Why was Luciano Pavarotti great? If you’re unfamiliar with the operatic tenor, you can substitute him with any other person of remarkable achievement: Mohammed Ali, Michael Jackson, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, etc.

Even if you’re not an opera fan, you may have seen Pavarotti perform during one of his FIFA World Cup appearances alongside fellow opera stars, Plácido Domingo and José Carreras, in a group known as “The Three Tenors”.

Whatever you make of opera, it’s hard to argue that Pavarotti’s achievements have been anything other than remarkable. Although he passed away in 2007, he remains one of the most commercially successful tenors of all time and has sold in excess of 100 million records, placing him in the top 75 artists ever, from all genres.

Seeds of greatness

Reflecting on Pavarotti’s worldwide fame made me wonder: What was it that made him great? Most people would argue that it was the quality of the tone of his voice. Others would say it was his entertainment value.

Both of those points are valid. He drove crowds into a frenzy with his effortless high Cs in the signature aria, Nessun dorma. In fact, one performance achieved a record 17 curtain calls. However, while that is truly impressive, high Cs are somewhat common in operatic circles.

A well-trodden path

Even Pavarotti’s path to success was common – not just to those of remarkable achievement, but to many who possess the talent but fail to become great. According to the tenor, his father had a fine voice, but rejected the possibility of a singing career because of nervousness. Similar storylines are told daily by those who succeed as well as those who instead choose to follow in their parents’ footsteps and fail to try.

As a boy, Pavarotti spent years in vocal training, as have thousands - if not millions - of kids around the world. In his teens, he would go to Mario Lanza movies and then return home and imitate him in the mirror. I remember from my own childhood being enamored with Rocky Balboa.

After each new release in the “Rocky” series, I would go home and start shadow boxing around my room - but I’ve never stepped into Madison Square Garden for a title fight.

Much like me, Pavarotti had what seems like a typical childhood, but then he faced a career dilemma. In addition to his love of music, he was a passionate footballer and he eventually found himself faced with a difficult decision: become a professional goalkeeper or choose something more conventional.

In the end, his mother convinced him to train as a teacher. However, after just two years of teaching, Pavarotti quit and allowed his interest in music to win out. That is when his serious study of music began.

Like many others, he started down the typical path of sitting under the tutelage of respected teachers, holding part-time jobs and singing on any stage that would allow him entrance. Yet, while generally successful, Pavarotti’s early roles did not immediately earn him the stardom he would later enjoy. That would be decades in the making.

How then, did he became a household name for millions of people who had never seen the inside of an opera house. Was it just down to his voice? I don’t think so.

Personally, I imagine that the greatest voices in the world have never been heard on a prestigious stage. So, what made Pavarotti great?


Well, what makes Pavarotti different from other talented singers is that he chose to be great, and the same holds true for every “star”. Of course, they have talent, they are obsessed with their craft, they put in exhausting hours and have a few lucky breaks, but there is something else found in their stories.

Ultimately, they made a choice to be great. It is an uncommon choice and one that is rarely spoken about, yet, it’s through this private decision that the world’s most successful people create their own reality.

You, too, can choose greatness.

Tommy Weir is CEO of enaible: AI-powered Leadership and author of “Leadership Dubai Style”. Contact him at tsw@tommyweir.com.