ALL ARTS Documentary Selects


Pavarotti: Pop Tenor

Luciano Pavarotti is one of the few opera stars to become a household name. But did his stardom lead to more people attending operas? This documentary features interviews with Sting, Placido Domingo, and others who discuss Pavarotti's legacy.

AIRED: March 23, 2021 | 0:52:03

[ Cheers and applause ]

Interpreter: His voice was truly a gift, a gift from God.

♪Sempre un amabile ♪

♪Leggiadro viso ♪

♪In pianto o in riso ♪

♪E menzognero ♪

Interpreter: Lots of people discovered opera

thanks to his concerts.

Not only young people -- everybody started

going more to the opera.

He enlisted the help of pop stars, rock stars.

He was someone who could bridge both worlds.

He's not a pop singer.

He is a popular singer.

[ Pavarotti ♪Surriento ♪

♪Famme campà ♪



♪E tu dici "Io parto, addio!" ♪

♪T'alluntane da stu core ♪

♪Da sta terra... ♪

Narrator: On September 8, 2007,

the colors of Italy saluted Luciano Pavarotti.

[ Cheers and applause ]

His funeral was an opportunity for the people to pay tribute

to the man who said,

"I have proven to the world

that classical music does not belong to the elite."

[ Cheers and applause ]

He was very flamboyant.

I would say he was one of the most impressive figures

of my life, and certainly of the 20th century.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Narrator: In 40 years, Pavarotti had won over

all kinds of audiences,

outshone the other great voices on the planet,

and brought a global dimension to his success.

But first and foremost,

he was intent on brushing away the cobwebs from opera,

finding it a new public and freeing it of its hang ups.



♪Dilegua, o notte! ♪

♪Tramontate, stelle! ♪

♪Tramontate, stelle! ♪

♪All'alba, vincero! ♪

♪Vincero! ♪

♪Vincero! ♪



[ Cheers and applause ]

[ Cheers and applause ]



[ Man speaking Italian ]

Interpreter: Today, despite the power of television

and radio, opera has become much less popular than before.

It's sad.

It's almost like a dying art.

Narrator: Pavarotti began to wonder,

can we rescue this art form,

bring it a new public, a public made up of the people?


The reason Pavarotti set himself

the task of taking opera out onto the streets was firstly

because he himself was a man of the people.

He came from a working class family.

His father was a baker.

His mother worked at the local tobacco factory.

He grew up in Modena.

Luciano had a lovely voice.

He took singing lessons with his friend, Mirella Freni,

who also dreamed of a glittering future.

But his main passion was soccer,

and he played as goalkeeper for the municipal team.

He was studying to enter normal school to become a teacher

when he met Adua, his first wife.

Interpreter: Luciano was a joyous soul,

he loved laughing, good company and partying,

and he also loved the theater,

which he'd been going to since he was a kid,

because both his parents sang in a choral group

[ Pavarotti singing ]

Narrator: Luciano's parents would take him

to the Municipal Opera House to hear the great singers

of the day as they passed through Modena.

Aged 12, Luciano, who dreamed of becoming a singer,

plucked up the courage to seek the advice of

the greatest tenor of his generation, Beniamino Gigli.

Interpreter: How long did he study to reach this level?

He asked.

And Gigli replied. "I started 60 years ago...

And I just finished five minutes ago."

Interpreter: The person who really encouraged him

to study singing was his mother.

His parents played a very big role in that.

His father, too,

because he had a very good tenor voice.

[ Playing "Nessun Dorma" ]

Narrator: Leone Magiera was Pavarotti's accompanist

for 50 years.

They gave over 1,000 concerts together all over the world.

Their very first was at a singing contest in 1961.

At the time, Luciano was still an insurance salesman.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Interpreter: I accompanied on piano;

he sang a romance from "Manon," the opera by Massenet,

and "La Boheme" as well, I think.

♪Aspetti, signorina ♪

♪Le diro con due parole ♪

♪Chi son e, che sone e ♪

♪Che faccio ♪

Come vivo

Narrator: Luciano won first prize in the contest,

but it didn't help launch his career.

He was already 26 and the opera of Modena

refused to hire the native of the city.

He chased after any kind of work,

but nothing serious came along

until the day the Covent Garden Opera in London

called to ask him to stand in for a sick tenor immediately.

