Luciano Pavarotti

If some hardcore opera buffs had doubts, the general public felt Pavarotti deserved the mantle of Gigli, Caruso, Tauber and Lanza as the greatest, most popular tenor. 

Pavarotti’s life could almost have been the plot of a Lanza film. His father, a baker, was a fine tenor and gave plenty of encouragement to Luciano, who was torn between music and football. The boy sang in the local choir, which won first prize on a visit to the Llangollen Festival. He made his stage debut as Rodolfo in La bohème in 1961 then, in 1963, returned to Britain to deputise for Giuseppe di Stefano in the same role at Covent Garden. Consequently, he was booked for Sunday Night at the London Palladium, the gem of ITV’s weekend schedule. Soon, his partnership with Joan Sutherland led to his appearance in La fille du régiment, where his famed facility for singing high Cs was established. Over the years his growing bulk and the developing imperfections in his voice hampered his opera appearances, and in 1992 he was booed at La Scala when, as Don Carlos, he cracked a note.


For many aficionados, he lacked the depth of Domingo, but his common touch, his large-scale open-air concerts, including the legendary 1991 occasion before the Prince and Princess of Wales when he persuaded most of the crowd to furl their umbrellas despite rain, his adept mixture of great operatic arias with much-loved Neapolitan ballads and his relatively restrained acting earned him the love and admiration of large numbers of the public. 

He always set great store by legato, his approach to which gave his performances a natural quality, but it was perhaps his exceptionally sweet and steady upper register that really marked him out. On the down side were his frequently embarrassing engagements with pop, a tendency to lose control of his vibrato in later years, and his increasingly difficulty in sustaining long performances. However, when he soars towards those final phrases of ‘Nessun Dorma’, all is forgiven…

Barry Witherden

In his own words: ‘I think a life in music is a life beautifully spent, and this is what I have devoted my life to.’


Greatest recording: Puccini La bohème  Von Karajan Decca 421 0492 (2 discs)