NEW YORK -- Luciano Pavarotti is no stranger to pop - he has performed with artists ranging from Bono to Mariah Carey, and his operatic recordings as part of the Three Tenors have achieved crossover success.
Yet it took years for him to finally record his first pop CD, "Ti Adoro."
"I don't want to make pop music," the 68-year-old opera legend said in a recent interview with The Associated Press at his Central Park apartment. "I think it wasn't truly necessary going into a field that was not mine."
His hesitation was not due to a dislike of pop music - in fact, Pavarotti has long mingled with pop stars in his series of charity concerts, "Pavarotti & Friends," where he has performed with artists as varied as Ricky Martin and James Brown.
"(Some say the) word pop is a derogatory word to say 'not important' - I do not accept that," Pavarotti says. "If the word classic is the word to say 'boring,' I do not accept. There is good and bad music."
Yet for years he rebuffed attempts by his record label, Decca, to record a non-classical album, as many of his operatic peers have done. He was finally convinced after one of his three adult daughters prodded him to listen to material she thought would be perfect for his legendary tenor. The result is a collection of sweeping ballads that has been a top seller on the classical crossover charts since its release in late September.
Pavarotti says recording the disc, which contains all new songs, was even harder than preparing for one of his operatic roles.
"If you think that I learn 11 or 12 songs in one month, and they are far from my work, it's more challenging, certainly," he says.
Pavarotti's new material comes amid a series of transitions for the superstar.
He's preparing to retire from staged operas - he makes his final appearance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in March. The scheduled performance comes almost two years after Pavarotti canceled what was thought to be his last performance at the Met due to illness.
His last-minute cancelation caused a firestorm, and some in the crowd booed when Met officials announced he would not be performing.
When asked about the incident, Pavarotti simply sighs.
"I'm coming back with 'Tosca,' because they made such a big fuss," he says. "I am singing three performance ... three for one!"
He brushes aside criticism that he should have told the audience in person he was ill.
"If you are sick you are sick -the audience is intelligent," he says, before mimicking what he would have said in a faux hoarse voice.
"Here I am, I have left the bed, to come here, to tell you, that I cannot talk," he says. "Unnecessary."
Pavarotti says he is not retiring because of his voice, and boasts it is as strong as ever: "I do not push it too much. I take very good care of my voice, in choosing the right repertoire."
Yet Pavarotti clearly looks less interested in performing these days than in doting on his youngest child, 1-year-old Alice, to whom his new album is dedicated.
"I am like you say, I am in the conclusion of my career, not the beginning, and there are many other things I can do now, which is one to spend time with my daughter," says Pavarotti, who regrets not being able to spend enough time with his adult children when they were growing up.
He doesn't have that problem with Alice.
"A typical day begins with Alice jumping in my bed. She is (the) entertainment of the hour," he says.
Late last year, he married his longtime companion and Alice's mother, Nicoletta Mantovani, in a lavish, star-studded ceremony. Pavarotti says Alice is the main reason he and Mantovani finally wed after years together.
"It is for Alice. I don't (do) for the other people," he says. "We made for the baby - the baby have papa and mama married, and here we are."
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