(photo credit: AP)
Luciano Pavarotti, who died in his home in Modena, Italy, on Thursday morning, was more than the most acclaimed tenor of his time. His voice and charisma brought opera to worldwide popularity it had not seen in over a century. He was more than a philanthropist who in the early 1990s was made an honorary citizen of Sarajevo for his efforts.
Pavarotti, as remembered here in Israel, was also the best spaghetti Bolognese chef in town.
He first brought his tremendous stage presence, and his pasta, to Israel in 1979.
After performing with the Israel Philharmonic in Tel Aviv -a bill replete with classic favorites from Verdi's "La Traviata" and Mozart's "Don Giovanni" - Pavarotti returned to the Philharmonic's guesthouse to enjoy a party in honor of his debut visit. When one of the hosts offered to prepare a midnight snack for the Maestro and assembled guests, Pavarotti himself swung on an apron and said, "No, no, no, no: I'm going to cook for you."
Ya'acov Mishori, principal horn player of the Israel Philharmonic at the time, still remembers the thrill of being in Pavarotti's presence, and the perfection of his cooking, almost three decades later.
"We were astonished because it was so good," Mishori said on Thursday. "We asked him where he found the time to learn how to cook. He said, 'Cooking is like singing: If you have no talent for it, no teacher can help you. You must simply have talent, because it cannot be learned from books.'"
The party, Mishori recalled, lasted almost till dawn, as Pavarotti regaled the guests with jokes about his showdowns with other performers.
"It was not difficult to bring this great artist to Israel. He himself said that he loved the
Holy Land and wanted to perform here, and Zubin Mehta was one of his best friends. He was a very kind man, not a schvitzer [braggart] as we say in Yiddish ... He was ready to learn from anyone, always ready to hear advice and to ask questions - even about music," remembers Mishori, who then broke into song, recalling some of his most favorite moments of Pavarotti's career.
Mehta, conductor for the Israel Philharmonic, remembered a more personal connection than the cooking. "I've lost a great friend, a friend of many years, but I console myself with the fact that his art will live on," Mehta said in a phone interview from Italy, where he is currently touring with the Philharmonic. He dedicated Thursday night's performance to Pavarotti's memory.
"[Pavarotti's] voice was as big as his heart," said Mehta. "The combination of both created a very positive aura about him. He only spread those positive vibes around him ... He has started a new life today."
Pavarotti, 71, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year and underwent treatment as recently as August.
His funeral will be held Saturday inside the cathedral in Modena. He was surrounded by close family and friends at the time of his death.
"He will be gravely missed for sure. He was certainly an Italian hero," said Mehta. â€¢