The Truth Behind Pavarotti’s Triumphant Last Public Appearance

The last public performance of Luciano Pavarotti, the great and popular Italian opera singer, was at the opening ceremony of the winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, 2006. Pavarotti was the last act to perform and he received the loudest and longest response from the enthusiastic audience. Pavarotti performed Puccini's Nessun dorma (None shall sleep).

Nessun Dorma was an appropriate choice, as it is one of the arias most associated with Pavarotti. In its piece on Pavarotti's arias, PBS comments that it is this aria that shows his voice at its most exalted and thrilling. The organisers of the the Winter Olympics fought long and hard to get Pavarotti to agree to perform. Thankfully he relented.

Two reasons are given for Pavarotti's reluctance to sing during the opening ceremony. The first reason is that Pavarotti felt that it would be too cold for his voice to sing properly on an outdoor stage on a February night in the sub-zero temperatures of Turin. The other explanation is that Pavarotti was feeling unwell and was unsure of his singing. It is likely that both reasons played a part. Nonetheless, Pavarotti was eventually persuaded to participate, though all was not as it seemed.

Pavarotti's final performance was recorded several weeks before the live show. Leone Magiera, the director and conductor, has written, "The orchestra pretended to play for the audience, I pretended to conduct and Luciano pretended to sing. The effect was wonderful." Watching the video of Pavarotti singing Nessun dorma one would not guess that he was lip synching and that the orchestra was miming. It comes across as a powerful performance. Here is an earlier take of the aria, before he fell ill.

There is no shame in Pavarotti having lip synched his final public performance. Not only was he pressurised into participating, but the icy cold night air certainly wasn't appropriate for Opera singing, and, moreover, Pavarotti was genuinely ailing. Apparently it was the Olympic committee that persuaded him to prerecord the song – this shows how keen they were to secure the acclaimed singer's participation. To quote Magiera again, "Pavarotti's great career therefore ended with a virtual performance, something sad but inevitable."

Pavarotti was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July 2006, five months after his appearance at the 2006 Winter Olympics. He died on 6 September 2007.

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