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Opera on Canvas

Luciano Pavarotti reached the pinnacle of stardom in his singing career. But it is his less-well-known painting that is helping fund the work of his posthumous foundation.

Pavarotti performing as the painter Caravaggio in Tosca

It was by pure accident that Pavarotti, the world-famous operatic tenor, took up painting. After starring as painter Mario Cavaradossi in the opera Tosca in the 1980s, a friend gave him a box of paints at the end of the show as a memento. “Luciano told me he looked at this box for a couple of days because he didn’t know what to do with it. He had never painted in his life,” recalls his widow, Nicoletta Pavarotti, over the telephone from her home in Modena, Italy. “So, one day he just decided to start. He said it unleashed a kind of desire inside of him that he couldn’t stop: it was paint, paint, paint, day and night, for many, many weeks.”

In total, he created around 60 paintings, predominantly still-life flowers and street scenes. Pavarotti was inspired by the brightly coloured, dream-like qualities of works by Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall. He also loved the apparent simplicity of still life in works by Giorgio Morandi. Pavarotti never painted faces. “He said faces were too complex, and he knew he was just a beginner,” remembers Nicoletta with a smile in her voice.

Although Nicoletta is under no illusion that his artworks are masterpieces, they are important, she says, because of how they reflect the maestro himself. “He had a childish way of painting, but not in a negative way; in the way of the pureness in which he saw the world,” she explains. “He would look at life in the way a child does, full of opportunity, full of beautiful things, always challenging himself. This outlook only happens if you can keep the child inside alive.”

Before he died from pancreatic cancer in 2007, Pavarotti also used to paint with his youngest daughter, Alice, an experience she remembers, even though she was only two or three years old.

Twelve years after his death, Pavarotti’s paintings are hanging inside his former house in Modena, which Nicoletta has opened as a public museum. The Casa Museo Luciano Pavarotti is a living tribute to the man, displaying his favourite brightly coloured outfits, his awards and photos, as well as his art work and a vivid account of his daily life. Proceeds from the Casa Museo go towards the Fondazione Luciano Pavarotti, which aims to support talented young singers to make their first steps in the opera world. In the last decade, the foundation has helped around 120 students start a career.

The Linley-designed box containing Pavarotti's unheard music and proudest artwork

Nicoletta had always dreamed of staging a full opera through the foundation and, after years of fundraising, can finally afford to. Later this year, Fondazione Luciano Pavarotti will be performing the Italian libretto Rigoletto and, after that, the comic opera Elixir of Love (one of Luciano’s favourites, according to Nicoletta).

Full-scale operas are not cheap to produce, costing over US$250,000 to stage, even though Nicoletta has a lot of goodwill from friends and contacts of the late maestro. To help finance future performances, limited-edition painting boxes containing prints of Pavarotti’s best artworks will go on sale at Harrods later this year.

To help finance future performances, limited-edition painting boxes containing prints of Pavarotti’s best artworks will go on sale later this year. Only 10 boxes will be sold. The idea came from Pavarotti’s former record label, Decca, which has teamed up with British bespoke furniture designers Linley. The cost of the box is £84,000 and will contain 10 of Pavarotti’s proudest works of art; a personal letter from Nicoletta; a lifetime of art supplies, and all 130 hours of Pavarotti’s music recorded on an intuitive digital music player, remastered in the MQA format (Master Quality Authenticated). This process removes noise introduced by the technology of the past, leaving the recordings’ sonic beauty intact and making it seem like the Maestro is performing in your home. For interested buyers, Decca will arrange a journey courtesy of private jet partner PrivateFly from London to Modena, to meet Nicoletta over a meal prepared by Luciano's personal chef, and hear her stories first hand. 

Nicoletta believes her late husband would have wholeheartedly approved of the work of the foundation in bringing opera to the youth. “He always had a desire to help the younger generation of students until the last day of his life. The door was always open for new students. They could walk in and he would help for free at any time of the day. He received a lot of help when he was young and not so rich, and so he wanted to give it back.”

This article originally appeared in Billionaire's Discovery Issue, September 2018. To subscribe contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.