Throngs of admirers of Luciano Pavarotti, the big, booming tenor who starred in hallowed opera houses and alongside pop stars, had a last chance to pay respect to him before an invitation-only funeral yesterday in his hometown's cathedral.
Pavarotti's body, dressed in a black tuxedo and with his hands clutching his trademark white handkerchief, was to be on view to the public from dawn yesterday until shortly before the mid-afternoon start of the funeral service, which was to be televised live.
The opera great died on Thursday in his home on Modena's outskirts after battling pancreatic cancer for more than a year. He was 71 and was beloved by generations of opera-goers and pop fans, for his breathtaking high "Cs" and his hearty renditions of folk songs like O Sole Mio and popular tunes like My Way.
Tens of thousands of Italians have filed by the coffin since Thursday in a final outpouring of love before the dignitaries and fellow artists were to take their place in the pews of the Romanesque cathedral for the funeral.
Fellow Modena resident, Bulgarian-born soprano Raina Kabaivanska, and tenor Andrea Bocelli, both of whom have sung with Pavarotti, will be among those singing during the service, Modena's city hall said.
"Luciano Pavarotti did honor to Italy. Italy honors Luciano Pavarotti," said Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, as he left the cathedral on Friday after viewing the body.
A child's drawing bearing the name of Pavarotti's four-year-old daughter, Alice, was placed in a vase of roses near the tenor's head.
The public viewing was to continue until midnight and reopen yesterday morning before the afternoon funeral, which was scheduled to be broadcast live on Italian TV.
Among those expected to come were former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and U2 lead singer Bono. Stephane Lissner, general manager of Milan's La Scala Opera House, where Pavarotti appeared 140 times, once receiving boos, and the Metropolitan Opera's former general manager Joe Volpe, also were to attend.
The tenor will be buried in Montale Rangone cemetery, near Modena, where members of his family, including his parents and stillborn son Riccardo, are buried.
Pavarotti's classical career, with his imposing presence, emotional depth and boyish, charming ease all adding to his technical prowess, was the stuff of opera legend.
Mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli, presenting a new CD in Rome on Friday, recalled the first time she heard Pavarotti sing, many years ago, at the Metropolitan Opera House.
"I said to myself: God does exist," Bartoli was quoted by the news agency Ansa as saying.
But his legacy reached beyond the opera houses to reach the masses, working with fellow opera stars and pop icons alike.
These far-from-the-opera house performances, including memorable nights under the stars at Rome's ancient Baths of Caracalla with Jose Carreras and Domingo Placido, in the "Three Tenors concert," rescued musical art from highbrow obscurity.