Cancer surgery forces Pavarotti to delay final curtain

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Luciano Pavarotti has had surgery to treat pancreatic cancer, leading him to postpone his marathon farewell tour until 2007.

The man considered by many to be the world's greatest tenor is "recovering well" after the operation at a hospital in New York this week, his manager said. "Mr Pavarotti underwent a diagnostic evaluation and a malignant pancreatic mass was identified," said Terri Robson. "Fortunately, the mass was able to be completely removed at surgery."

The singer "remains under the care of a team of doctors in New York, and will undergo a course of treatment over the coming months," she explained, adding: "His physicians are encouraged by the physical and emotional resilience of their patient."

Pavarotti, aged 70, was preparing to leave New York last week to resume his troubled final tour, beset by multiple postponements, when doctors found the cancerous growth. He had been due to begin a four-date visit to Britain in Glasgow on 5 July. His treatment schedule now rules out any hope of him returning to the stage before the new year.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal forms of the disease because it is usually diagnosed only at an advanced stage. Fewer than 4 per cent of patients live beyond five years of diagnosis. Most die within 12 months. But the prognosis is more hopeful if the cancer is operated upon - "that means he has a chance for long-term survival," said Dr Dan Laheru, an oncologist at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Centre in Baltimore. Studies show that two-thirds of patients with pancreatic cancer who have had surgery are still alive after a year, with 15 to 20 per cent alive five years later.

The tumour is the latest in a series of debilitating health problems requiring the rotund Italian to spend time on the operating table. Knee and back ailments caused by his weight - estimated earlier this year at 25 stone - have caused the curtain to fall early on his opera career. Some critics said the tenor's voice had irreversibly declined.

However classical music fans, hardened and casual alike, will hope he recovers fully from this week's operation to end a career spanning 45 years on a glorious note.

Born in Modena, northwest Italy, the son of a baker-cum-amateur singer, Pavarotti trained as a teacher before moving into insurance sales. He debuted as Rodolfo in Puccini's La Bohème at Reggio Emilia, Italy, in 1961, making his American debut in Miami in 1965. Seven years later he became a global star by nailing the nine high Cs in "Ah! Mes amis" as Tonio in Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

The Three Tenors - Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras - entered the annals of operatic legend, singing together at four World Cup finals. Pavarotti made his Met finale in March 2004 - his 379th performance with the company - and is rumoured to still earn about £25m a year.

Domingo said last night that when he last saw Pavarotti in May, "his innate strength seemed to have conquered those [back] troubles and I hope that the same inner fortitude will make him overcome his current troubles".

If Pavarotti is able to return to the stage to produce one last great performance, he may yet beat his own world record for receiving the most curtain calls at the end of a performance, currently standing at 165.