Italy mourns tenor with voice of platinum

Singer succumbed to cancer of pancreas which he saw as payment for happiness

Mourners last night began to file past the coffin of Luciano Pavarotti in Modena cathedral at the end of a day of searing bereavement in which the heart of Italy went out to a man its prime minister, Romano Prodi, said had devoted his life to "spreading passion and culture".

The great tenor's funeral service, to be held in the cathedral tomorrow, is expected to be attended by a host of celebrities from the world of music and beyond. Mr Prodi is expected to postpone an official visit to Slovenia in order to attend.

Pavarotti's manager, Terri Robson, said the singer died at 5am at his country house. At his side were his second wife, Nicoletta Mantovani, their young daughter, Alice, and his three daughters by his first marriage, Lorenza, Cristina and Giuliana. Pavarotti's sister, his nephews and other relatives and friends were also present. But not apparently Adua Veroni, to whom he was married for 34 years before he wed his assistant. "Big Luciano", as the 127kg (20st) singer was known, succumbed to cancer of the pancreas diagnosed in July last year. In his last interview, with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, he said he regarded it as a kind of payment for his "fortune and happiness".

Mr Robson said: "In fitting with the approach that characterised his life and work, he remained positive until succumbing to the last stages of his illness."

The singer was taken to hospital last month and spent two and a half weeks undergoing tests and treatment before returning home on August 25. His doctor, Antonio Frassoldati, told Sky Italia that Pavarotti was "aware of what was happening" to the end.

The controversies over the tenor's private life and his descent into commercialism towards the end of his career were forgotten as Italians celebrated his warmth, humour, and what the soprano Katia Riciarelli called "a voice of platinum".

"There were tenors and there was Luciano Pavarotti," said the director Franco Zeffirelli. Andrea Bocelli, often hailed as Pavarotti's natural successor, said: "The knot in my heart only comes undone at the thought that his art will remain with us forever."

Many comments reflected a realisation that Italy had lost what the opposition leader, Silvio Berlusconi, called "an ambassador of our music, our culture and our traditions". Even the Vatican's official newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, had something to say, noting that Pavarotti should be remembered not just for his "exceptional vocal gifts", but also for his charitable work, especially the Pavarotti and Friends series of concerts.

The office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Rome revealed yesterday that the concerts had raised $7m (£3.46m).

There were tributes from the world of sport. It was football, and specifically the 1990 World Cup in Italy, that propelled Pavarotti from the status of an opera idol to that of a global celebrity. His Nessun Dorma was adopted as its theme song and it was on the eve of the final that he took part in the first of the Three Tenors concerts, alongside Plácido Domingo and José Carreras. Pavarotti was a lifelong Juventus supporter. Gianluigi Buffon, the Turin club's goalkeeper, said: "To lose a real number one creates a great vacuum."


John Hooper in Rome

The GuardianTramp

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