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Pavarotti town eulogizes "Maestro"

MODENA, Italy (Reuters) - Luciano Pavarotti’s home town declared three days of mourning on Thursday for its most famous son, remembered by locals as much for his jovial manner as his legendary operatic voice.

Friends and students also grieved for not being able to sing one last time with the “Maestro” like they had done in concert and in class for so many years.

“It’s a big loss,” said Francesco Marsiglia, a 33-year-old opera singer who Pavarotti taught.

“I would have liked to have seen him one last time, to show him how much I had progressed -- but he left before I could.”

Pavarotti was also appreciated in this north-eastern town for never letting his fame get between him and its people.

“He was a great man,” said Giacomo Siroti, a 74-year-old pensioner. “He would speak with the people.”

The mayor of Modena ordered flags hung at half mast and welcomed the public to pay their last respects to the singer at the cathedral where his body is to lie in state from 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) on Thursday until the funeral on Saturday at 3 p.m.

Some public offices closed early, while others put billboards at their entrances reading: “Addio Maestro”.

Modena had been on edge for weeks as it became clear that the 71-year-old tenor would succumb to the pancreatic cancer he had been fighting for more than a year.

“Anxious hours,” read one headline from a local paper printed on the eve of Pavarotti’s death.

“Pavarotti’s life is ending,” read another.

IN LOVE

Dressed in a black suit, Mayor Giorgio Pighi delivered condolences received from around the world to the family at their villa outside of town early in the day after getting word of his passing at dawn.

“It is a big loss not just for the town but for the whole world,” wept an admirer outside the villa, among scores of journalists. “I was in love with him.”

Her face wet with tears, Bulgarian opera singer Raina Kabaivanska said Pavarotti had insisted on singing with her next October, just as they had done when they performed “Tosca” at Milan’s La Scala theatre more than 20 years ago.

“He would say to me: ‘We should do one last concert and after that I won’t sing any more’,” she recalled during a break in class at the music school where Pavarotti used to teach with her.

“He would joke like that but we knew the truth,” she said.

To keep his spirits up, Kabaivanska would visit him at his home and force him to sing. The last time she managed to do it was in July when she had him sing from “Rigoletto”.

“I always said: ‘God has kissed your vocal chords,’” she said. “His voice could really touch you.”

Even when he was weak and suffering after his cancer operation last year, Pavarotti insisted on teaching students at his villa, she said.

“He taught right up to the last moment ... Music was his life.”

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