He received a very warm welcome

and an Italian newspaper ran the headline,

"Discovery in London of an Italian tenor."

But he still needed to be patient.

It wasn't until two years later that he was invited

to sing "La Boheme" at home in Modena.

Leone Magiera conducted the orchestra

and his childhood friend, Mirella Freni,

now a leading soprano herself,

starred opposite him in the role of Mimi.

♪Scrivo, e come vivo? ♪

♪Vivo ♪

♪Ah, tu sol comandi, amor! ♪ ♪Fremon già nell'anima ♪

♪Le dolcezze estreme ♪

♪Tu sol comandi, amore! ♪

Narrator: "La Boheme" became his talisman,

and the superstitious tenor would insist on singing it

every time he performed at a new venue.

"'La Boheme' is my lucky charm," he would say.

But in 1965, he was still worried about his future.

He was already 30 years old,

so how could he make a name for himself

among the world's top tenors of the day?

Interpreter: He wanted to be first in the class.

He wasn't like that at school.

But later, once he started singing,

he always wanted to be number one.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Narrator: Why not America, he pondered.

New York and its Italian community

had always adored beautiful voices

like that of his predecessor, Enrico Caruso.

[ Cheers and applause ]

In 1968, fate smiled at him.

New York had just inaugurated its new opera house,

which offered him the chance to sing his "La Boheme"

with Mirella Freni.

Success at the Metropolitan,

and he would have America at his feet.

But that night, he felt feverish

and considered canceling.

Interpreter: At the rehearsal,

he felt that his voice wasn't there,

but he insisted on singing.

And of course, the critics weren't kind.

"I was booed! They don't know the real me!"

And he came very, very close

to falling into a serious depression.

[ Pavarotti singing ]

Narrator: He returned to Italy, to Modena,

convinced that his future would be reduced

to that of an obscure provincial tenor.

[ Cheers and applause ]

It was Herbert von Karajan

who helped him restore his self-confidence.

His tenor had to pull out, and he thought of Luciano.

[ Singing in Latin ]

Pavarotti would often say he owed everything to Karajan.


He would try once more in New York,

haunted by doubts and convinced that the stage

of the Metropolitan brought him bad luck.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Narrator: Pavarotti was very superstitious,

excessively so.

Once he refused to sing an opera

because people thought it was jinxed.

"The Force of Destiny" by Verdi.

We studied Act I and his grandma fell ill.

After that, it was his wife's grandma.

So he said, "That's enough, Leone.

We're finished with this opera. Put it back on the shelf."

Narrator: In 1972, Pavarotti finally decided

to take another chance in New York

and Donizetti's "La fille du regiment."

Interpreter: It has one frightening aria

feared by all tenors

because it contains nine high-Cs,

which are in terrifying places.

So to sing it, you need incredible vocal generosity,

which only Pavarotti had.

♪Militaire Et mari, militaire Et mari ♪

♪Militaire Et mari ♪

♪Militaire ♪ [ Sustaining note ]

[ Concludes ]


[ Cheers and applause ]

Interpreter: The audience erupted --

without those famous high-Cs,

I don't think he would have succeeded so quickly.

[ Applause ]

Narrator: In the United States, where he became a huge star,

tickets to see the "King of the High-Cs,"

the man the Americans dubbed "Big Luciano,"

was selling like gold dust.



His pronunciation was perfect,

and because his pronunciation is so perfect,

the rhythm of the music came naturally to him.

♪E i bei sogni miei ♪

♪Tosto son dileguati ♪

♪Ma il furto non m'accora ♪


♪Poiché ♪

♪Poiché vi ha preso stanza ♪

♪La speranza! ♪


Never, hardly, you say, "Luciano, this note is high,

this note as flat" -- no.

Was fine.

So rehearsing with him was a pleasure.

Narrator: Success at the New York Metropolitan

meant a guaranteed career,

but Pavarotti turned it down.

He didn't want to get stuck in the stuffy world of operagoers,

he explained, "I want to sing to new audiences.

I don't want to always give to the same people."


He set about planning a recital tour,

then went off to conquer university campuses

and provincial America.

[ Pavarotti montage ]


And New York will never forget his dazzling concert

at Carnegie Hall.

[ Cheers and applause ]

While Pavarotti loved the United States,

he remained 100 percent Italian.

