Singers, Fans, Friends Mourn Pavarotti

The funeral of Italy's greatest singer since Caruso took place Saturday inside the great medieval cathedral of Modena, the town where Luciano Pavarotti was born, lived, loved and died.

Among the mourners was the prime minister of Italy, Romano Prodi, opera stars, and some of Pavarotti's celebrity friends, such as Bono of the rock group U2.

Outside in the square, thousands of ordinary people -- Pavarottti's most loyal public -- stood and watched the service on a giant screen. Some wept, some sang along with the music. The Italian Air Force executed a flawless fly-by across a cloudless September sky, trailing red, white and green smoke -- the colors of the Italian flag.

One of the most moving moments of the service was when a recording was played of a duet Pavarotti sang with his father, Fernando, who worked as a baker all his life but was himself a gifted tenor.

Since Pavarotti's death on Thursday, his body has been lying in repose in the cathedral, dressed in operatic costume, in accordance with his wishes. Above his head was a drawing by his youngest daughter Alice, age 4. Tens of thousands of people lined up for hours to sign the condolence book and pay their last respects.

Luciano Pavarotti started his adult life as an insurance salesman in Modena.

"I was really quite good at it," he once said.

He burst onto the concert stage in his late 20s, with that God-given tenor voice that could turn a Puccini aria into a pop song.

The famous "Three Tenors" concerts that he started in the 1980s with Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras took opera far beyond the elite world of aficionados.

It also made Pavarotti an international superstar. Known as "The King of the high C's," he got into the Guinness Book of Records twice; for the biggest selling classical music album of all time and for the greatest number of curtain calls after one performance -- 165.

Pavarotti also staged dozens of charity concerts with his pop-star friends -- including Bono, Sting and The Spice Girls.

"He took such joy in life," said Nancy Zannini, who flew from New York for his funeral and who worked for his recording company. "He was so positive about everything."

But it was that voice that poured out music like a stream of liquid gold that made him great.

The famous soprano Kiri te Kanawa said, "He managed to sustain that vocal quality throughout his life. I don't think I ever heard him sing badly."

In spite of colossal weight -- about 300 pounds -- size did not matter with his audience. But Pavarotti admitted it sometimes mattered to him.

"My dream is that I wake up fifty pounds less -- and that I can fly," he once said.

And he did fly, right up to the Olympian heights of the world's great performing artists.