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Thousands queue to pay respects to Pavarotti

Thousands of mourners filed past the white casket of Luciano Pavarotti lying in state in this city's cathedral Friday to pay their respects to the opera megastar whose charisma and voice were celebrated around the world.

More than 10,000 people have viewed the body of the city's most famous son since Thursday evening, when the public was allowed in just hours after the tenor's death, according to city officials.

Pavarotti's coffin was surrounded by flower wreaths and the tenor was dressed in white tie and tails, his hands holding the trademark white handkerchief and a rosary, a red veil with an embroidered treble clef placed at his feet.

"It's terrible, he was a great man, it feels like everything must come to an end," said Maurizio Trincani, one of those who had made an early start to visit the opera star who died Thursday in his hometown at the age of 71, after a yearlong battle with pancreatic cancer.

Modena's cathedral reopened shortly after dawn Friday. The public viewing was scheduled to close at midnight, then restart Saturday morning before the funeral, which will be broadcast live on public TV and is expected to draw dignitaries from opera, politics and culture.

The crowd applauded in a sign of respect as pallbearers carried Pavarotti's casket into the cathedral late Thursday. At the end of the funeral, the Frecce Tricolori precision flying team will perform a flyover as the casket is brought out of the cathedral, the ANSA news agency said.

While Pavarotti moved the world with what one admirer called "the last, great voice" of Italian opera, his legacy reached beyond the opera house. He collaborated with classical singers and pop icons alike to bring opera to the masses, rescuing the art from highbrow obscurity in the process.

In many ways, Pavarotti fulfilled the public's imagination of what an opera star should be. He often wore a colorful scarf and a hat, be it a fedora or a beret, and while he didn't always have a beard, it was hard to imagine him without it. His heft - as well as a restaurant on his property in Modena - evinced his gourmet appetite.

But above all, his clear voice, and his prized diction, made him beloved by millions. "Pavarotti was the last great Italian voice able to move the world," said Bruno Cagli, president of the Santa Cecilia National Academy in Rome.

As Modena celebrated its most famous son, the atmosphere wasn't sad or tearful but warm. Many brought their children, and thousands of pictures of the tenor were distributed to mourners. Others were grateful to the tenor for making Modena - a quiet city of about 180,000 residents near the Po River- famous across the world.

"He's a symbol of Modena, a symbol of Italy, he's international," said Simone Sarrau, a 32-year-old who waited in line until nearly midnight Thursday to pay his respects. "He's a one of a kind. There's only him, and there will always only be him."

A childhood friend recalled the school days with Pavarotti and the tenor's love of soccer - later matched by his passion for horses.

"When we played soccer passing him was not easy. He was really big and really strong, but he always played very carefully and with respect, especially for those smaller than him," Giancarlo Pellacani told Associated Press Television News.

Authorities are preparing for an outpouring of grief at the funeral: giant television screens were set up near the cathedral; Premier Romano Prodi, among others, was expected to attend, while tenor Andrea Bocelli was expected to sing the hymn "Panis angelicus" at the service, ANSA reported.

In his heyday, Pavarotti was known as "the King of the High Cs" for his ease at hitting the top notes.

While opera lovers treasure recordings with soprano Joan Sutherland, Pavarotti slipped into the CD collections of the hipper set mixing notes with Elton John, the Spice Girls, Cheryl Crow and Liza Minnelli, among others.

He was the best-selling classical artist, with more than 100 million records sold since the 1960s, and he had the first classical album to reach No. 1 on the pop charts.

Some of the greatest opera stars were in his debt - from the young talent whom he fostered to Spanish tenor Jose Carreras, who said Pavarotti had supported him in moments of difficulty, including his battle with leukemia. Some would argue opera owed itself to "Big Luciano."

"When I wanted to construct the Bastille opera house in Paris about 30 years ago, they told me I was crazy. Opera was dead, they said," former French Culture Minister Jack Lang told the news agency ANSA. "Pavarotti returned opera to popularity and contributed to its rebirth."

Pavarotti purposely sought to commercialize opera, scoffing at accusations that he was sacrificing art. He relished that the hugely successful "Three Tenors" concerts with Placido Domingo and Carreras reached 1.5 billion people, filling stadiums.

In a statement from Los Angeles, Domingo said he "always admired the God-given glory of his voice - that unmistakable special timbre from the bottom up to the very top of the tenor range." In Germany, Carreras told reporters he was "one of the greatest tenors ever."

Pavarotti himself was clear on his legacy. "I think a life in music is a life beautifully spent, and this is what I have devoted my life to," Pavarotti said in a quote posted on his Web site after his death.

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