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Thousands pay respects to Pavarotti

Recordings of Luciano Pavarotti`s voice boomed out in Modena`s main piazza on Saturday as mourners waited to pay their final respects to the tenor before an invitation-only funeral in his hometown`s cathedral.

Some well-wishers waited under the large loudspeakers erected in Piazza Grande, arms crossed and eyes closed, as they listened to the voice that was as much at home in the world`s great opera houses as it was on stage with rock stars.

Pavarotti`s body, dressed in a black tuxedo and with his hands clutching his trademark white handkerchief, went back on view at dawn Saturday. The cathedral was to remain open to the public until just before the mid-afternoon start of the funeral service, which was being televised live.

"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 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."

Admirers signed a book of condolences placed by a vase of sunflowers - Pavarotti`s favorite - outside the cathedral. The Foreign Ministry said similar books of condolences would be available to well-wishers around the world at Italian embassies and consulates.

The opera great 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.

RAI state television said that some 50,000 people had 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.

Among those expected to come were former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, U2 lead singer Bono, Italian film director Franco Zefirelli and Italian Premier Romano Prodi. 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.

Members of the Juventus soccer team - Pavarotti`s favorite - were to carry the flag into the cathedral at the start of the service, which was being celebrated by Modena Bishop Benito Cocchi. Following the service, the Italian air force`s acrobatic pilots were to fly over the cathedral, Pavarotti`s manager said. The pope was expected to send a message of condolence, Vatican officials said.

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.

Pavarotti 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.

He is survived by his second wife, Nicoletta Mantovani, their daughter, Alice, and three daughters from his first marriage, to Adua Veroni, who long had managed his multimillion-dollar business affairs.

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