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.
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."
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.