|Luciano Pavarotti in Vélodrome Stadium, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
In the Italian town of Reggio Emilia, Pavarotti made his professional debut in 1961 as Rodolfo in Puccini's La bohéme, a role that would become one of his favorites throughout his career. Two years later, his first performances outside Italy took him to the Vienna Opera House, where he sang Rodolfo and also appeared in Verdi's Rigoletto as the Duke of Mantua. Later that year he replaced his mentor and idol, Giuseppe Di Stefano, in this same role at Covent Garden (London) when the elder tenor fell ill at the last moment. After being "discovered" by Joan Sutherland, Pavarotti was invited to perform alongside the famous soprano on a tour of Australia. He gave his first U.S. performance in Miami -- hardly an opera hotbed -- in February 1965, appearing as Edgardo opposite Sutherland, who sang her signature role of Lucia in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor.
In 1972, Pavarotti's first appearance at New York's Metropolitan Opera was as Tonio in Donizetti's comic opera La Fille du Régiment, where the aria "Ah, mes amis" includes nine high Cs. His effortless performance of what is generally considered the most difficult lyric tenor aria in the repertoire prompted 17 curtain calls, and a legend was born. During his career, he performed hundreds of more times on the Met's stage, and he was also featured in the very first television broadcast  of the series Live from the Met. For that program, Pavarotti reprised his role of Rodolfo in La bohéme, with Renata Scotto as Mimi. He continued to appear on opera stages throughout the world -- his favorite roles also included Manrico in Verdi's Il trovatore, Nemorino in Donizetti's Le elisir d'amore, and Cavaradossi in Puccini's Tosca -- including La Scala [Milan], where his performance in Radames in Verdi's Aida in 1985 was one of the most heralded in the long history of that particular venue.
His fame grew even greater as one of the Three Tenors -- Placido Domingo and José Carreras were the others -- whose performance in Rome prior to the 1990 World Cup finals resulted in the best-selling classical recording of all time. Their continued appearances throughout the decade in front of stadium-sized audiences helped raise awareness of opera with much of the general public. Pavarotti's final Met Opera performance (as Cavaradossi) took place on March 13, 2004, and his farewell tour of 2006 was cut short when the maestro was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July. He died at home in Modena in September of the following year.
By Paul Siegel
The two video clips that accompany this article are from two distinctly different periods of his career, but both show off his magnificent voice. The first is a recital performance (piano accompaniment only) of "Che gelida manina" from Puccini's La bohéme, recorded in 1964 when he was 29. The second is "Vesti la giubba" from a live performance of Leoncavallo's I pagliacci at the Met in New York in 1994, when he was 59.
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