For opera lovers, he will for ever be Rodolfo, the poet in La Boheme — the role which first made his name. For football fans, he is one third of The Three Tenors, who sang together on the eve of the 1990 World Cup.
Pop aficionados will know him for his collaborations with Sting, the Spice Girls, Bono and Elton John. Luciano Pavarotti, King of the High Cs, was also a man of the people; the singer — in publicists’ parlance — who brought opera to the masses.
In advance of the release of Ron Howard’s documentary about him next week, I went to Modena to visit his last home, which has been a museum to Pavarotti’s memory since 2015.
National treasure: The late Italian opera singer with his wife Nicoletta
In this city in Northern Italy (about a 45-minute drive from Bologna) Luciano Pavarotti was born in 1935.
The house, however, completed in 2005, stands on the site where Pavarotti met and fell in love with the young Nicoletta Mantovani — ‘Our love nest,’ as she calls it, the pain of her loss still palpable.
‘I was a student looking for work,’ explains Mantovani of their first meeting, as we sit in what used to be their living room. ‘I came, and was directed to the stables, where I found Pavarotti.
‘Unusually, because he was always surrounded by people, he was alone, and he started talking to me. It was destiny.’
Their relationship blossomed and in 2003 she became his second wife. They married in the opera house of Modena, which now bears his name. Pavarotti’s home, which he conceived, reveals both his tastes and character — his straightforward, sunny temperament reflected in the rustic, untreated wood floors, exposed wooden beams, enormous skylight and vivid colours on the walls.
Bright yellows predominate; reds (reminiscent of stage curtains) cloak the stairwell. The walls of his sitting room are also covered with paintings in primary colours, signed ‘Lupa’ — his own work — in a rare example of life imitating art.
‘Someone gave him a canvas and box of paints in the Eighties, after a performance of Tosca,’ says Mantovani. ‘He started painting and couldn’t stop — not eating for a week, to get into the part.’
Unusually, Pavarotti kept the costumes from his repertoire of 29 roles, and several are on display upstairs. As is a cabinet of letters from the great and the good: from Princess Diana to Hillary Clinton, Frank Sinatra to Spain’s King Juan Carlos, Bruce Springsteen to Gianni Versace and Kofi Annan.
Yet it is not these, nor his 500-plus awards, nor his platinum discs, nor even footage of his extensive humanitarian work to raise money for refugees that is most moving.
The house in Modena, above, has been a museum to Pavarotti’s memory since 2015
Rather, it is the personal items; those trivial objects of daily life, such as the collection of mugs with dog heads for handles or the army of little matryoshka dolls.
Most intimate of all is the bedroom where he died, in 2007, family photographs still framing the bed, his store of trademark oversized silk scarves and Panama hats still visible in the closet.
This eclectic collection of personal belongings remain as they were, offering a rare insight into the man himself: The old music box, library of scores and books (including an annotated score of Lucia di Lammermoor and a biography of his idol, Mario Lanza); the burr walnut Steinway where he worked with a pianist and gave free lessons to students; photos with Bono and the ‘other two’ tenors.
Interspersed with his paintings are letters and fragments of autographed scores by Verdi and Puccini.
Overlooking all this, a mannequin stands dressed in the maestro’s tailcoat — a ghostly reminder of his 6ft 2in presence. It comes complete with the trademark white handkerchief — a ploy devised, according to the new film, to keep his hands occupied when performing.
My favourite items are on the table where he used to play the card game Briscola.
On it are bow ties, the size of small bats; curved iron nails which the superstitious singer would touch for luck before a performance; and, best of all, his diary, for post-performance self-assessment. ‘OK,’ it mostly reads.
Neither in the film, nor in the house, is there any hint of another side to Pavarotti — spats with opera houses, charges of tax evasion, or capricious demands. The movie, like the house, opts to portray a generous, life‑affirming man, blessed with a unique set of vocal chords. As the legendary conductor Carlos Kleiber put it: ‘When Pavarotti sings, the sun rises on the world.’
Pavarotti, Ron Howard’s documentary about the singer, is released in cinemas on July 13. The official soundtrack, plus Pavarotti: The Greatest Hits, are available on Decca Classics. Entry to the Casa Museo Luciano Pavarotti costs £9, including audio guide (casamuseolucianopavarotti.it).