On September 6th, 2007, opera singer Luciano Pavarotti, arguably the most amazing tenor since Caruso, died at age 71 of pancreatic cancer at his home in Modena, Italy. Pavarotti had a voice that was immediately recognizable; tender, expressive, and yet brilliant and clear at the same time. Born in Modena, his father an amateur singer and baker and his mother a worker in a cigar factory, Pavarotti transcended his modest beginnings and had a persona that was in many ways larger than life. He broke barriers between the frequently perceived high-brow culture of opera and, through his gregarious personality and exquisite voice, opened up the art form to be enjoyed by non-expert listeners everywhere. To accomplish this, Pavarotti, much to the chagrin of classical critics, performed in large stadiums, combined popular songs with serious operatic arias in concerts such as the series of “The Three Tenors”, and performed with the Spice Girls, Sting, Elmo on Sesame Street, and on Saturday Night Live with Vanessa Williams. He constantly reached out to bring the public into the concert hall. Pavarotti’s efforts were so successful that he enjoyed the popularity and celebrity normally associated only with rock stars. Music lovers around the world joined together to mourn and to commemorate this much-beloved musician, who will be greatly missed.
In Philadelphia, Pavarotti established the Pavarotti International Voice Competition in the 1980’s. Young singers competed in cities around the world and winners traveled to Philadelphia to participate in final rounds. Winners received financial rewards, concert contracts, and a role singing alongside Pavarotti in upcoming Opera Company of Philadelphia performances. One such performance, the 1982 performance of La Bohème, won an Emmy for the “best classical program in the performing arts”.
In addition to his work to encourage young talent, Pavarotti was also a great humanitarian. He worked tirelessly to provide funds for victims of wars in Bosnia, Guatemala, Kosovo, and Iraq. With Diana, Princess of Wales, he helped raise funds to eliminate land mines. His humanitarian efforts won him numerous awards including the Freedom of London Award, the Red Cross Award for Services to Humanity, and the Nansen Medal from the UN High Commission for Refugees.
Although Pavarotti is no longer here physically, his voice continues to live through countless sound recordings and videorecordings of his performances, widely available commercially and in libraries. Pavarotti was careful that nearly all of his performances were recorded in some fashion, leaving behind a legacy for listeners to continue to enjoy.
Paley Library has books about the great maestro, in addition to recordings of his performances on discs, and DVD’s. Streaming audio to some of his recordings is provided in the databases Classical Music Library (Verdi Requiem) and Naxos Music Library.
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