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Opera elite and simple fans alike mourn Pavarotti

ROME (Reuters) - From leaders of elite opera houses to ordinary music lovers, the world mourned the death of Luciano Pavarotti on Thursday, praising the “big man” who did so much to bring opera to the people.

Pavarotti’s soaring voice and eagerness to extend opera’s reach by teaming up with artists outside his traditional sphere such as Sting and Bono made him a household name -- and a very tough act for future generations to follow.

He died on Thursday at the age of 71 after contracting pancreatic cancer.

“I always admired his divine voice, with its unmistakable timbre and complete vocal range,” said Placido Domingo, who teamed up with Pavarotti and Jose Carreras in the “Three Tenors” concerts. “I loved his wonderful sense of humor”.

Carreras mourned the loss of a close friend, saying: “I’m happy to have known him”.

“He was without doubt one of the most important tenors of all time. He was a wonderful man, a charismatic person. And a good poker player,” Carreras told Swedish newspaper Expressen.

Vienna’s opera house hung a black flag in his memory.

London’s Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, where Pavarotti shot to fame in 1963 during a stand-in performance, said the world had lost “one of the finest singers of our time”.

“He had a unique ability to touch people with the emotional and brilliant quality of his voice. He was a man with the common touch and the most extraordinary gift.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Pavarotti’s talent, “warmth and his charisma seduced the whole world”.

SADNESS SWEEPS ITALY

Born in 1935, Pavarotti came from humble roots. His father was a baker who liked to sing and his mother worked in a cigar factory. His rise to superstardom only came after he took jobs as an insurance salesman and teacher.

Ordinary Italians, who looked to Pavarotti as a icon, took stock of the loss of one of their most famous compatriots.

“I’m really sad. He was a man who has done a lot to push opera in Italy. And he was a person who has done a lot to push Italy forward in the world,” said Romolo Franchi in Rome.

The loss was even more deeply felt in Modena, Pavarotti’s hometown, where mourners recalled not just the great tenor but also the soccer-obsessed young man who once worked as an insurance salesman and a teacher.

“We’ve been together since childhood ... (as a boy) he played goalkeeper,” said Giorgio Maletti, 72.

Venusta Nascetti, a 71-year-old who used to serve Pavarotti coffee in a local bar when he was a teenager, remembered him as being “full of joy, he had a happy spirit”.

“He always loved us just like we loved him,” the frail old woman, wearing dark glasses to hide her emotion, told reporters outside Pavarotti’s house, where she went to pay her respects.

Additional reporting by Jeremy Lovell in London, Gilles Castonguay in Modena, Antonio Denti in Rome, Crispian Balmer in Paris, Mark Meadows in Milan, Bjorn Rundstrom in Stockholm and Joe Ortiz in Madrid

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