They gave the maestro a final sendoff today in his hometown of Modena, at a full Catholic funeral presided over by the bishop and celebrated in the city’s 1,000-year old cathedral.

The AP has the details, including praise from the pope and — near the end — some Catholic criticism, too:

Verdi’s ”Ave Maria” wafted through Modena’s cathedral on Saturday as the world bade farewell to Luciano Pavarotti with a funeral close to his classical roots, attended by family, dignitaries and close friends and followed by admirers around the world.

Pope Benedict XVI sent a telegram of condolence, which was read out at the start of the service. He said Pavarotti had ”honored the divine gift of music through his extraordinary interpretative talent.”

Thousands of people watched the invitation-only service from a huge television screen erected in Modena’s main piazza, where a recording of the tenor’s most famous works boomed out during two days of public viewing.

Pavarotti’s white maple casket, covered in sunflowers — his favorite — lay before the altar, with his wife, Nicoletta Mantovani, looking on. Sitting nearby were Pavarotti’s three daughters from his first marriage.

He died 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 alike for his breathtaking high ”Cs” and his hearty renditions of folk songs like ”O Sole Mio,” and popular tunes like ”My Way.”

City officials said 87,000 memorial cards had been handed out to well-wishers.

Admirers signed books of condolences placed by vases of sunflowers outside the cathedral. The Foreign Ministry said similar books would be available for signing at Italian embassies and consulates around the world.

Bulgarian-born soprano Raina Kabaivanska, a fellow Modena resident who had worked with Pavarotti, cried as she sang the ”Ave Maria” from Verdi’s ”Otello” as the ceremony began.

Tenor Andrea Bocelli was to sing Mozart’s ”Ave Verum Corpus” while the Rossini Chorus performed hymns throughout the service, which was celebrated by Modena Archbishop Benito Cocchi and 18 other priests.

Pavarotti’s body, dressed in a black tuxedo and with his hands clutching his trademark white handkerchief, had been on public display inside the cathdral since Thursday night.

”He was our Italian flag. He was the best representation that we could have,” said Susy Cavallini, a 43-year-old Modena resident as she emerged Saturday from the cathedral. ”Modena is known for its cappelletti (a type of tortellini), balsamic vinegar, Ferrari and Pavarotti. It’s a collection of important things that Modena has given to the world.”

Among those at the funeral were Premier Romano Prodi and Italy’s culture minister, Francesco Rutelli, Italian film director Franco Zeffirelli and the former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Also expected were 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.

The tenor was to be buried in Montale Rangone cemetery, near Modena, where members of his family, including his parents and stillborn son Riccardo, are buried.


That Pavarotti — a divorced man who had a child out of wedlock — was given public viewing and a funeral in the cathedral spurred some debate here. A Modena parish priest, the Rev. Giorgio Bellei, told Corriere della Sera that the move amounted to ”profanation of the temple.” Other critics noted that last year the church refused to grant a religious funeral to a paralyzed man who had a doctor disconnect his respirator.

Funeral director Gianni Gibellini said Bellei should have ”kept his mouth sewn shut” and that the Modena bishop had approved the funeral plans.

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