Friends pay musical tribute to Pavarotti in ancient city of Petra

News Stories, 13 October 2008

© Naphtalina/Fondazione Luciano Pavaotti
The Two Tenors: Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo sing in honour of their friend at Petra.

PETRA, Jordan, October 13 (UNHCR) Stars of the music world raised funds for vulnerable Afghan refugee returnees this weekend as they paid tribute to the late Italian opera singer, Luciano Pavarotti, in the spectacular ancient city of Petra.

Fellow tenor greats José Carreras and Placido Domingo, singing together for the first time since Pavarotti's death last year, led an impressive line-up of musical talent in the memorial concert, held Sunday night under the patronage of Jordan's Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, daughter of the late King Hussein.

"It is a privilege and a wonderful present to be here tonight and to support one of the causes most dear to his [Pavarotti's] heart: refugees," said Carreras before going on stage. "I hope that everyone supports this cause and this magnificent idea and that the support goes beyond the concert tonight to help those in need," added Domingo.

The audience of some 500 people, including Pavarotti's friends and family, Queen Rania and other members of the Jordanian royal family, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, diplomats and other fans from around the world, were treated to a magical night of music on what would have been the singer's 73rd birthday.

© UNHCR/S.Malkawi
Jordan's Princess Haya addresses the audience during the Pavarotti memorial concert at Petra.

Contemporary musicians such as Sting and Italy's Zucchero, Jovanotti and Laura Pausini, performed alongside a Who's Who of opera stars, including Andrea Bocelli, Roberto Alagna, Angela Gheorghiu, Cynthia Lawrence and Sherrill Milnes as well as the Spaniards Carreras and Domingo, who formed such a memorable trio with Pavarotti. Accompaniment was provided by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Kohn.

Concert organizer Nicoletta Montovani, widow of Pavarotti, hopes to raise 4 million euros (US$5.4 million) for a joint UNHCR-World Food Programme project to help some 150,000 vulnerable former refugees especially women and children who have returned to their homes in Afghanistan.

The plan aims to construct four schools, provide health, skills and literacy training, and build micro-hydropower and irrigation canals. The 12-month project will begin in January. The government of Italy has announced a donation of 2.1 million euros for the joint project in Afghanistan.

UNHCR's Guterres, addressing the audience, said the four schools would all be named after Pavarotti, a major supporter and fund-raiser for UNHCR over many years. Noting that leading governments were spending "hundreds of billions" to prop up failing banks, he said: "I think this concert is here to remind the world that the same determination must be shown to rescue the lives of millions of people facing the risks of hunger, disease and conflict."

With the rose-coloured, rock-hewn monuments of Petra as a backdrop, the three-hour concert started with Carreras performing "Chitarra Romana," a favourite of Pavarotti's. He was then joined by Domingo for a duet before other artistes, many of whom had sung in a series of "Pavarotti and Friends" concerts that raised money for UNHCR and other causes, came on stage.

Sting, accompanied by an oud (lute) player, sang his hit song, "Fields of Gold." The British musician had paid a verbal tribute to his friend here on Saturday. "He had a big appetite this man; he had a big appetite for everything. He had an appetite for life, but it was matched by a huge generosity of spirit," Sting said. "Luciano was a big man, he had a big heart and that generosity was transformed to his voice and when we heard his voice, all of us were richer."

Princess Haya, like Pavarotti a UN Messenger of Peace for her work helping the needy, said the great tenor had long dreamed of singing at Petra. "The choice of Petra goes back to a dream that was shared by my late father and the maestro [Pavarotti] and they both celebrated a love of music and also a love for humanitarian work and helping people who were less fortunate, so it was an honour for us when I was approached by Nicoletta Pavarotti," she said.

And at times, Pavarotti was present footage of him in full flow loomed over the stage on huge screens. At one stage, the popular Italian singer Zucchero performed an uncanny duet with the image of the old master, who died of pancreatic cancer aged 71. "I can feel his magic power in this place," the great American baritone, Sherrill Milnes, sang to the audience.

© UNHCR/C.Gatti
The Stars Come out at Night: Conductor Eugene Kohn flanked by operatic stars at the Pavarotti concert in Petra.

The wonderful night of memories and music was rounded off with a rousing recording of Pavarotti singing "Nessun Dorma," the stirring aria from Giacomo Puccini's opera "Turandot," which brought the tenor global stardom when he sang it at the opening ceremony of the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

For more than a decade, Pavarotti supported UNHCR projects in places such as Afghanistan, Kosovo, Pakistan, Zambia and Iraq. For his unswerving commitment to refugee causes, Pavarotti was awarded UNHCR's prestigious Nansen Refugee Award in 2001.

By Abeer Etefa in Petra, Jordan