Luciano Pavarotti’s 6 Greatest Roles

By David Salazar

Luciano Pavarotti is one of the greatest tenors of all-time, his artistry leaving a massive legacy behind him.

The tenor, born on Oct 12, 1935 in Modena, will always be remembered for his charming disposition which was matched by the color of his voice. His ability to transcend the opera stage and reach millions around the world with a variety of interests is one of the things he has left behind.

For many people “opera” is synonymous with “Pavarotti” and that can never be overlooked. On the opera stage he was a defining experience for many opera goers. Here is a look at arguably his most transcendent roles.

Tonio in “La Fille du Régiment” 

Pavarotti’s ability with the nine high Cs cemented his title as the “King of High Cs.” This role alone made him an overnight success, and while he did experience major embarrassment in this very opera at the tailend of his career, his work in this Donizetti work has never quite been surpassed, even if other great tenors have left their own indelible marks on it.

Rodolfo in “La Bohème”


What makes Pavarotti’s interpretation of the bohemian so impactful is the youthfulness that he manages to infuse into the role. His voice, with its sunny color and yet potent weight, allowed him to straddle that line between maturity and playfulness that Rodolfo hops throughout the opera. We feel him brimming with hotheaded passion in some moments and then mature tenderness in others.

Il Duca di Mantua in “Rigoletto”

Quite the charmer himself, this role was made for Pavarotti’s voice. His elegant legato is allowed to move about with ease as Verdi’s most ambivalous tenor role. In several recordings Pavarotti makes us love the Duke, simply because we love the sunshine he provides us with vocally.

Riccardo in “Un Ballo in Maschera”

Another Verdi role that Pavarotti conquered throughout his career, this one is quite fascinating for how similar it is in many ways to the Duke in “Rigoletto.” We get that sunny disposition, that joie de vivre in the rather immature ruler that is Riccardo and yet we feel the sense of development as he grows into his role of ruler in those final acts. Pavarotti always had a way with that final act aria, where we get a tremendous sense of pathos as Riccardo contemplates letting his duty win out over his personal motives.

Canio in “Pagliacci”

Pavarotti was far from an incredible actor and yet on occasion he could really pull out all the stops. In this opera, he relied heavily on his voice to do the heavy dramatic lifting, which he did quite memorably on opening night at the Metropolitan Opera. While many singers could truly make the famed “Vesti la giubba” resonate with intense emotion, few could make it weep the way Pavarotti could.

Cavaradossi in “Tosca”

One of Pavarotti’s touchstone interpretations, the tenor performed this opera everywhere he could, always quite the success. The role suited him quite well, allowing him to transform from the playful and flirtatious Mario to the potent hero to the tragic figure in that final segment. You don’t always get that arc from many tenors, but you definitely get it from Pavarotti.

Did we miss any roles? Let us know in the comments below. 


On This DaySpecial Features