He often felt homesick

and made several round trips across the Atlantic each year

to stay in his beloved Emilia-Romagna,

his native region in Italy,

a land of the arts of Verdi, of Rossini.

It's the home of Italian music.

Every city and town has its opera house, large or small,

and Emilia has produced

some of the most beautiful operatic voices.

Interpreter: For those of us who are natives of Emilia,

the tradition of opera runs through our veins.

It's part of our DNA.

It's because it's "La Terra Verdiana" --

it's the land of Verdi.

And if you grow up where these melodies

are part of the music that your mother sings to you as a child,

then you feel that it's your birthright.


Narrator: The Pavarotti family was no exception

to the operatic tradition,

with his father, Fernando,

the baker and amateur tenor,

Luciano, for a long time,

sang during Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of Modena.


All his life, Pavarotti would remain deeply attached

to his hometown of Modena.

Man: He liked he could walk through the streets of Modena,

and people didn't fawn all over him,

but they would just say, "Ciao, Luciano."

And that was enough.

He felt at home there.

♪La mia canzone ti dice ♪

Narrator: in return for

the affection of his fellow citizens,

he offered them the chance to see opera

step outside of the municipal theater

for one night.

He sang his repertoire in the open air

on the main square in Modena.

This triumph would encourage him to continue on this path

to bring a love of opera to a much wider public.

[ Cheers and applause ]

This ambition was born in 1977

after a live television broadcast of "La Boheme"

from the New York Metropolitan Opera drew record audiences.

Overnight, Pavarotti became headline news,

reflecting the power of television.

[ Cheers and applause ]

♪Rime ed inni d'amore ♪

♪Per sogni, per chimere ♪

♪E per castelli in aria ♪

♪L'anima ho milionaria ♪

♪Talor dal mio ♪

♪Forziere ♪

♪Ruban tutti i gioielli ♪

[ Speaking Italian ]

Narrator: Pavarotti understood that for his art

to reach a wider audience,

he would need to attract cameras and microphones --

in short, to become a celebrity.

This idea was, in fact,

that of his agent, Herbert Breslin.


-Okay... -From his office

on 57th Street in New York,

Breslin managed the careers of the top singers of the time,

including Elisabeth Schwarzkopf,

Joan Sutherland and Grace Bumbry.

This opera fanatic who became Pavarotti's Pygmalion.

Breslin taught him the rules of success,

then set about turning him into a global superstar.

Pavarotti had a natural instinct for self promotion,

and in Breslin's ideas, he saw things he could work with.

[ Singing in Italian ]

Narrator: Breslin was a big fan of opera

and a man of strong character.

He was sometimes tough but always full of imagination.

Interpreter: He was full of ideas.

For example, when Pavarotti laughed,

he said his smile was worth a million dollars.


Narrator: Breslin was a master of promotional strategy.

He pushed Pavarotti to the front of the stage,

on the covers of magazines,

and as a guest on America's favorite talk shows.

He had him parade on Fifth Avenue, declaring,

"You sell a tenor just as you'd sell a bar of soap."

Breslin's statement that you can sell anything like soap

is designed to scandalize the classical music world.

Obviously, everybody gets all the vapors at the idea

that you could market classical music.

Narrator: Breslin even went as far as suggesting

a promotional photo shoot to Pavarotti's great rival,

Spanish tenor Placido Domingo.

Interpreter: His agent offered me forLife magazine

a photo with Luciano,

with both of us dressed as boxers in a ring.

I refused.

Narrator: But the way Breslin and Pavarotti saw things,

there was no such thing as bad publicity.

The publicity doesn't make any bad things.

Without make publicity on the radio,

without make a name, without make interview,

without make... which kind of publicity?

If American Express card? Very good.

When I sing at the Met, I hear, "Bravo, bravo!"

But when I travel, I hear, "Who?"

So I just got an American Express card.

With this, hotel and restaurant in places like London and Paris

treat me royally, even if I am not dressed like

the Duke in "Rigoletto."

If they choose somebody from the world of the opera,

very good -- it's mean that the world of the opera

finally exists.

Narrator: Pavarotti also declared,

"Today, having a beautiful voice isn't enough.

You need to be able to talk about yourself,

invent a personality and make it identifiable."

