Luciano Pavarotti received a final, tear-stained standing ovation after a recording of the great Italian tenor singing a duet of Panis Angelicus with his father was played during an otherwise somber funeral Saturday in his hometown cathedral.
Many of the mourners inside wiped away tears as the tenor’s unmistakable voice filled the cathedral, a poignant reminder of the talent lost with his death Thursday at age 71 after a year-long battle with cancer.
Pavarotti and his father had sung the duet in 1978 in the same cathedral — an event recalled by Archbishop Benito Cocchi in his homily, recounted to him by a witness who described it as “a weaving of two tenors” with one after the other picking up the melody.
In a series of eulogies, Pavarotti was remembered as one of the world’s greatest voices, a symbol of Italy, a humanitarian and — in a message from his 4-year-old daughter Alice — a father.
“Papa, you have loved me so much, I know you will always protect me. I will hold you dear to my child’s heart every tomorrow,” his daughter said in a message read during the service, while her mother, Nicoletta Mantovani, sobbed in the front row of the sanctuary.
Also sitting in the front row were Pavarotti’s first wife, Adua, his three grown daughters and his sister.
Among the 700 guests were Italian Premier Romano Prodi, U2 lead singer Bono, U2 guitarist The Edge, movie director Franco Zeffirelli and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. When Bono arrived, Pavarotti’s widow blew him a kiss and gave a wan smile, but fought back tears.
The 90-minute service was filled with music, from Bulgarian-born soprano Raina Kabaivanska, who cried as she sang the opening hymn, Verdi’s Ave Maria, to tenor Andrea Bocelli’s Ave Verum during communion. Flutist Andrea Griminelli played a solo.
Thousands of admirers filled the piazza outside the Romanesque cathedral, following the service on a big screen, their clapping echoing inside the church.
The crowd erupted in applause when the white, maple casket covered with flowers — including Pavarotti’s favorite, sunflowers — was carried outside by 11 pallbearers. At the same instant, the Frecce Tricolori, the Italian air force’s precision flying team, roared overhead, trailing vapors of green, red, and white — the colors of the Italian flag.
The streets of the historic center were filled with admirers who applauded as a black hearse bearing Pavarotti’s body followed passed. The tenor was being buried in Montale Rangone cemetery, near Modena, where members of his family, including his parents and stillborn son Riccardo, are also interred.
In his homily, Cocchi said the presence of so many dignitaries was a sign “of the esteem, the affection and the gratitude that universally surrounds the great artist.”
But he said it was also significant how local Modenese paid tribute to their native son, breaking their silent vigil outside the cathedral when Pavarotti’s body arrived Thursday night with applause “not joyous, as in other occasions, but intense and sincere.”
“The death of Luciano Pavarotti has made us feel more impoverished,” the archbishop said. “The maestro was and will always be a symbol for our city,” said the archbishop.
Pope Benedict XVI sent a telegram, saying Pavarotti had “honored the divine gift of music through his extraordinary interpretative talent.”
Prodi praised Pavarotti for his humanitarian work and peace efforts and also expressed the gratitude of all Italians for the image of his nation he carried to all corners of the globe.
“Italy is sad today but it is also proud of him,” Prodi said in his message during the service. “Here, in the Duomo of his hometown, Italy expresses its gratitude to him.”
The opera star was beloved by generations of opera-goers and pop fans alike for his breathtaking high Cs, hearty renditions of popular folk songs like O Sole Mio and collaborations with pop singers, like Bono, with whom he recorded Miss Sarajevo in 1995 to raise aide money to help rebuild Bosnia.
Over a career spanning four decades, Pavarotti was the best-selling classical artist, with more than 100 million records sold since the 1960s, and he had the first classical album to reach No. 1 on the pop charts.
Many of the celebrities with whom Pavarotti worked over the years were expected to attend a memorial charity event planned in the coming months, manager Terri Robson said.
During a public viewing period that began Thursday night and continued until hours before the funeral, more than 100,000 people had filed past Pavarotti’s casket and filled condolence books placed by vases of sunflowers outside the cathedral. Similar books are being made available at Italian embassies and consulates around the world, the Foreign Ministry said.
“You can feel the legend. You feel it from the air that circulates inside the cathedral,” said Susy Cavallini, a 43-year-old Modena resident as she emerged Saturday from the cathedral. “He was an exceptional man, for his humanity, for his culture and for his friendships.”
That Pavarotti — a divorced man who had a child out of wedlock — was given public viewing and a funeral in the cathedral spurred some debate. A Modena parish priest, the Rev. Giorgio Bellei, told Corriere della Sera that the move amounted to “profanation of the temple.” Other critics noted that last year the church refused to grant a religious funeral to a paralyzed man who had a doctor disconnect his respirator.
Funeral director Gianni Gibellini said Bellei should have “kept his mouth sewn shut” and that the Modena bishop had approved the funeral plans.
Archbishop Cocchi appeared to address the issue, saying “Pavarotti, with a faith that he never repudiated or hid and which he expressed consistently with his singing, is no stranger in this cathedral.”