Pavarotti, all his women, and a plot fit for an opera

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The late lamented opera star Luciano Pavarotti was still lying in state in Modena Cathedral last week when the rumours started. Alberto Mattioli, a journalist writing for La Stampa, the Turin-based daily, cut through the mood of mourning with harsh, unsourced claims that the tenor had been miserable in his second marriage and would have separated from his young wife, Nicoletta, if he had lived. He also warned that there was likely to be a battle over the singer's will, in particular over an apartment he owned in New York.

At the funeral, all Pavarotti's nearest and dearest were present, but Nicoletta and first wife Adua, to whom he was married for more than 30 years, did not even glance at one another. His second marriage, in Modena's municipal theatre in 2003, had been controversial: Adua had been the singer's manager for decades and many local people felt she was right to feel betrayed.

And the hostile comments kept coming. A notary was quoted as saying that 50 per cent of the singer's estate, estimated at £200m, would go to his first three daughters and only 25 per cent to Nicoletta. On Wednesday, a full-page piece by the same Mattioli quoted a friend of Pavarotti of 30 years' standing, Lidia La Marca, revealing that on 16 August at Modena's Policlinico hospital, the singer had confided his misery to her.

"He burst out like a baby," she said. "He said Nicoletta has been tormenting me, she's isolated me, my friends never come to see me any more ... she surrounds me with people I don't like... She's always thinking about money, she brings documents and makes me sign them. She threatens to prevent me from seeing Alice [their four-year old daughter]... You know how it's going to end, Lidia? Either I put a bullet in my head or we're going to separate."

La Marca explained that she had known "all Pavarotti's women" for more than 30 years. On one occasion they were together in London. "Adua and Nicoletta came face to face – they were in the same hotel. [Pavarotti] called me at two in the morning to say, 'Lidia, those two are going to kill each other, do something, please'."

Nicoletta maintained a dignified silence until Friday, when her lawyers in New York (where she had taken refuge with Alice) released a stern message demanding an end to the "sea of insinuations... poisoning the atmosphere of mourning", and threatening legal action against anyone who ignored the appeal.

It is likely the appeal will be heeded: not only because of the legal threat, but because Mr Mattioli's hurriedly printed biography of Pavarotti, Big Luciano, is now on the news stands.