[ "Rhapsody in Blue" playing in background ]

Interpreter: He said, "Okay, I'm going to make

a spectacle of myself," and indeed, after that,

there was the black fedora

and miles of multicolored scarf around his neck.

Man: He would come out of the theaters

wrapped up in all kinds of blankets

and covers and so on.

♪E chi le guarda ♪

♪Soffre per amore ♪

♪E sogna per desio ♪

Narrator: Pavarotti displayed his difference openly,

with his outsized physique and the huge handkerchief

that always accompanied him on stage.

Interpreter: He always said to me it's a tribute to Caruso.

He always sang with a kerchief in his hand.

I'd say, yes, but Caruso had a normal handkerchief.

You have a gigantic bedsheet.

Interpreter: In a way, Pavarotti created a genre for himself,

one he didn't need.

[ Cheers and applause ]

But he needed the publicity

and craved to be admired by everyone, everyone, everyone.

[ Applause ]

♪Empi spegnetela ♪

♪O ch'io tra poco ♪

♪Col sangue vostro ♪

♪La spegnero ♪

♪Era già figlio ♪

♪Prima d'amarti ♪

♪Non puo frenarmi ♪

♪Il tuo martir ♪

♪Madre infelice ♪

♪Corro a salvarti ♪

♪O teco almeno ♪

♪Corro a morir ♪

♪O teco almeno corro a morir! ♪

♪O teco almeno ♪

♪O teco almeno corro a morir! ♪

[ Cheers and applause ]

Narrator: So much success aroused jealousy.

People began to criticize his repertoire as being limited

and almost exclusively Italian.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Interpreter: Pavarotti wasn't good with foreign languages at all.

He only felt comfortable expressing himself in Italian

[ Cheers and applause ]

Interpreter: When he sang "Le fille du regiment" in French,

the critics really laid into him,

claiming to have heard some Germanic dialect.

[ Cheers and applause ]

So he never tried singing in French again.

[ Cheers and applause ]

♪Un solo istante i palpiti ♪

Narrator: The critics also questioned

his lack of mobility on stage

and disparaged his acting skills,

calling them extremely limited.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Interpreter: He played his roles

as if he didn't really take them seriously.

He acted as if it were Luciano himself on stage.

Interpreter: He came on stage and he was himself.

He knew full well that audiences came to listen to his voice

and his voice alone.

♪Ti favelli al core ♪


Interpreter: He had such an incredible range,

but even more astonishing

was that the color of his voice never changed.

The color of his voice was very special.

It was like a Stradivari.

It was a special Italian color.

Interpreter: His voice, transported you elsewhere.

I rarely, maybe never, heard anything like it.

Everything about him was larger than life.

You know, the voice, the size of him, intelligence.


Narrator: His unchanging repertoire

and his wider and wider,

but certainly less demanding audiences

irritated certain opera buffs,

but Pavarotti fought back.

I am sorry to be arrogant, but they repeat what I say.

The music, like sport,

should be for everybody.

Narrator: In Paris in 1992,

he demanded a giant screen outside the Bastille Opera House

for those who couldn't afford to buy tickets.

"Street opera is a form of social conquest,"

he declared, ironically.

♪La rivedrà nell'estasi ♪

♪Raggiante di pallore ♪

♪E qui suonar d'amore ♪

♪La sua parola ♪

♪La sua parola udrà ♪

I think a lot of people who'd never heard opera

were brought into the operatic consciousness by Luciano.

[ Speaking indistinctly ]

[ Orchestra playing ]

♪Va, pensiero, sull'ali dorate ♪

♪Va, ti posa sui clivi, sui colli ♪

♪Ove olezzano tepide e molli ♪

[ Cheers and applause ]

Narrator: An avid poker player,

Pavarotti loved taking risks.

In 1984, he gambled on singing his classical repertoire

before 20,000 spectators

at New York's Madison Square Garden.


He wanted to test himself against all the greats

of American pop music.

He was the first-ever opera tenor

to take to the stage there.


[ Applause ]

♪Sento la mano tua stanca ♪

♪Cerca i miei riccioli d'or ♪

♪Sento e la voce ti manca ♪

♪Sempre un amabile ♪

♪Leggiadro viso ♪

♪In pianto o in riso ♪

♪E menzognero ♪

Narrator: It was a triumph.

Wherever he sang, concert halls were too small.

