My sister recently asked me out of the blue, “What’s your favorite part about what you do?”. I’m not easily stumped or silenced, as most of you who know me can easily attest to, but this question prompted me to really stop in my tracks and search. I knew there couldn’t be a wrong answer, but it wasn’t a question I could take lightly. After pondering a bit, it was obvious:

I get to be surrounded by unequalled beauty: the beauty of the theaters in which I sing, the beauty of the music I’m continually immersed in, the beauty of the generous people I work with, and perhaps above all, the beauty of the unspoiled human voice, which every so often seems to connect to something unmistakebly divine.

Yesterday, the world lost one of those divine voices, one of those truly radiant souls: Luciano Pavarotti lost his fight with pancreatic cancer.

Was there ever a more beautiful, sun-filled, radiant, natural voice?

Some people love to get into the arguement about what is driving opera today – looks vs. voice, super-model physique vs. impeccable phrasing, size 4 vs. size 44. “It’s about theater”, we decry! Well, one look at this video, and you have all the theater you need, because it came direct and unflitered from the heart. You see it in his penetrating, haunting eyes, you hear it in his plangeant, melting legato, you feel it through his articulate, perfect diction, and you succomb to it with every fiber of your being:

Una furtiva lagrima

My first encounter with this larger-than-life man was on my Dad’s old stereo, playing his favorite Christmas gift that year: a recording of “O Sole Mio”. It was the record with Pavarotti smiling that unmistakable BEAMING smile of his on the cover, wearing a large white brimmed hat, and that signature scarf around his neck. It was all Luciano. And that beautiful voice soaring out of our speakers from the scratchy record transported us all to the exotic, distant shores of Italy any time we wanted to go. (And my Dad wanted to go all the time!) I didn’t know then that technically this singer was impeccable, I had no clue what good diction or phrasing was, and surely I wasn’t aware of the perfection his ‘ah’ vowel possessed. I only knew it was heartbreakingly beautiful and that it touched me. I also took note of how that single voice could bring the biggest smile to my Dad’s face, not to mention to my older sister’s face, as much as she rolled her adolescent eyes in protest; you see, we were all hooked.

How many people did he touch throughout his career? How many people did he cause to feel something they had shut off a long time ago? How much beauty did he dole out over the decades, not only through his voice, but through the kindness in his eyes? There are no tables or charts to measure such contributions, but each of us who loved him will attest to his lasting impact, and we shall continue to turn to his timeless, unrivalled recordings where he will live on, and smile with the profound gratitude that our lives are that much more beautiful for having known him.