Luciano Pavarotti, who died this morning at his home in Modena, never made it look easy. He liked to say he was an athlete of the voice, and so he was, but his grace of movement dissipated by his middle years, when his knees rebelled against his bulk. Before singing an aria, he would prop himself on a stool, drink from the water jug none too artfully placed by his station, and twist a square of fabric. Then the throat would open, and a golden wave would roll through the house. At his best – which was not always – he sounded unstudied, spontaneous, elemental, as if he had just noticed the glinting stars and perfumed earth and had to sing about them right away. The voice was light but muscular, agile and massive, and it made itself known in a semiquaver. You could never mistake his tone for someone else’s. All his fussing could seem overdone, but it wasn’t an act. Pavarotti always felt that his fans didn’t appreciate the labor and the fright of going onstage. He read music badly, if at all, and learning a new role was an agony that he put himself through as infrequently as possible.
He never really tried to act. Nemorino, Cavaradossi, Manrico, Chenier, even Otello — none of those roles ever strayed very far from Luciano, and their various heroics were subsumed by the giddy adventure of hitting the notes. Once that was accomplished and the aria was over, Pavarotti allowed himself a huge, irresistible child’s grin. He welcomed applause with arms extended as if to soak up every ounce of available love. It was his bottomless need for affection that turned the tenor into a tenorissimo. (Pasta and money were acceptable substitutes, if provided in generous enough quantities, but they never worked for long.) If the opera house couldn’t muster enough adoration, perhaps stadiums or television could. He was always the first of the Three Tenors — the only one who could fill arena after arena on his own. Musically, those were not his finest moments, but he didn’t care. He was a baker’s son, and a committed populist. Pavarotti could never satisfy all of his epic appetites, but he made some headway into one of them: the desire to sing so that everyone in the world could hear him and nobody would feel left out. —Justin Davidson
Opera star Pavarotti dies aged 71 [Guardian]