By Sigurd Neubauer
No artist has done more to popularize and democratize opera in the modern era than Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007). The modern history of opera can be divided into before and after Pavarotti.
In a wide-ranging interview, Nicoletta Mantovani, Pavarotti’s widow, opens up about his lesser-known attributes, including what she fondly describes as his easy going nature. The interview has been edited for clarity.
The Italian tenor brought opera to a worldwide audience of millions. His spectacular yet distinctive voice, charisma and generosity touched the hearts of many. Pavarotti is by far the greatest opera star of the modern era whose legacy remains unmatched.
Mantovani is passionate about celebrating her late husband’s legacy. She decided to establish Pavarotti’s namesake foundation after his passing in 2007 to preserve his human and artistic legacy. “Luciano was an extraordinary human being and a larger-than-life artist; I feel a duty to preserve his memory and to ensure that the public knows about who he was, and what he did. This is especially important for the next generation.”
She continues to work with “many of the people who collaborated with Luciano over the last years, especially with people who were very close and affectionate with him, which is why everyone at the Foundation enjoy a special commitment to preserving his legacy.”
Through her daily work at the Luciano Pavarotti Foundation, Mantovani continues to experience how much he meant to people. “He is still so much loved, admired and respected,” she says while acknowledging how his passing had left “a great void in her own life.” It was this void that prompted Mantovani to establish the foundation.
Nicoletta Mantovani is passionated about celebrating her late husband’s unmatched legacy
Initially slowed down by the global Covid-19 pandemic, the Foundation has now restarted its programming, which includes organizing concerts around the world, Mantovani reveals. While concerts are scheduled to take place in Turkey, South Korea, and Japan in the near future, there are currently no planned events for the United States, she says but expresses optimism that this will change soon.
At their former home in Modena, Italy, which has since been converted into a museum celebrating the late tenor’s life and legacy, outdoor programming such as concerts, seminars, educational concerts, picnics, matinée and more have been planned for the summer of 2023.
The museum is formally known as Casa Museo Luciano Pavarotti, which is part of the Foundation..
The Casa Museo was established to create what Mantovani describes as a permanent “monument” to her late husband’s life. It was also their last residence – and where he passed away. “He would have been happy because this house marked important moments from his last years. Additionally, his ever lasting legacy has [through the museum] sunk its roots into the land of Modena, which he loved so much.”
During Pavarotti’s lifetime, their home “was always open to friends, students, singers and people who loved and esteemed him,” Mantovani says while quipping: “I love the idea that it’s still like that, the home is still open and welcoming all the people interested in Luciano.”
Everything about their home in Modena was build according to what Mantovani attributes to Pavarotti’s “dictates and desires,” adding that it was built at the center of a large estate on the rural outskirts of the city. On the property itself, the late opera star cultivated one of his greatest passions: horseback riding, she reveals.
Pavarotti is still so much loved, admired and respected
The museum allows the visitor to discover Pavarotti’s daily routines and personal objects while getting to discover the family man behind the great artist, Mantovani says.
On how the museum, which Mantovani describes as the “home museum,” is organized, she says: “The Casa Museo has been designed to leave furniture and items exactly like they were when Luciano was there, which is the case for the entire ground floor and his bedroom. Other rooms have been filled with items from his life to celebrate his professional career, which include opera costumes, awards, scores, gold records and so forth.”
The reason for this, Mantovani explains, is that the museum wants people entering it “to discover both the person ‘Luciano’ and the artist ‘Pavarotti.’ In fact, we believe it has been the mix of his unique voice, on one hand, and his disarming charisma on the other, that made him one of the most appreciated and loved artist of his time.”
Pavarotti’s life-long generosity towards young talent is also a core tenant of what his namesake foundation celebrates. “It is perhaps not well-known that during his life, Luciano paid great attention to young people. He auditioned new talents and provided – always for free – singing lessons to deserving students.” Pavarotti simply loved teaching, Mantovani says, adding:
“He used to say that sharing his experience and passion with young people was his way to thank for the great gift he had received, the voice. It was also a means of perpetuating his visceral love for music and transmitting it to other people.”
