Thousands of mourners filed past the open white casket of Luciano Pavarotti in his hometown cathedral Friday to pay their last respects to the tenor whose charisma and voice were celebrated around the world.
More than 10,000 people have viewed the body of the city’s most famous son since Thursday evening, when the public was allowed in just hours after his death from pancreatic cancer at age 71.
Pavarotti’s coffin was surrounded by wreaths. He was dressed in white tie and tails, his hands holding the trademark white handkerchief and a rosary. A red veil with an embroidered treble clef was placed at his feet inside his coffin.
“He’s a symbol of Modena, a symbol of Italy, he’s international,” said Simone Sarrau, 32, who waited in line until nearly midnight Thursday. “He’s a one of a kind. There’s only him, and there will always only be him.”
The crowd applauded in a sign of respect as pallbearers carried the casket into the cathedral on Thursday for a viewing that ended at midnight and resumed shortly after dawn Friday.
He is survived by his second wife, Nicoletta Mantovani, their daughter, Alice, and three daughters from his first marriage.
Premier Romano Prodi was expected to attend the service, his office said, and tenor Andrea Bocelli was scheduled to sing the hymn “Panis Angelicus,” which Pavarotti himself performed at the same cathedral in a memorable duet with his father, Fernando, in 1978.
Giant TV screens were set up near the 12th-century cathedral for the public, and the air force’s precision flying team — the Frecce Tricolori, or Tricolored Arrows — will perform a flyover with contrails of red, white and green in the colors of the Italian flag as the casket is brought out of the cathedral, the ANSA news agency said.
The Modena city hall said the tenor would be buried in the Montale Rangone cemetery, near Modena, where members of his family, including his parents and stillborn son, Riccardo, are buried.
‘Last great Italian voice’
“Pavarotti was the last great Italian voice able to move the world,” said Bruno Cagli, president of the Santa Cecilia National Academy in Rome.
His legacy also reached beyond the opera house. He collaborated with classical singers such as soprano Joan Sutherland, but also with pop stars like Elton John, the Spice Girls and Sheryl Crow to bring opera to the masses, rescuing the art from highbrow obscurity in the process.
In many ways, Pavarotti fulfilled the public’s imagination of what an opera star should be. He often wore a colorful scarf and a hat, be it a fedora or a beret, and while he didn’t always have a beard, it was hard to imagine him without it. His heft — as well as a restaurant on his property in Modena — evinced his gourmet appetite.
But above all, his clear voice, and his prized diction, made him beloved by millions.
As Modena celebrated its most famous son, the atmosphere wasn’t sad or tearful but warm. Many brought their children, and thousands of pictures of the tenor were distributed to mourners. Others were grateful to the tenor for making Modena — a quiet city of about 180,000 people near the Po River — famous around the world.
A childhood friend recalled the school days with Pavarotti and the tenor’s love of soccer — later matched by his passion for horses.
“When we played soccer, passing him was not easy. He was really big and really strong, but he always played very carefully and with respect, especially for those smaller than him,” Giancarlo Pellacani told AP Television News.
Ease at hitting top notes
Pavarotti was known as “the King of the High Cs” for his ease at hitting the top notes. He was the best-selling classical artist, with more than 100 million records sold since the 1960s, and he had the first classical album to reach No. 1 on the pop charts.
Some of the greatest opera stars were in his debt — from the young talent whom he fostered to Spanish tenor Jose Carreras, who said Pavarotti had supported him in moments of difficulty, including his battle with leukemia.
Pavarotti purposely sought to commercialize opera, scoffing at accusations that he was sacrificing art. He relished that the hugely successful “Three Tenors” concerts with Placido Domingo and Carreras reached 1.5 billion people, filling stadiums.
Some would argue opera owed itself to “Big Luciano.”
“When I wanted to construct the Bastille opera house in Paris about 30 years ago, they told me I was crazy. ’Opera was dead,’ they said,” former French Culture Minister Jack Lang told ANSA. “Pavarotti returned opera to popularity and contributed to its rebirth.”
In Los Angeles, Domingo said he “always admired the God-given glory of his voice — that unmistakable special timbre from the bottom up to the very top of the tenor range.” In Germany, Carreras told reporters he was “one of the greatest tenors ever.”
Pavarotti himself was clear on his legacy. “I think a life in music is a life beautifully spent, and this is what I have devoted my life to,” Pavarotti said in a quote posted on his Web site.