MODENA, Italy (AFP) — Legendary tenor Luciano Pavarotti died Thursday at his home in Italy aged 71, plunging the opera world into mourning for a singer whose crossover appeal made him a global superstar.
Hailed by many as the greatest tenor of his generation, Pavarotti died during the night at his villa near the northern city of Modena after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
"His condition progressively worsened up to this morning," said Antonio Frassoldati, one of the star's team of doctors. "He was very calm."
The funeral will be held at Modena Cathedral on Saturday. His casket was placed in the cathedral on Thursday evening, with the public allowed in until Saturday morning.
Pavarotti's wife, Nicoletta, who was at the cathedral, wept as about 1,000 admirers arrived to pay homage to the singer.
Pavarotti -- known in his prime for the opulent clarity of his voice and ability to hit high Cs with ease -- broke into the opera world when he won a competition in 1961.
He went on to perform across Europe before crossing the Atlantic in 1965 for a production of Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" in Miami, co-starring famed Australian soprano Joan Sutherland as Lucia.
It was with Sutherland in February 1972 that Pavarotti took London's Covent Garden and the New York Metropolitan Opera by storm with a sparkling production of a Donizetti favourite, "La Fille du Regiment."
Seven effortless high Cs on the opera's signature aria at The Met earned him a rapturous ovation that lasted 17 curtain calls.
"Luciano's voice was so extraordinarily beautiful and his delivery so natural and direct that his singing spoke right to the hearts of listeners whether they knew anything about opera or not," the Met's music director James Levine said Thursday.
To the shock of some classical music purists, the larger than life singer extended his appeal far beyond the operatic world, collaborating with pop stars such as Sting, U2 and even the Spice Girls.
U2 frontman Bono, who duetted with Pavarotti on a single about the plight of the Bosnian people, hailed the tenor as "a great volcano of a man who sang fire".
"Some can sing opera, Luciano Pavarotti was an opera," Bono said.
Pavarotti hit a truly global audience when his performance of the aria "Nessun Dorma" from Puccini's "Turandot" was chosen as the theme music for football's 1990 World Cup finals, held in his native Italy.
He sung Nessun Dorma during his last major performance, at the opening of the Winter Olympics in Turin in February 2006.
Among his best-known performances in recent years were with two other leading singers, Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo, known as the "Three Tenors", and the annual "Pavarotti and Friends" concerts in Modena.
"I 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," Domingo said.
Carreras mourned the loss of a "great artist," friend, cook and "great poker player."
But Pavarotti's volatile temperament and frequent cancellations made him a challenging booking, and in 2004 his former manager Herbert Breslin published a memoir that portrayed the singer as a spoiled man whose ego was matched only by his girth.
"He was a very beautiful, simple, lovely guy who turned into a very determined, aggressive and somewhat unhappy superstar," Breslin said.
As news of his death spread, the La Scala opera house in Milan held a minute's silence and the Vienna Opera House raised a black flag of mourning, while other stars from the world of opera and beyond were quick to pay tribute.
Sutherland told BBC radio that there was "no question" that Pavarotti's unique voice ranked him among opera's greats.
"It was incredible to stand next to it and sing along with it," said the 80-year-old Australian star, nicknamed "La Stupenda".
"The quality of the sound was quite different -- you knew immediately it was Luciano singing."
Italian film director Franco Zeffirelli said: "There were tenors and then there was Pavarotti," adding: "It is thanks to Luciano Pavarotti that the culture of opera spread to new generations."
Pavarotti's success also attracted the attention of the society columns.
He left his wife Adua in 1996 after 35 years of marriage and three grown-up daughters for his secretary Nicoletta Mantovani, whom he married in 2003, and with whom he had one child.
Since undergoing surgery for cancer in 2006, Pavarotti had at least five rounds of chemotherapy. He was hospitalised again on August 8 and discharged more than two weeks later after a battery of tests.
This summer, during a ceremony in honour of the singer on the island of Ischia near Naples, Mantovani said Pavarotti had been feeling well and was preparing a new album.
Early Wednesday, Pavarotti had expressed his pride at being the first to receive a new "cultural excellence" prize in Italy.
He said he was "full of emotion and gratitude ... because it gives me the opportunity to continue to celebrate the magic of a life spent in the service of art."
Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa, music director of the Vienna State Opera, said he was "shocked and very sad" at the loss of a great friend and singer.
"His tenor was so distinguished that I could immediately recognise it whenever I heard his songs at places like restaurants," Ozawa said.
Tributes also poured in from the political world, with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi mourning the loss of "a very great voice of the musical world and of Italy."
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