In London's Hyde Park,

he drew an audience of half a million --

more than the Rolling Stones.

♪Ridi, Pagliaccio ♪

♪Sul tuo amore infranto! ♪

[ Cheers and applause ]

Narrator: The public was at his feet.

Crowds grew larger and larger to hear him.

He was called the gargantua of music,

and his appetite for performing went hand in hand

with his appetite for food.

When he came to my door.

I opened both doors so he could come in.

And the first thing he said was, "I'm on a diet."

I said, "Well, that's good, Luciano,

I'm glad you're on a diet," so we sat down to dinner,

and he ate two whole chickens! [ Laughs ]

And then wanted mine.

Interpreter: I turned up in his room at 3:00 in the afternoon.

He said, "Eve, have you had lunch?"

I said, no. He said, "Okay, I'll order some pasta."

This huge pyramid shaped platter of pasta arrived.

And he said, "I'll just taste it to see if it's okay."

And he ate the lot.

Narrator: Every summer at his property in Pesaro

on the Adriatic Sea,

Pavarotti invited his friends -- stars such as Sting,

Zucchero and Peter Ustinov,

and he did all the cooking himself.

Pavarotti: ♪ Volare

Interpreter: Food was incredibly important to Luciano.

Wherever we were in the world, whenever it was time to eat,

he had to eat.

Of course, music had a very important place in his life,

but food perhaps had an even greater place.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Narrator: "To sing well," he said, "I must be happy --

and to be happy, I must eat."

♪La costanza, tiranna del core ♪

♪Detestiamo qual morbo ♪

♪Qual morbo crudele ♪

♪Sol chi vuole si serbi fedele ♪

♪Non v'è amor se non v'è libertà ♪

♪De' mariti il geloso furore ♪

♪Degli amanti le smanie derido ♪

♪Anco d'Argo i cent'occhi disfido ♪

♪Se mi punge, se mi punge ♪

♪Una qualche beltà ♪

♪Se mi punge ♪

♪Una qualche beltà ♪


[ Speaking Italian ]

Narrator: In the 1980s, to reach an even wider public,

Pavarotti slipped a few Neapolitan songs

into his repertoire.

♪L'aurora di bianco vestita ♪

♪Già l'uscio dischiude al gran sol ♪

♪Di già con le rosee sue dita ♪

♪Carezza de' fiori lo stuol! ♪

Narrator: In the late 1990s,

his unconditional fans still came to acclaim him at concerts,

but more rarely at the opera -- for financial reasons.

Interpreter: Singers who make their living from opera alone

have a difficult career.

It's a very tough career that isn't actually paid that well.

It's badly paid because there are maybe

a thousand people working on the production.

So the moment the curtain rises, the costs are enormous.

So the artists aren't paid as much as they'd like.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Interpreter: Learning an opera by heart

takes a minimum of one month, sometimes two.

[ Cheers and applause ]

And one month of learning meant a loss of

millions of dollars for Pavarotti.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Narrator: And to think some people

said that money mattered to Pavarotti.

He'd become so famous that even Hollywood

signed him up for a musical.

"Yes, Giorgio," the story of a tenor

who resembles him like the second pea in the pod.

♪Vincero! ♪

Announcer: Luciano Pavarotti, Kathryn Harrold...

Narrator: The movies -- what better way for Pavarotti

to reach a working class audience desperate to hear him,

but which never goes to the opera?

[ Cheers and applause ]

On his return from Hollywood,

the media began describing him as a diva with high demands,

a capricious star.

I think Pavarotti was a particularly difficult

prima donna -- I think when you are inflated to that level,

you develop a megalomania.

Interpreter: Every tenor --

all of them, without exception --

needs to be admired --

admired by women, some of them slept with him,

admired by the public.

And I think in a way, with all that admiration,

he forgot that he wasn't exactly Rudolph Valentino.

What I mean is, he wasn't a handsome man.

You couldn't say that.

But with all that he possessed,

hefelt like a handsome man.

Likethe man.

[ Chorus singing in Italian ]

[ Man speaking Italian ]

Interpreter: When you're on stage,

you become the character you're playing...

[ Cheers and applause ]

My wife always said to me,

"Ruggero, say you're not on stage anymore.

Time to get off of your throne."

