Vanessa Juarez
September 14, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Last week, jets flew over the funeral of Luciano Pavarotti in Modena, Italy, and ”Nessun dorma” — from Puccini’s opera Turandot — played to some 50,000 mourners over the loudspeakers. It was an appropriate send-off for the famed tenor, who died at his home on the outskirts of Modena — also the city of his birth — on Sept. 6 at the age of 71, after a prolonged battle with pancreatic cancer. During his final public performance at the 2006 Winter Olympics, Pavarotti sang that same aria, which long ago became his signature song. ”You can’t associate that aria with anyone else,” says Michael Baitzer, a Juilliard pianist and vocal coach who played for a master class given by Pavarotti. ”It’s like his white handkerchief. It’s him.”

The so-called King of the High C’s, Pavarotti — who is survived by his wife, Nicoletta, and four daughters — boasted a celebrated career that spanned nearly five decades. He was arguably popular culture’s male titan of opera; though he first gained notice in 1961 with Puccini’s La Bohéme, it wasn’t until 1990 — when he, Plácido Domingo, and José Carreras debuted as the Three Tenors — that Pavarotti became a mainstream phenomenon. (The 3 Tenors in Concert 1994 hit No. 1 on the pop charts in countries including Spain, Australia, and the U.K., and was followed by years of stadium tours.) He played the role delightedly, and eventually collaborated with hitmakers like U2, Elton John, Sting, and James Brown. ”He was not a musical snob,” says John, who enlisted him to duet on 1996’s ”Live Like Horses.” ”He brought classical music to the masses. People loved him.” Before paying his respects in Modena, Bono remembered the singer on as ”an emotional arm twister” and ”a great flatterer.” It’s Pavarotti’s singing style, though, that will be studied for years to come. Says friend and Los Angeles Opera music director James Conlon: ”I imagine he would say, ‘I didn’t leave a legacy….’ [But] Luciano’s voice will never go away.” — Additional reporting by Dave Karger and Sara Randazzo

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