Pavarotti Remembered: His Career and Connections to Chicago

Luciano Pavarotti's voice touched millions of lives worldwide. His soaring vocals were comprised of an unparalleled versatility and grace that brought vigorous life to each and every performance in which he took part. And although he toured the world and visited countless cities over the span of his illustrious career, Luciano Pavarotti had a very special and unique connection to one city in particular; that city is Chicago. 

Pavarotti in Aida, circa 1983.

Pavarotti had a long and storied career. His professional success, starting at age 26, carried him the world over and brought him the fame and admiration that so many dream of and so few actually achieve. He raised millions of dollars for various charities, sold countless albums, performed for the Pope, and brought a whole new world of music to the mainstream.

Luciano Pavarotti in a promotional shot for "Operathon."

But in the last two decades of his life, Luciano Pavarotti's career took a serious commercial turn, focusing more on merchandising his name rather than performing an art. He became a kind of parody of his former self, playing the part of a superstar opera singer and living a life that could be described as decadent. One could say that he did this for his fans, knowing that the public wanted more Pavarotti and conceding to them what he thought they wanted. And while he essentially did give the public what it desired, the superstar lifestyle slowly took its toll on the singer, adding a thin layer of tarnish to an otherwise glorious career.

But before the sheen on Pavarotti’s golden career became scuffed and dulled, Chicago had the opportunity to enjoy some of the best years in the tenor’s life.

For 16 seasons, Luciano Pavarotti performed on the roster of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, singing some of the most memorable performances modern opera has seen. His performances in operas such as Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'Amore,"Verdi's "Un Ballo in Maschera" and his inaugural performance at the Lyric Opera, playing Rodolfo in "La Boheme" are still fondly discussed to this day. 

Pavarotti and the cast of "Rigoletto" in 1979.

Aside from his brilliant work at the Lyric Opera, Luciano Pavarotti had another, less positive connection to the city of Chicago.

As each season passed over the course of his tenure with the Lyric Opera, Luciano Pavarotti's fame grew by leaps and bounds and he became more and more ensconced in what would become a superstar lifestyle. Beginning in 1980 with a single cancelled performance as Gustavus III in "Un Ballo in Maschera," Pavarotti's behavior became more and more errant, with each season seeing more cancellations than the last. The final straw was in 1989, when he cancelled all of his performances in a single opera, forcing then Lyric Opera General Director Ardis Krainik to make a very bold move and dismiss Pavarotti from the roster. To dismiss a star as famous  as Pavarotti was a hand rarely played in the game known as the opera business.  As such, Director Krainik's move sent a shockwave through the world of opera; garnering a mixed response and solidifying her place in the history of modern opera.

The tenor with former Lyric Opera General Director Ardis Krainik in 1986.

Eighteen years after the incident, the Lyric Opera shows no hard feelings towards the late singer. In a recently released statement, the current General Director of the Lyric Opera, William Mason, says Pavarotti was a "uniquely memorable figure in every way" and the "opera world is much the poorer without his magnificent voice and his exceptionally endearing presence."

Luciano Pavarotti certainly left his mark on the world. But here in Chicago, despite all the highs and lows of the relationship, Pavarotti will always be remembered with fondness and respect. Because it was here that he gave some of his best performances, enriching an entire city, as well the whole world, with his remarkable presence in the world of opera.

All photos are courtesy of the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

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