15 September 2007

Maestro Luciano Pavarotti was the first U.N. Envoy for Peace. When in March 1998 he received his designation by the then head of the Department of Public Information, he proceeded immediately to spread the word. Surrounded by other artists, he started with Sarajevo but did not stop in Liberia or Guatemala. Unlike several "envoys" who were later appointed to please one party or other, the Maestro earned his honour by reaching out to audiences everywhere and -- most important -- by raising funds in every concert of "Pavarotti and Friends." One senior U.N. official literally danced when told that the Maestro was able to raise one million dollars in one single event.

Many of us recall one of his birthday events in October 1997. He was invited to lunch at the U.N. Delegates Dining Room where everyone joined in wishing him a happy birthday. He gave away 12 special tickets for his upcoming performance of "Turandot".

Even when disappointed by his lax treatment by some U.N. officials, he maintained a good link with Secretary General Kofi Annan and his U.N. friends.

He felt tired during the last three years. Standing for too long on stage became too painful, unless he could hold onto, as casually as possible, a helpful piece of decor. He started to value personal intimate gatherings much more than official theatre appearances. Yet he always was loyal to the opera, to his family, to his country, and -- of course -- to his hometown, Modena.

It was at the cathedral of Modena where he received his final tearful standing ovation as a recording of his voice reverberated with his favourite Panis Angelicus. He was remembered as a great talent, a symbol of heavenly music, a flag bearer of Italy, and a family man.

Prime Minister Romano Prodi, U2 leader singer Bono, movie director Franco Zeffirelli, sat in the front row shared by his sobbing wife Nicoletta, his former wife Adua, his sister and three grown daughters. Bulgarian-born Soprano Raina Kabaivanska cried as she sang Verdi's "Ave Maria". During communion, Andrea Bocelli, whom the Maestro had admired, chanted "Ave Verum". Crowds erupted in applause when the white maple casket covered with his beloved sunflowers was carried outside. Italian air force planes roared across the sky, drawing the white red and green colours of his land. The people of Modena felt he was their most noted symbol. "With the death of Luciano Pavarotti we feel more impoverished" said Archbishop Cocchi in his homily. Pope Benedictus XVI said that Pavarotti had honoured the divine gift of music through his extraordinary talent." Prime Minister Prodi expressed the sentiment of his sad yet proud country: "His humanitarian work and peace efforts which he carried to all corners of the globe" deserved the gratitude of all Italians for the image of the nation. Over 100,000 mourners filed past his casket throughout the first day, many placing vases of sunflowers outside the cathedral.

Those of us at the U.N. who were honoured to deal with that greatest of talents share the deepest sorrow at his loss. He will remain with us in warm memories and through his gifted voice that touched the hearts of millions around the world. May the Angels carry him gently, chanting the song of songs. May his smile inspire us always to hold on to our dreams. May his soul rest in Peace.

Photo Credit: UN/OCPI Photo by Evan Schneider