Opera Great Luciano Pavarotti Dead at 71

Italian opera star Luciano Pavarotti has died at his home in Modena, Italy, the singer's manager said.

The legendary tenor, who was among the world's most celebrated and beloved singers, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2006. He was 71 years old.

At his side were his wife, Nicoletta; his daughters, Lorenza, Cristina, Giuliana and Alice; his sister, Gabriela; and his nephews and close relatives and friends, according to a statement issued by manager Terri Robson.

His last public performance — singing the aria "Nessun Dorma" from Puccini's opera "Turandot" — was at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, in February 2006 and his last full-scale concert was in Taipei, Taiwan, in December 2005.

In the months preceding this, he had given worldwide farewell concerts in Central and South America, the United States, Spain, France, Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Japan, China, Russia, the Czech Republic, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, according to Robson's statement.

He had such outsized talent, that his appeal reached far beyond opera lovers.

"Luciano Pavarotti is the Babe Ruth of the opera world," Joseph Volpe, Pavarotti's longtime friend and former general manager of New York's Metropolitan Opera, told ABC News before the singer's death. "There isn't anywhere Luciano wouldn't be recognized — incredible charisma, smile and his sense of humor!"

Volpe also knew that Pavarotti's magic with the crowds was great business, "People would pay the high price for an entire season's series of 10 operas just to hear Pavarotti in one of them," he said.

If opera is all about the emotions made supreme, Pavarotti was a master and his voice was the ultimate instrument for it, Volpe explained, recalling the raptures he and thousands of other opera lovers felt.

"The warmth of his voice, it was kind of like being out on a beautiful summer day. You feel this warmth, you feel relaxed, feel this is what life's about," he said.

If opera is all about the drama and the tragicomedy of life, the very image of Pavarotti was all about that too — and very Italian.

He loved to eat, loved to gather a giant table of family and friends and really loved to sing.

Son of a Singing Baker … Deep in the Heart of Opera Country

Pavarotti was born in Modena, Italy, deep in the heart of opera country — not all that far from Milan with its world-famous opera house, La Scala.

His father was a baker and amateur tenor, with whom a young Pavarotti sang in choirs and choruses.

Pavarotti had dreamed of being a soccer player, but then "that voice" emerged and his music just took over. They say people born with great voices just love to sing, have to sing. Pavarotti was soon concentrating all his spare time — while teaching school and selling insurance to make money — on studying the fine points of phrasing and repertoire and foreign language pronunciation for those operas in languages other than Italian.

Pavarotti's opera stage debut was in 1961. He caught the attention of diva Joan Sutherland, who asked him to join her tours in 1965. He gathered experience and notice and finally got a big break on the concert stage in "La Boheme." Pavarotti sang the part of a passionate young artist who had found his muse, and the opera world found a new star.

Then he did something astonishing and totally unexpected.

There is a passage in the opera "Daughter of the Regiment" where nine high C's follow close upon one another.

No tenor had ever even attempted it.

"Pavarotti was always challenging himself, always looking for something new to try," said Volpe, who was there the night Pavarotti tried it at the New York Met. He remembers the pandemonium that ensued.

Pavarotti has written of it, telling how his nervousness and self-rebuke soared in the hours and minutes before he would go on stage and try it. "Why am I doing this to myself?!"

Then he stepped out on stage. The music soared, the passage arrived and before he knew it, it was over and he had done it. He hit all nine high C's in a row. Perfectly. He even made it seem easy.

The opera house went wild.

A superstar was born.

Not Just the High Notes

But it wasn't just his mastery of the high notes that made Pavarotti's voice so extraordinary, as Volpe explained.

"Luciano focused all his expression in the voice, the singing," said Volpe, acknowledging that Pavarotti didn't make that much of a mark with his acting, as some opera stars try to do.

"What was it you were hearing? His voice? Or did you say, My God! This guy really believes this!" Volpe said.

"He could sing and break your heart — that's what it was."

"That voice" attracted whole new opera audiences around the world. Half a million gathered to hear him one night in New York's Central Park.

When he asked Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras to join him in "The Three Tenors," it made opera part of pop culture:

They broke sales records for classical music worldwide.

Looking back on it all, Pavarotti explained it like this: "It's not to make myself popular," he said in a 1981 BBC television interview. "It's to make the world of opera popular. I think it's the certain way to give back what God gave to me — the only way [to] please as many people as possible."

Inexplicable Magic

Volpe remembers the inexplicable magic — like love itself — that materialized between the superstar with his great toothy smile and his audiences with their suddenly pregnant yearning when Pavarotti appeared.

"He walks on stage. Just the way he would walk on and smile, the audience would sometimes go crazy just for that. He hadn't even done anything yet, "said Volpe. "He just walked out there. That charisma, that personality, that somehow reached so many people."

As his fame grew, so did his girth and so did the rumors of amours.

Late in life, when his marriage of many years fell apart as he left his wife for a young assistant, it all seemed to many fans like part of the opera. They didn't seem to mind.

"One thing is for sure. The audiences react to what you give them," Pavarotti said in the BBC interview. "I love people, and I think people understand that."

In his most famous and acclaimed aria performance "Nessun Dorma," he sang about love's ability to conquer all. So it was with Pavarotti — between the singer and those he sang to — a love affair to the end.