[ Repeating phrases ]



It's a shame that Pavarotti's repertoire

has stayed so relatively small

because of his difficulty in learning new roles.

Narrator: Because one of Pavarotti's problems

was that he read and annotated music very poorly.

Interpreter: When the music went up,

he'd put an arrow pointing up.

When it went down, the arrow went down.

Interpreter: It's true that he didn't have

the musician's classical training

to be able to read complex scores.

He didn't read music, really,

but he had a wonderful and exceptional ear.

Narrator: He, too, was a magnificent tenor.

Each used the other as a benchmark

to see how they measured up.

Dinunzio: He would listen to recordings of somebody else

doing the opera that he was trying to learn.

So he got a lot of that from that,

so that our lesson the next day was pretty good.

And I'd say, "Luciano, that was okay."

And then he finally had to admit that he had, during the night,

he listened to some recording.

[ Pavarotti, Domingo singing ]

Narrator: His rival, Placido Domingo,

is, on the other hand, an accomplished musician

who conducts orchestras

and knows over 100 operas by heart.

He, too, is a magnificent tenor.

The two of them would discreetly size each other up

whenever they performed the same roles at the New York Met.

Interpreter: If Luciano hadn't been around.

I don't think my own career would have been what it is

and vice versa.

I think Luciano and I were very lucky

to face off with each other

in what was an honest, open competition.

Narrator: Their rivalry came to an end

at a public reconciliation in Rome in 1990,

a concert with Jose Carreras at the World Cup final,

an event that these three crazy soccer fans

wouldn't have missed for all the money in the world.

But Pavarotti also saw the World Cup

as a way of taking advantage of a global event

to bring opera to even more people.

[ Applause ]

[ Pavarotti singing ]

Famous music director Zubin Mehta was hired

to conduct the orchestra

and put together a musical program

which turned out to be much trickier than planned.

[ Pavarotti singing in Italian ]

Mehta: Now we cannot find any Italian opera

where three dramatic tenors are singing together.

So I asked my friend Lalo Schifrin,

a great movie composer in Los Angeles.

I said, look, each tenor will give you

their favorite pop songs, and you put it together.

♪ I like to be in America

♪ Okay by me in America

♪ Everything free in America

[ Men singing ]



[ Orchestra playing ]


♪ are

♪ And what was just a world was a star ♪

♪ Tonight!

[ Applause ]

♪ Pe' ll'aria fresca

♪ Pare già na festa ♪

♪ Che bella cosa

♪ E na jurnata 'e sole

♪ Ma n'atu sole

Interpreter: When we were singing "O Sole Mio,"

Luciano's started improvising --

[ Imitating Pavarotti trilling ]

And everyone went, "Wow!"

Jose and I looked at each other in surprise.

And when it was our turn to sing,

we decided to improvise too.

[ Imitating Pavarotti ] ♪Ma n'atu sole ♪

♪Cchiu bello, oje ne' ♪

♪'O sole mio ♪

♪Sta 'nfronte a te ♪

♪'O sole, 'o sole mio ♪

♪Sta 'nfronte a te ♪

♪Sta 'nfronte a te ♪

Interpreter: And at the end of the concert,

after we had used up our allotted curtain calls

and had no songs left, the encores kept coming.

[ Cheers and applause ]

So I said to Luciano and Jose,

"Okay, let's do 'Nessun Dorma,'

but the three of us together."

♪Dilegua, o notte! ♪

♪Tramontate, stelle! ♪

♪Tramontate, stelle! ♪

♪All'alba, vincero! ♪

♪Vincero! ♪

All: ♪Vincero! ♪

[ Orchestra playing ]



You know, when he sang the song "Nessun Dorma,"

that was huge!

A huge song,

people would never have heard "Turandot" before.

So he was a huge influence

and a popularizer of operatic form.

[ Applause ]

The Three Tenors would give a total of 34 concerts worldwide

and sell tens of millions of albums,

making them the biggest commercial success

of all time in classical music.

The effect was that all over the world,

young people heard these arias,

sang better than they ever heard it before,

and a lot of them started going to the opera.

[ "Nessun Dorma" playing ]

Narrator: Pavarotti's schedule

resembled that of a head of state,

and yet in his calendar,

he noted fewer concerts and more and more recipes

he picked up as he crisscrossed the globe.

