Songs from the Heart
The world gets to hear the 68-year-old opera icon fervently sing his daughter's praises on his new album of pop songs—his first solo studio recording in more than 15 years. The title song, "Ti Adoro" (I adore you), is dedicated to her. Pavarotti's longtime girlfriend Nicoletta Mantovani 34, gave birth to Alice (pronounced ah-LEE-chay) on Jan. 13, two months early. But a twin brother, Riccardo—who would have been Pavarotti's first son—was stillborn. "I thank God that he spared one of the two," says Pavarotti. Doctors kept Alice in an incubator for three weeks, fearing that the tiny infant, who weighed just over 3 lbs. at birth, would be unable to breathe on her own. But baby Alice proved to be as resilient and stubborn as her father. "She really wanted to live," says Mantovani, "and she had strong lungs from her father."
Alice got more than that from him. With Mantovani weak from the cesarean delivery, Pavarotti camped out at the hospital every night, swapping his trademark multicolored scarves for burp cloths and surgical masks so he could feed milk to his daughter. "Luciano was the only one who could get her to eat," says Mantovani. "He just held her the right way and sang to her in a soft voice. She was so secure in his arms. She would look up at him adoringly."
Alice's love was a powerful salve for Pavarotti's past year of anguish, marked by the deaths of his parents, Adele and Fernando, in January and May 2002. "It was a difficult time," says Pavarotti. In fact, he's understating it. The singer is still smarting from the 2001 tax-evasion trial that left him owing the Italian government millions in back taxes, not to mention his messy 2000 divorce from his wife of 39 years, Adua Veroni, instigated by his affair with Mantovani. Losing his son in this turmoil was all the more heartbreaking. Says close pal Franco Casarini: "Riccardo's death was a terrible blow for Luciano. His long-awaited heir died at birth, and he was mourning nonstop. But Alice was like a ray of sunshine in a dark room."
Now Pavarotti is making the most of being a dad the second time around. When his three daughters with Veroni were growing up, "his career was just beginning to take off, and it was really impossible for him to say no to important events, even if it meant having to miss Christmases with the family," says Pavarotti's sister Gabriela, 63. "Now I'm sure he would rather miss a concert than miss Alice's first birthday." Her big sisters Lorenza, 40, Cristina, 38, and Giuliana, 35, fuss over Alice like doting aunts. "People ask which one of her sisters is her mother," says a tickled Pavarotti. The family also gets along well with Mantovani, whom Pavarotti hopes to wed soon. "Over time we saw how much they were in love," says Gabriela. Adds Pavarotti: "Nicoletta is the strongest person I know. I'm learning from her what stamina is."
But it's clear who has the run of the household. Says Casarini: "It's incredible how a little creature who weighs less than 20 lbs. can turn a grown man into a complete softie." Pavarotti agrees: "Now I'm less egocentric, and I want to be with Alice 24 hours a day." Still, some things haven't changed. "I'll sing a million songs to get her to sleep," says Pavarotti with a grin. "But I don't change diapers."
ANNE MARIE CRUZ
Simon Perry in Modena and Praxilla Trabattoni in Rome