The foundation, Mantovani explains, remains committed to Pavarotti’s legacy to provide opportunity for motivated and talented opera singers to perform.
“We invite young singers to take part in the events the Foundation organizes worldwide as a tribute to Luciano’s memory. We do not have a ‘fixed’ cast as we continually renew our roster of singers,” she says.
The foundation is not an “agency,” she clarifies but that it rather serves a springboard to launch the careers of young singers. Among some of the talent the foundation has nurtured include Ivan Ayon Rivas, Alessandro Scotto di Nunzio, Giuseppe Infantino. “Promising talent selected by the Foundation have not only achieved acclaim in Italy but internationally as well, Mantovani says.
About the lesser-known aspects of Pavarotti’s personality, Mantovani says: “Not many people knew that Luciano was a very simple man; he remained a humble and easy going person throughout his life. Visiting his home makes this clear.” After all, she continues, “the home was designed by him and there is no ostentation in it but only simplicity and warmth. Luciano was like that; this house reflects his personality.”
“If there is a misconception about Luciano, it is perhaps over his wish to ‘democratize’ opera: many people turned up their noses when he made unconventional choices such as bringing the art form to parks and arenas or performing with pop singers. Some even though this was corrupting opera or lowering it,” she recalls.
Pavarotti, however, saw it differently: “Luciano saw it as a way to bring opera to everyone. He wanted to share the beautiful artistic, cultural and musical heritage that opera represents with as many people as possible.”
Pavarotti’s home was always open to friends, students, singers and people who loved and esteemed him
Pavarotti was the preeminent interpreter of the Bel Canto operatic genre throughout his storied career. Bel canto, which means beautiful singing in Italian, was principally championed by the composers Gaetano Donizetti, Vincenzo Bellini, Gioachino Rossini and Luigi Cherubini.
“Luciano made Bel Canto known all over the world and he is still considered one of its most representative and appreciated interpreters,” Mantovani explains.
His late widow specifically points to the role of “Nemorino“ from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. It was one of the roles that he loved the most. “Luciano liked the purity and simplicity of the protagonist; he also loved playing “Rodolfo” in Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème because it was the role of his debut, and he sang it throughout his life.”
He even described it as his “first love,” and vocally, La Bohème was so suitable to his voice.”
But for Pavarotti the tenor, he preferred Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Ballo in Maschera. “Luciano used to say that he wanted to ‘sing it forever’ as it represents the most complete opera for the tenor; the singer has to deal with all the vocal challenges presented by the score,” Mantovani explains.
As a joyous bon-vivant, Pavarotti was also a global ambassador for Italian culture, including its famous and beloved cuisine.
“It is true, Luciano has often been referred to as an ‘Ambassador of Italian Culture’ because, thanks to his profession, he made opera – which embodies the music, art and history of our country – known everywhere. And it is thanks to his open, sunny personality that he introduced everyone to one of the greatest passions for Italians: food,” Mantovani says.
Pavarotti used to bring the Emilian products with him when traveling abroad; it was his way of feeling close to his hometown even when he was far away
For Italians, “food has a social dimension: meals are an opportunity to stay together, share experiences and this aspect was very important for Luciano. He was very attached to the flavors of his land as they represented a link to the history and culture of his patria. In fact, he used to bring the Emilian products with him when traveling abroad; it was his way of feeling close to his hometown even when he was far away. And Luciano also loved cooking, experimenting traditional recipes to which he added a personal touch.”
To celebrate his passion for food and cooking, the Museum recently published a cookbook, “Alla Luciano,” with “his original recipes that he prepared for family and friends,” Mantovani says.
The cookbook came about after the Modena-based star chef Luca Marchini helped the Foundation with collecting Luciano’s scattered notes and turn them into a deliverable form, she adds.
“Marchini also added some special professional advice since Luciano was only an amateur (but very passionate!) cook.”
The Pavarotti family continues to be involved in Foundation and Museum. The twice married maestro – whose second wife was Mantovani – reveals that the Foundation also collaborates with his daughters for special activities and initiatives. “The mission is the same for every one of the family: to keep Luciano’s memory alive; it’s a task everyone takes very seriously.”
Not many people knew that Luciano was a very simple man; he remained a humble and easygoing person throughout his life