. At one point we even split up for a year. But we got back together again. Still, it was seven years altogether before we married.

Luciano has always sung. He sang with his father in the opera choir. But at that time he hadn't yet decided to be a professional. In fact, after school we both went into teacher training. He found children impossible to discipline and exhausting to teach. Even with our own three daughters, he's more of an older brother than a father. He's indulgent - when he feels like it. But he moans when he can't get them to do what he wants. He's never imposed any discipline. And whenever I try to do it in front of him, he always undermines me. He's never helped much in that way.

He quickly gave up teaching and switched to something for which he turned out to have a remarkable talent - selling insurance. Yes, I know, it's amazing. But he's very persuasive. So he's a good salesman. All along he'd had singing lessons, first with Maestro Arrigo Pola, and when he left for Japan, with one of the best teachers in Italy, Ettore Campogalliani. I often went with him.

And I was always there in the audience when he sang in public.

I became quite a stern critic. If you believe in someone and you admire them, you can't just say each time: 'Bravo, bravo,' and then that's it. Of course, Luciano is his own sternest critic, but I think you have to help by being constructive.

When Luciano was 25, he entered the Achille Perri competition. The first prize was the chance to sing Rodolfo in La Boheme. He won and, on 14 September 1961, he made his debut as a professional singer in La Boheme at the Teatro Comunale del Giglio in Lucca. Two weeks later we got married.

LUCIANO PAVAROTTI: I first saw Adua at a party. She was wearing a red and white checked dress. It looked very fetching, like a table cloth from a trattoria.

Perhaps she had many admirers, I don't know. Even if she hadn't, she would have told me she had. That's what women do, no? Anyway, I saw her and immediately decided this was the woman I was going to marry.

Adua wasn't interested in opera or football, which are my passions. Her father loved the opera, but she didn't. All the same, I knew she was something special. On one occasion we were at another party, a dancing party where everyone also had to sing. Adua sang in this terrible baritone. And I thought she needed protecting.

I invited her out to the cinema. You could say it went well, I suppose. Actually, by today's standards it went extremely badly. It was a disaster. She was terrified of her father who was always prowling the streets to see she didn't hang around with boys. She was terrified of getting caught.

Our wedding day was a day of fantastic liberation. We had spent so much time preparing for it. We'd worked like dogs. Right down to the last detail, even to the point of writing by hand the place cards that we put on the tables at each setting. By the end of it we were incredibly exhausted. So when we were finally able to leave by car, just the two us, it was wonderful. We went to Florence and then eventually to Genoa to see an uncle of mine. We had only six days because I had to get back to start rehearsing Rigoletto, but it was magnificent. Even if we'd only had three days, or one even, it would have been the same.

In those days Adua worked very hard bringing in the money. In the beginning, she brought in more than me. She stopped teaching after our second daughter was born, though she has always run the family finances, the house, the horses.

I missed the births of all three of my daughters. I can't say have any regrets because I never knew what it was like. It's like the man who's never had electricity - he doesn't know what he's missing. Adua is a magnificent mother, of course. She's in charge of discipline - at least she thinks so. But children are a law unto themselves. You can't control them, you know. And ours were grown-up when they were so young, 10 or 12, at most.

Am I domesticated? What a stupid question. Do you think I've got nothing better to do? I'm opening soon in Don Carlos at La Scala. I have to learn my part. Don't you know who I am?-

(Photograph omitted)