Arguably no other opera singer in music history achieved the same level of international celebrity as tenor Luciano Pavarotti; his voice -- robust, resonant, and immediately recognizable -- launched him into the stratosphere of household recognition usually reserved for pop stars and Hollywood icons, and in the process spurred opera itself on to new peaks of mainstream popularity. Born in Modena, Italy, on October 12, 1935, as a boy he enjoyed local fame as a member of the town's soccer team, and first sang in the chorus with his father, himself a fine amateur tenor and devoted opera buff. After the chorus won first prize in an international competition, the young Pavarotti's future was cemented: his solo debut came in 1961, portraying Rodolfo in a performance of La Boheme at the opera house in Reggio Emilia. His early success led to engagements throughout Italy and eventually Amsterdam, Vienna, Zurich, and London; Pavarotti's American debut came in February 1965, in a Miami production of Lucia di Lammermoor with Joan Sutherland (the first of their many pairings).
History suggests that the Pavarotti phenomenon began in earnest on February 17, 1972 during a performance of La Fille du Regiment at New York's Metropolitan Opera; after his effortless completion of an aria containing nine high Cs, the audience erupted in prolonged applause, and his stardom was assured. In the years to follow, Pavarotti essayed the roles of Arturo, Massenet's Des Grieux, Alfredo, the Duke, and Nemorino; as his voice darkened and grew, he also appeared as Manrico, Ernani, Radames, Calaf, and Otello. In 1977, Pavarotti reprised the role of Rodolfo for the premiere episode of the long-running Live at the Met television series, going on to appear in over a dozen broadcasts from the Lincoln Center; his entire stage repertory eventually reached record, and he also sold millions of copies of his solo albums of opera arias, traditional music, and holiday favorites. Pavarotti's live performances included many stadium dates, as well as numerous other attention-grabbing spectacles; additionally, some of his greatest success was achieved in the company of Placido Domingo and José Carreras, performing together as the Three Tenors. Pavarotti's last performance came at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, where he sang a typically poignant and powerful rendition of "Nessun Dorma" to an adoring crowd. On 6 September 2007, the world lost one of the greatest voices of all-time as Luciano Pavarotti lost his battle with pancreatic cancer and sadly passed away at the age of 71. ~ Jason Ankeny