JACKI LYDEN, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. LUCIANO PAVAROTTI (Tenor): (Singing) (Italian spoken)
LYDEN: Italians said farewell today to opera superstar Luciano Pavarotti, who died Thursday at the age of 71 from pancreatic cancer. In his hometown of Modena, townsfolk joined celebrities and VIPs from the world over in paying homage to the man who took the elitism out of opera.
NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports on today's funeral.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: For the last several days, recordings of the tenor's most famous performances boomed out of loud speakers in Modena's Piazza Grande.
(Soundbite of a Luciano Pavarotti song)
POGGIOLI: From Thursday evening, some 200,000 people filed by the coffin laid out in the central maze of Modena Cathedral. Pavarotti's body was dressed in a black tuxedo, hands folded on his stomach and holding a rosary and his trademark white handkerchief.
Johnny Gibellini(ph), the undertaker and personal friend of Pavarotti, said the opera singer's long-time makeup assistant prepared the face as he would have wanted to be remembered. And Gibellini said the funeral was the one the tenor would have wanted.
Mr. JOHNNY GIBELLINI (Luciano Pavarotti's Personal Friend): (Italian spoken)
POGGIOLI: Flowers that have been chosen, Gibellini said, were red roses, which means love, while his coffin is covered by his favorite blossoms, sunflowers. All the funeral details, he added, were worked out with Nicoletta Mantovani, Pavaroti's second wife, and his three daughters by his previous marriage.
In fact, Pavarotti's divorce caused problems for the local Catholic hierarchy. A parish priest, Father Giorgio BeLay(ph), told a newspaper that granting a public viewing and funeral in the cathedral amounted to profanation of the temple.
Undertaker Gibellini was dismissive.
Mr. GIBELLINI: (Italian Spoken)
POGGIOLI: The bishop gave his authorization, he said. And in my opinion, that priest should have kept his mouth sewn shut.
Shortly before 3 p.m., the cathedral bells tolled, announcing the funeral.
(Soundbite of bell tolling)
POGGIOLI: A crowd of thousands followed the mass on giant screens outside in the square. Bishop Benito Cocchi began by reading out the telegram of condolences sent by Pope Benedict XVI, who said Pavarotti honored the divine gift of music.
Among those at the funeral were Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, film director Franco Zeffirelli, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and U2 front man Bono.
And young tenor Andrea Bocelli sang Mozart's "Ave Verum Corpus".
(Soundbite of "Ave Verum Corpus")
Mr. ANDREA BOCELLI (Tenor): (Singing) (Italian spoken)
POGGIOLI: The mood in the square was somber. The people in the crowd were of all ages. Most of the mourners were local townsfolk. But many also came from other parts of Italy. Some were opera buffs, but many said they started to appreciate opera only thanks to Pavarotti, who took the elite music out of stuffy theaters and brought it to the masses.
Maria Angela Bozio(ph) came from the town of Mantova to pay her respects.
Ms. MARIA ANGELA BOZIO (Resident, Mantova, Italy): (Through Translator) When he sings, he moves us in ways some of the best singers are unable to do. It was his simplicity. Even my young kids stop talking when Pavarotti sings. They keep still and they listen to him.
POGGIOLI: Fourteen pallbearers carried the coffin out of the cathedral to applause. Big Luciano, the king of the high seas and Modena's favorite son, was then laid to rest at the Montale Rangone cemetery near his villa outside of town, close to where his parents are buried.
Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Modena.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.