But over time, his fondness for food

began to lead to serious weight problems.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Interpreter: When we were together

in his apartment in New York,

he hardly ever went out.

He got up to cook pasta,

but otherwise he was sitting down all day.

A lot of weight is very bad for the knees,

and it clearly affected him and his movements,

especially on stage.

Interpreter: He secretly told me he was concerned

and was looking for ways to lose weight

and was consulting with dietitians.

He was worried, very worried about his weight,

but he was always hungry.

Narrator: His private life suddenly turned upside down

when he left Adua

to marry a woman 34 years younger than him, Nicoletta.

[ Cheers and applause ]

They moved into this house in Modena.

[ Cheers and applause ]

A bright and colorful house in his own image,

filled with gaudy scarves and flowery shirts.

Lots of paintings, too, because if Luciano had one passion,

it was painting.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Interpreter: I think Luciano saw the world

not in black and white, but in color.

And he transcribed his positive vision of the world

in his paintings.

[ Cheers and applause ]

His palette, was composed of reds, greens and yellows,

bright colors which were part of his own nature.

[ Cheers and applause ]

He hated being in the dark.

In bed, he always slept with a light on

because he was scared of the dark.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Maybe that's why he splashed so much color over his canvases.


[ Applause ]

Narrator: His operatic triumphs did not distract him

from his eternal goal

of shaking up the musical barriers.

Pavarotti: ♪Mamma, solo per te... ♪

Narrator: Pavarotti had long combined bel canto with variety

and was eager to take it even further.

♪...tu non sarai piu sola ♪

Interpreter: He gladly stepped down from his so-called pedestal

and went out to meet people.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Narrator: He grabbed his phone

and called all the biggest stars in pop music,

offering them the chance to sing with him

for one night in Modena,

[ Cheers and applause ]

Interpreter: He always said, "I'm scared of nobody."

[ Cheers and applause ]

Whether it was the Queen of England

or the greatest actress in the world,

he'd speak to them as if they were friends.

[ Cheers and applause ]

[ Cheers and applause ]


"Pavarotti and Friends" was the name he gave to these concerts,

which took place in Modena every year for a decade.

[ Orchestra playing ]

Pavarotti: ♪Vivrem come cavalli ♪

♪Liberi dai recinti di ferro ♪

♪E piu non voglio rinnegare i sensi ♪

♪Su dai, fuggiam ♪

♪Vivrem come cavalli ♪

Narrator: He even managed to persuade Sting to sing a piece

by Cesar Franck -- in Latin.

I used to be an altar boy. [ Laughs ]

And I sung Latin as a child.

We managed to blend our styles together.

I think it was good -- one of my great memories.

[ Harmonizing in Latin ]

♪O res mirabilis! ♪

♪Manducat Dominum ♪

♪Pauper, servus et humilis ♪

Narrator: Proceeds from the concert

went to charities working in war-torn countries.

[ Cheers and applause ]

He was a great humanitarian.

You know, I don't think it takes much thinking to do this.

You know, if you're a generous person,

you're a generous person.

♪ It's an orchestra of angels ♪

Narrator: But in the Pavarotti and Friends concerts,

show business gradually began taking over from opera.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Interpreter: Fans of opera felt somewhat cheated by this episode

and a little angry too.

Because when you have the divine voice of Pavarotti,

you sing divine things.

♪ When you feel like ♪Non perderti perche ♪

♪ Hope is gone

♪ Look inside you

♪La luce tua si accender? ♪ ♪ And be strong

♪ And you'll finally see the truth ♪

I think that Pavarotti's career by the '90s

have become such a juggernaut that it was beyond

any one person's ability to shape.

Narrator: His mentor, Herbert Breslin,

announced he was leaving him.

...a wonderful person, but he doesn't...

Midgette: I will say, for Breslin,

while his emphasis was so much on commercial things

and marketing -- he really loved the art form.

And I think it was unimaginable to him

that Pavarotti would not care about the art form.

[ Speaking Italian ]

Interpreter: Little by little, he found himself

submerged by contracts

and his voice started showing signs of fatigue.


Narrator: The opera world stopped taking him seriously.

Articles in the press were malicious,

claiming he was now incapable of performing an entire opera.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Interpreter: There came a time when he started canceling

a lot of concerts or showing up with another musician.

