Aretha Franklin could do anything, as shown by her incredible performance of “Nessun dorma” at the opera. At the 1998 Grammy Awards, Franklin sings in place of her friend Luciano Pavarotti, who was unwell.

At Italy’s 1990 FIFA World Cup, Luciano Pavarotti, one of the greatest tenors, popularized Giacomo Puccini’s “Nessun dorma”. It became his signature song, and he sung it at his exit from the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

Pavarotti informed the 1998 Grammy Awards organizers hours before the New York City concert that he would not perform the piece. They contacted Aretha Franklin to save the day, and history followed. Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich heard Franklin play the tune two nights earlier at MusiCares and asked her to step in last minute.

It’s wonderful to hear Franklin, an opera novice, perform such a tough opera. Franklin notes a high B at the end of “Nessun dorma”. The orchestra had rehearsed the song in a key suitable for a male tenor voice, but Franklin responded despite the last-minute conditions. The video below shows Pavarotti singing it.

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