I saw Pavarotti once. In Prague. The ground was covered in frost and we slipped and slid down sloping paths. We could not bear being outside for more than a few minutes at a time, and huddled in cafes and ate lots of dumplings and cabbage. A hangar-like sports hall masqueraded as a concert venue and the famous white handkerchief was more visible than the great man himself. But his voice gave me goosebumps and I was sort of happy to have done it.
All of these memories came rolling back as his face stared out at me from many corners of Modena. He laughs out, eyes sparkling, from bakers, tiny shops and restaurants formal and informal. A son of Modena, he is loved there still.
His house is open to visitors, and out of curiosity and for old memories sake we decided to go. A walk from the bus stop lead us around fields and trees. Not quite a country idyll, heavy traffic from the main road was intrusive, and the view was open but not pretty – pylons and a factory grabbed our eye-space. For Pavarotti, this was a place of dreams. A home for family – his parents, his sister, his [first] wife’s sister. ‘We are all going to live on this place – everybody. I want to prove that families can stay together in this day’.* He intended to farm, produce wine, grow fruit and vegetables and ride horses. He intended to end his days here, seeing his life come full circle. He’d lived on a farm when he was a small boy ‘so it is logical that I should end up [this] way’.*2
Pavarotti did indeed die in the house, in the bed which still takes pride of place in the master bedroom. It’s possible to peep into his closet and get a glimpse of all those colourful Hermes scarves, walk around his bathroom, look at family photographs, his doodles and playing cards.
His paintings were a great surprise. Full of colour. Full of life. ‘He was a Fauve’, said Jim. ‘It all started as somewhat of a joke’.*3 A fan sent him a box of paints when he was playing Cavaradossi. ‘I thought: why pretend to paint on stage? Why not try a real painting? I did and I’ve been addicted to painting ever since. I set out like a madman. That first year I did thirty pictures, not all on stage’. Pavarotti loved the idea of creating something himself. Opera is an interpretation, a performance of another’s creation. ‘Painting [came] from no one but me. That to my thinking,is the most creative thing anyone can do’*4
But any glimpses of Pavarotti the man are titbits extracted with imagination, feeling for him trickling osmosis-like only from the words of others. It’s Pavarotti the persona that dominates. There are letters from royalty, politicians and pop stars – thanking him for artistic collaborations and support of humanitarian causes. And letters from fans, ordinary people telling how his singing lifted them from despair, implying that he saved their lives. A room contains gifts he received – drawings, bits of clothing and bent nails. ‘He’s received enough bent nails to build a crooked house’*5 (He’d look for one as a good-luck charm every time he went on stage).
His life was inspirational. A life well lived. But the museum dedicated to such a larger-than-life figure is in some ways lacklustre and left me wanting more: less shrine, more Pavarotti.
* Pavarotti ‘My Own Story’ with William Wright. P 250.
*2 Pavarotti ‘My Own Story’ with William Wright. P 251.
*3 Pavarotti ‘My Own Story’ with William Wright. P 246.
*4 Pavarotti ‘My Own Story’ with William Wright. P 247.
*5 Madelyn Renee Pavarotti’s student and PA. Pavarotti ‘My Own Story’ with William Wright. P 258.
We reached Pavarotti’s house on bus 820 from Modena. Buses are infrequent, so the trip is time-consuming. The journey takes approx. 20 mins from town. Tickets can be bought on the bus. There is a small cafe at the bus stop – Casa della Gnocchi Fritta. Reasonable food and prices. Friendly staff. There is a kiosk at the museum but it was closed when we visited. From the bus stop it’s a walk of approx. 1.5 km to the house – the first 150m along a very busy main road but there is a grass verge to walk on – after that it’s quiet and the house is easy to find.
There are easier ways to visit!
Tours are run from Bologna. Ferrari & Pavarotti Land Tour includes a visit to Pavarotti’s home and the Ferrari museums in Modena and Maranello. Tickets can be purchased at the Bologna Welcome Center or Modena Tourist Information Center.