He lived, he loved, he sang, he ate. Ewan McDonald hangs out in Luciano Pavarotti's modest retreat in northern Italy.

Kitchens. The heart and soul of a house. They say so much about the people who live there.

I'm standing in one now. It's not designer, not flash, no whizzbang stove, state-of-the-art appliances or designer tiles. But, from the sunflower-yellow paint, the six-burner gas hob, the rickety raffia-seat chairs and plain wooden table, this is the kitchen of a family that loves to eat, chat, enjoy the simple, tasteful, good things of life.

What should happen next is that some vaster-than-life personality comes roistering in, orders his wife to boil up a pot of water on that stove, sends me to the wine cellar for a stonking red, helps his daughter offer fruit to the visitor, and chops, sautees and whisks vegetables and anything else within a ham-fisted hand's reach into a pasta sauce.

This room must have resounded to that scene so often. It's not going to happen today. He lived, he loved, he sang, he ate. But Luciano Pavarotti has left the kitchen.

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Forty minutes drive from Bologna into the Emilia-Romagna countryside, past the Ferrari and Maserati factories, across the broad, flat, autumn-golden plain of the Po valley. Off the six-lane highway and down the slightly less than two-lanes country road, pulling into the verge whenever another car - or tractor - approaches.

The farmhouses are pink here, none more so than the one on the left behind the dark green iron fences. A chap who might be a farmhand opens the gate and we drive up to the front door. His wife hands us audio guides. "Enjoy," she wishes, then disappears.

This is the last home and the museum of the "tenorissimo", the singer who made it possible and respectable and fun to enjoy that most ludicrous of art forms, grand opera.

Expecting Elvis' Graceland, Michael's Neverland or Elton's Maidenhead? Think again. This is, as much as it is possible when one has blockbusted the musical world from La Scala to the World Cup Final; duetted with Joan Sutherland and Dolly Parton, Sinatra and Springsteen; bankrolled UN funds for refugees and starving children, a modest family home.

Ground floor. The living room, grand piano with photos of mates on top: Bono, of course. On a frame, the tuxedo and white handkerchief, apparently from slimmer days. Opera score, scrawled, for one who - like most operatic tenors - did not read music closely. And a card table. Fedora. Hand-drawn scorecards.

Dining room. Couches. Bookcase. Garish Hawaiian shirts, probably size MM - Man Mountain.

Upstairs, the plain bedroom with floral duvet, looking out on to the fields where Pavarotti indulged one of his many passions: the riding school and eventing course, home to one of Europe's most prestigious three-day championships. Ambushed by pancreatic cancer, the King of the High Cs died here in 2007. To one side the bathroom with built-in sauna, where he may not have sweated off the kilos, and surely the most over-worked piece of equipment in the place - Pavarotti's set of scales.

One of Pavarotti's iconic shirts on display at the Pavarotti House Museum in Modena. Photo / Supplied
One of Pavarotti's iconic shirts on display at the Pavarotti House Museum in Modena. Photo / Supplied

The house was designed by the maestro to such exacting standards - "Some can sing opera, Luciano Pavarotti was an opera," Bono commented after his death - that it took 11 years to build and the family lived here for only three.

Next, a surprise. Pavarotti conceived a mini-opera house by taking a generous lounge on the second floor, knocking out the ceiling, opening a three-sided balcony on the upper level, and creating a practice/recording studio.

Among the costumes from his stage roles are letters of appreciation and admiration from kings, popes and pop royalty. The signatures are a roll-call of the century: Juan Carlos of Spain. John-Paul II. Kofi Annan. "Sting Trudie and the kids". "Patti and Bruce". My favourite, elegantly inscribed in deep blue ink: "Francis Albert." Another has the typewriter straying into unnecessary capital letters, "YOUR NUMBER ONE FAN", underneath the surprisingly childlike scrawl, "Diana".

There's a lift downstairs to other ground-floor rooms displaying Pavarotti's charming paintings, costumes and gifts from less glamorous fans. A room is devoted to videos replaying the Pavarotti & Friends concerts, the guest stars a who's whom of pop and rock, held in the piazza of nearby Modena to raise funds for UN causes. The tenor's recorded voice leads the morning's four visitors from room to roof.

I leave the house and walk into the grounds - lawn and a few trees, surprisingly there are no flowerbeds. Over there, swings and slides where his daughter Alice, just 4 when he died, must have played. Over here, shaded, a terrace with iron patio furniture you might find in any garden mega-store.

There's only a touch of flamboyance: the two-storey high poster of that exuberant grin, white bowtie and black tuxedo, strapped to the side of the house. It takes me back to a summer night at North Harbour Stadium, a larger-than-life presence whose health meant he could barely stand but he could sing. Whose voice filled the night and the soul.

Time to say goodbye. I go into the office to return the audio guide and buy a T-shirt. It has nothing to do with the music that Luciano Pavarotti gave us. It says, "One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating." Like that kitchen, it has everything to do with the zest for life that Luciano Pavarotti left us.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: All three of Emirates' daily A380 services from Auckland connect at Dubai with the airline's flights to Bologna, its 38th and newest Europe destination.

The writer travelled to Italy courtesy of Emirates and Bologna Welcome.