Posted by: 4initalia | September 7, 2009

Il Maestro

Modena was the home of Luciano Pavarotti. He sang in the choir of the Duomo di San Geminiano, and his funeral, attended by Bono and the Edge, was held there.

Pavarotti died on September 6, 2007. Last night Modena held a tribute to Il Maestro in the public square. Piazza Grande was packed; hundreds were seated in the piazza and hundreds more stood in the streets.

They came to honor a son of Modena, in a cobble-paved square where people have gathered for over a thousand years. Modena is small enough that many of those standing together in the night knew him. As photos of Luciano played against Duomo walls built in the 12th century, the square hummed with pride and respect for un paesano who achieved greatness.

The experience was quintessentially Italian. In Europe, you can stand on ancient stone surrounded by bricks laid civilizations ago and honor someone who will live forever on YouTube. That is progress.

An ambulance was tucked into an alley with doors open and ready for action. I never know whether the omnipresent ambulances in Italian squares are a sign of the success or the limitations of socialized medicine. Is the point of the ambulances to demonstrate that the Italian health system provides the ultimate in customer service? Or to whisk away any evidence of failure?

Sure enough, in the opening notes of the concert, we had a downer. There was no dramatic call for a doctor, merely a muffled yelp from the crowd. The EMTs moved in, surgically removed the concert-goer, and quietly moved off into the night. Within twenty minutes the ambulance was back in position, waiting. Soylent Green is…Italians?

There was a stage set up in the square, which held a large orchestra. In front of us, a short gray man directed the musicians, often in contravention of the conductor on stage, with great passion and energy. He was a priest; at intermission, he sang light arias to the evening.

A soprano sang, and a tenor. Their voices soared into the night sky, their instruments as complex and powerful as a symphony. For the first time, I understood how opera feeds the soul. For the first time in a long time, I wanted to hug a priest.

During the concert, color-drenched photos of Pavarotti were splashed against the ancient walls of the Duomo, while a cross-shaped window at the top of the church glowed with a soft and comforting light. At Caffe Concerto, across the square from the stage, the crowd murmured over drinks and dinner.

The concert didn’t begin until 21:15, or after nine p.m.. In Italy, you have to stay up late to experience anything. Reputable restaurants don’t open their doors until seven p.m., the better ones not until eight. Modena has frequent fireworks displays to mark holidays and sports events, all of which are visible from our roof. I miss most of them because they don’t start until after eleven p..m, and I don’t want to celebrate by falling eight stories to my death.

My husband Andy assumed that Sunday night here is like another Saturday night at home. But Italians stay up every night of the week. Concerts are held on weeknights, and nothing starts until after nine p.m. Every Wednesday night during soccer season, the cafe near our apartment overflows with locals who flirt and talk until well past two in the morning.

This is a town for grownups and grownup pleasures. It’s like a perpetual Rat Pack movie, with Sinatra and Dean Martin suavely drinking and smoking all night. And no one ever looks tired, although that could explain the ambulances; it’s got to get to you sometime.

As we walked home through the winding streets, I watched Italian women, breathtakingly beautiful in fabulous shoes, navigate the wobbly cobbles of the sidewalks. In stilettos, they sashay where Tevas fear to tread. Belle donne, laughingly elegant in dresses and heels, ride bicycles across stones that would rattle a yogi. These are the dames that broke Sinatra’s heart. And Luciano’s, but he made it work for him.

When we got home, I watched Pavarotti’s funeral on YouTube. There was Bono and the Edge, in the Duomo I love, such an odd juxtaposition. This town will never forget Pavarotti. That’s beautiful.

There’s a video of Pavarotti’s funeral at But better yet, next September sixth, come stand in Piazza Grande and watch Il Maestro’s towering image flicker against walls built at the edge of time.

Grazie, Il Maestro.


  1. Fabulous! I can see–and hear–it all so clearly.

    • I wish I could be there next year – maybe you can go instead!

  2. […] Pavarotti sang in the colors of Modena, and his town honors him with a concert every September: […]

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