2001 was notable for Luciano Pavarotti in two respects. Firstly, it was the year the 66-year-old was acquitted on long-standing charges relating to tax evasion and the listing of Monte Carlo, in the tax haven of Monaco, as his official residence. The acquittal was preceded by Pavarotti agreeing to pay $7.6m in Italian tax for the period 1989-1995.
2001 was also the year that Pavarotti sang César Franck’s Panis Angelicus with his 88-year-old father, Fernando, in a performance broadcast on Italy’s RAI Television. Being 88, Pavarotti senior had a little trouble with his tone and the power of his delivery, nonetheless, it is clear that Fernando had been a skilled tenor. It is a very moving duet.
Pavarotti was born in 1935. His father was a baker and his mother, Adele, worked in a cigar factory. The family was skint. Pavarotti once said that his formative urge to sing came from hearing Fernando: ”I said that my father is a tenor and that I am a little tenor.” Pavarotti said that Fernando could have been a professional, were it not for “nervousness”. By the time he was nine, Luciano had joined his father in a small church choir. He cherished his father’s records of popular tenors.
2001 was not the first time that Luciano Pavarotti sang with his father. Fernando appears in occasional small roles in recordings featuring Pavarotti, at least from Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller, 1975. In January 1981, Fernando made his debut at NYs Metropolitan Opera House, when he joined his son for an encore duet of Panis Angelicus. The following video is a 1978 recording of Fernando, 65, and Luciano, 43, singing the same duet in the Cathedral of their home town, Modena.
Back in 1978, Fernando Pavarotti certainly had no problems with his tone or vocal power. Describing, Fernando’s “sentimental” appearance at the Metropolitan Opera House, 1981, the New York Times wrote: “Although not a trained singer, he does possess a pleasant, natural tenor voice”.
Fernando Pavarotti died at the age of 89 on 24 May 2002, less than five months after Adele, his wife and Luciano’s mother. It was also less than a year after the aged Fernando duetted with his son on Italian television.
Sadly, Luciano Pavarotti did not outlive his parents by long. The beloved, world-famous tenor was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July 2006. He fought back, had invasive abdominal surgery, and hoped to resume his career. It was not to be. Pavarotti died at his home in Modena, Northern Italy, on 6 September 2007.
Looking back at the 2001 father/son duet, we are reminded that great performances are not always technically perfect. Pavarotti senior’s voice had clearly declined, but the bond between the Pavarotti’s is plain to see, as is the mutual respect and pride. It is a touching duet, not least because of Fernando’s advanced old age, and it’s great to see Pavarotti congratulating his father afterwards. As one YouTube comment puts it: “Absolutely beautiful! Ripe old age and still the spirit of music drives his heart to love”.