Opera star Luciano Pavarotti died today at his home in Modena, Italy. He was 71. “The Maestro fought a long, tough battle against the pancreatic cancer which eventually took his life,” said an e-mail statement that his manager, Terri Robson, sent to The Associated Press. “In fitting with the approach that characterized his life and work, he remained positive until finally succumbing to the last stages of his illness.”
Pavarotti established himself as the great male operatic voice of his generation before attracting a wider audience in the 1980s with the Three Tenors project, in which he sang to huge audiences with Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras. Then, in the 1990s, he staged a series of Pavarotti and Friends charity concerts, and shared the stage with rock icons, including Elton John, Sting, and Bono.
The world has lost “a classic Italian tenor voice,” said Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times (free registration required). He was capable of “spinning lyrical phrases with bel-canto elegance, then stunning you with visceral vocal outbursts.” What a shame that for the last decade of his career he “coasted on his talent and popularity.” Pavarotti gave so much to opera, yet “it’s hard to avoid feeling that he never completely fulfilled his potential, that he squandered some of his awesome talent by letting his enablers turn him from a hard working artist into an overindulged and sometimes clownish superstar.”
There’s no question that many people found the “unrelenting onslaught of personal publicity distasteful,” said Tim Page in The Washington Post (free registration required). After all, that was what “helped make Pavarotti the best-known and highest-paid classical artist of his time.” But anyone who ever heard the “king of the high Cs” sing knew that “behind the huggy-bear, ‘I'm just a happy, regular overweight Italian guy who loves to sing’ persona was a great and serious artist.”
Few opera stars could match Pavarotti’s “sheer electricity,” said Scott Cantrell in The Dallas Morning News. That was what made the Three Tenors concerts such a worldwide smash, and turned Pavarotti into “the most famous tenor since Enrico Caruso.” This “big, bearded man with a golden voice” exposed millions—in person and on TV—to an art form that too few seem to appreciate these days. “He was the opera singer every taxi driver and waitress could name.”