Less than two weeks before Christmas, visiting top Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti's thoughts are of a Christmas reunion with his family.
He has been on his Asian farewell tour in recent weeks and Taichung, where he is scheduled to give an open-air concert at 8 p.m. tomorrow, is his final stop.
He will be accompanied by the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra when he performs at the Taichung Sports Stadium.
"From here, I will go to New York where I will be joined by my wife, Nicoletta (Mantovani), and my daughter, Alice," revealed Pavarottii, back for a second Taiwan visit after 15 years.
The 70-year-old doting father said: "I have been receiving pictures of my charming daughter on my computer everyday. I don't even need to bring her picture with me. I get to see how she's doing and even what she's wearing. I am also able to hear her calling out to me, 'Papa, Papa.....!'"
Asked if he has any Christmas wish, Pavarotti replied: "It has been my privilege to be a man of peace for the United Nations. Therefore, I should not desire anything else but should wish peace for the world."
He posed a question: "Are we going to have peace in this world?" He answered in the next breath: "That's not likely. But that is my wish for the world."
His "Pavarotti and Friends" concerts over the years have been organized to raise money for the children who have been victims of wars and conflicts around the globe. He has involved pop and rock stars in the concert series.
Of his first Taiwan visit years ago, Pavarotti recalled: "At that time I had just released an album titled 'Tutto Pavarotti (Totally Pavarotti).' At the end of the concert, people came to my dressing room and addressed me as Mr. Tutto, thinking it was my name."
Pavarotti's first performance in Taiwan came in Taipei, but the efforts of Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) brought him to the central Taiwanese city this time around.
Hu yesterday presented Pavarotti with a personal gift - a carved wooden statue of Bodhi Dharma, the enlightened Indian monk who brought Zen Buddhism to China around 520 A.D. Hu had treasured the statue for nearly 20 years.
Pavarotti reacted with amusement when he learned yesterday about Hu impersonating him in singing "O Sole Mio" in a pre-election commercial.
The Modena-born tenor, known as "King of High C" due to his ability to sing and hold high notes, arrived in Taichung on Sunday night in his 8-seat private plane from Beijing via the South Korea island of Jeju.
With him were some of his personal friends, who needed to support Pavarotti on both sides when he moved around. He appeared yesterday wearing a brimmed white hat and a colorful scarf thrown around his neck and over his shoulders.
"You can see that I protect my voice with the scarf," he said. "I also stay away from bad weather. Let's hope that there will be good weather during the concert."
As for ending his concert career, Pavarotti quipped that he has been asked too many times to explain his decision.
"I am now beginning to think that maybe I am wrong in making up my mind about this," he quipped.
But then again, Pavarotti said: "I think that it is time to stop after 44 years. I will probably make a little extension to 2006 or 2007."
Pavarotti, the son of a baker, started out as a primary school teacher. But his career took a big turn after he won first prize at the Reggio Emilia International Singing Competition in 1961. This great admirer of tenors Enrico Caruso and Giuseppe di Stefano caught attention when he reprised the role of Rodolfo in "La Boheme" that same year. In more recent years, he shared the stage limelight with tenors Placido Domingo and Jose Carrerras at the Three Tenors concerts during the World Cup in Rome, Los Angeles and Paris.
Pavarotti has been adjusting to a life away from the stage. He has begun teaching. He is going back to his hobby of painting. He is also catching up on his reading. But above all, he is spending more time with his little daughter, born two years ago.
Pavarotti was confident of his place in music history as a world-class tenor. "You can't confuse me with another singer," he pointed out. "When my father died at the age of 90, he still had an enchanting sweet voice. My voice is like his. Add to that my personality."
As for the reason for his enduring and great success, he summed it up this way: "I am studying today. Tomorrow I will be studying. On the day of the concert I will also be studying. I am an eternal student."