It was a flutist for some time,

and for a one hour concert, he'd only sing for 20 minutes.

But people weren't stupid --

they'd paid good money for their seats

and they didn't want to see that.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Narrator: Some started talking about his twilight years,

but he didn't care -- he refused to bid his farewells

and leave the stage.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Interpreter: When you're on stage,

you get so much pleasure,

because the audience adores you.

[ Cheers and applause ]

So it's very hard to say "It's over."

[ Cheers and applause ]

The strength you dig up

when you walk onto a stage in front of

2,000, 2,500, 10,000 people,

it's so all-consuming that it's like a drug,

because you need to explode with that pleasure.

Pavarotti: ♪Ben tu 'l sai ♪

♪M'abbandono il vigor! ♪

♪D'Isabella l'amor ♪

Narrator: Pavarotti's operatic appearances

became increasingly rare, but in 2004,

he took to the stage one last time to play Mario in "Tosca"

at the New York Metropolitan Opera.

It was to be his farewell appearance.

He was exhausted.

Interpreter: I must say, it was very pathetic,

extremely pathetic.

Because to see him turn up,

carried by two men...

It's true that his voice wasn't what it once was,

and we would have been happy with that.

But to see him handicapped to that degree

was very, very difficult.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Narrator: The opening ceremony

of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin

marked his final public performance.

[ Cheers and applause ]

[ Cheers and applause ]

Interpreter: He wasn't well at all in Turin.

I had advised him not to sing.

And shortly after, he did actually fall ill.

[ Cheers and applause ]

I recorded 10 takes with the orchestra

and he chose the one he liked best.

And it's true that in Turin, he lip-synched.

♪Vincero ♪

♪Vincero! ♪


[ Cheers and applause ]


[ Cheers and applause ]

[ Cheers and applause ]


Narrator: His hometown of Modena

is proud to have offered the entire world

such a voice.

In this theater, where he made his debut,

it's the turn of new young opera singers

to try to make a name for themselves.

[ Woman singing ]

Will their generation breathe new life into opera?

Will opera finally leave the opera house,

according to Pavarotti's wish?

[ Orchestra plays flourish ]

Interpreter: Pavarotti didn't take opera onto the street.

He went out onto the street,

but opera stayed in the opera house

Interpreter: Bringing opera to working class people

was his dream.

And I'm still not sure whether he managed to do so or not.

But his popularity did enable him

to be heard all over the world.

And that certainly had an influence

on the dissemination of opera.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Narrator: The Municipal Theater of Modena

now bears the name of Luciano,

son of a baker and son of the people.

[ Cheers and applause ]

"I've led an extraordinary life," he confided,

"but I have always kept the vision of an ordinary man,

that of a poor kid from Modena

who believed he had a beautiful voice."


♪La donna è mobile ♪

♪Qual piuma al vento ♪

♪Muta d'accento ♪

♪E di pensiero ♪

♪Sempre un'amabile ♪

♪Leggiadro viso ♪

♪In pianto e in riso ♪

♪E menzognero ♪

♪La donna è mobil ♪

♪Qual piuma al vento ♪

♪Muta d'accento ♪

♪E di pensier ♪


♪E di pensier ♪

[ Sustains note ] ♪E... ♪

♪E di pensier ♪

[ Cheers and applause ]

♪Già la luna è in mezzo al mare, mamma mia, si salterà ♪

♪L'ora è bella per danzare, chi è in amor non mancherà ♪

♪Già la luna è in mezzo al mare, mamma mia, si salterà ♪

♪L'ora è bella per danzare, chi è in amor non mancherà ♪

♪Già la luna è in mezzo al ♪

♪Mamma mia, si salterà ♪

♪Danza, danza, danza a tondo ♪

♪Donne mie venite qua ♪

♪Un garzon bello e giocondo a ciascuna toccherà ♪

♪Finchè in ciel brilla una stella ♪

♪E la luna splenderà ♪

♪Il piu bel con la piu bella ♪

♪Tutta notte danzerà ♪

♪Mamma mia, mamma mia ♪

♪Già la luna è in mezzo al mare ♪

♪Mamma mia, mamma mia ♪

♪Mamma mia, si salterà ♪

♪Frinche, frinche, frinche, frinche, frinche, frinche ♪

♪Mamma mia, si salterà ♪

[ Cheers and applause ]


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