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21 July 2021, 16:23
Remembering the time Luciano Pavarotti sang his final farewell to the world – and the little-known story behind it.
The great tenor, after months of persuasion, had finally been convinced to bring his home country’s Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony to a close with the nation’s great musical pride: opera.
But this was the 2006 Winter Olympics, the time of year was February… and the conditions were sub-zero. Pavarotti, who at 70 years old was in poor health and unsure of his wavering voice, couldn’t risk the effect the freezing temperatures would have on his vocal cords.
And so, the great tenor was only persuaded to lend his voice to the ceremony after the committee said he could prerecord the aria.
“It would have been too dangerous for him, because of his physical condition, to risk a live performance before a global audience,” Leone Magiera, who was conducting on the night, wrote in his 2008 memoirs, Pavarotti Visto da Vicino (Pavarotti Up Close).
And so, Pavarotti – along with the orchestra, and even the conductor – mimed Puccini’s great ‘Nessun dorma’ for an audience none the wiser.
“The orchestra pretended to play for the audience, I pretended to conduct and Luciano pretended to sing,” Magiera wrote.
He added: “It came off beautifully, no one was aware of the technical tricks.”
Pavarotti’s manager, Terri Robson, explained that Luciano had turned down the committee’s invitations to sing at the Winter Olympics several times, because of the temperatures.
But the organisers of Torino 2006 found a way, knowing that for the year Italy hosted the Winter Olympics, it simply had to be opera.
This was the last public performance by Luciano Pavarotti, who died the following year after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the summer of 2006.
As the great tenor threw his head back for his final, soaring ‘Vincerò!’, the audience leapt to their feet to give him the loudest and longest ovation of the night.
“And the master brings the house down,” we hear the commentator saying, as the other adds: “And with that, the curtain comes down on Torino’s Opening Ceremony.”
Luciano sends a kiss into his adoring audience and fireworks are sent soaring into the sky, as once again, opera provides the most dignified and poignant finale to a landmark world event.