Pavarotti was not the first superstar tenor. Women swooned over Caruso long before Pavarotti was born. But he was the biggest superstar tenor of our time, he had an entrancing voice, with majestic sweetness in its upper registers, allied to sex appeal, sensuality and charisma. That it should all come in a frame that showed his sensuality extended to a passion for pasta was a pleasing rebuke to an age that required even its opera singers be slim and supple.
From his earliest days at the Royal Opera – which has never really made enough of nurturing such a talent – Pavarotti was marked out as the voice of a generation. Of course, there were other great singers among his peers, other great tenors indeed, most notably his rival, Placido Domingo – a rivalry that split even some of their fans into opposing camps – and the third member of what was to become a multi-million pound triumvirate, Jose Carreras. Critics will argue about whose was the purest voice – although Domingo himself would acknowledge Pavarotti as the king of the high 'Cs'.
But it was not necessarily technique or talent that set Pavarotti apart from his peers. It was showmanship and charisma –and, for the big world outside opera houses, football.
The showmanship was encapsulated in gestures such as the wiping of the brow at recitals with that ubiquitous white handkerchief, a prop that never left him. But the aria that made him a household name was sung at the World Cup finals in 1990. His rendition of Puccini's Nessun Dorma made opera synonymous with the name of Pavarotti for millions of television viewers.
He was smart enough to seize upon that popularity and the global appeal of The Three Tenors' concerts and recordings to draw attention to his own projects, such as the annual festival in his home town of Modena. Add to that his duets with pop stars and his "hot ticket" recitals – including the one in 1991 in Hyde Park where Prince Charles and Princess Diana were among the many thousands who worshipped in the pouring rain. It all helped to make him the hottest operatic property in the world, a must-see for many who never ventured into an opera house. A divorce and a new young bride in his later years also maintained his meanderings between the arts pages and the front pages of the newspapers.
While he was the consummate showman, however, that should never be the sole reason for remembering him. Nor should the memories be of his final, almost static opera performances when his knees could barely support him. The way he should be remembered is as one of the greatest voices the opera stage has ever known.Reuse content