Following its well-received nationwide premiere on June 4, 2019, Ron Howard’s Pavarotti, the documentary of the life of the operatic tenor, Luciano Pavarotti will hit theaters this weekend.
Even if you’ve never listened to or seen one of his performances, chances are you’re familiar with the venerable Italian operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti, who brought audiences worldwide to tears of joy with his gift. Howard worked with the Pavarotti’s estate using family archives, interviews, and the various live music footage.
Pavarotti was born in Modena, Italy, the son of Fernando and Adele. His father was an amateur tenor in addition to being a baker and his recordings were the basis for young Luciano’s understudy. Showing the level of detail in which the production went to find archival information on Pavarotti’s beginnings they found a photo from 1955 featuring father and son, together, as members of the Corale Rossini, a male voice choir.
Family is central to Pavarotti as it was to the man himself. Much like the operas he performed, his life was full of drama, but never sadness. If anything, Pavarotti goes to great lengths to demonstrate that he was always filled with positivity and that oozed out into everything he did.
The people, his family, that he left behind, though respectful and full of admiration, expressed sadness; in part because everyone he touched, even his children, were mesmerized with his tenacity for the love he gave.
As the documentary delves into his family and personal life, Pavarotti explores the idea that no one thing was ever enough for this larger-than-life personality. That included an interlude with not one, but two assistants. The story does not condemn Pavarotti for his indiscretions, but rather, it explains it as a need for a younger companion in his life. This, in addition to the wife that bore his three daughters.
Howard doesn’t dwell on this as much as he weaves it into the larger picture that was Pavarotti. He was always seeking the next thing, to keep himself fresh and sharp. Through interviews with managers and with his contemporaries, we learned of his efforts to make himself an international sensation.
Three highlights from the documentary include the time he visited China; to have seen that audience light up when they heard opera for the first time was simply sensational. The second was from the first Three Tenors performance right before the World Cup. You could see the competition between the three maestros between Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and Jose Carerras, but like Pavarotti, it was playful. The first piece was magnificent, but the three of them got the idea to perform an original piece and it was magical.
The third was Pavarotti’s collaboration with Bono and U2 for their “Miss Sarajevo” performance in 1993. Bono, who was interviewed for this documentary, was blunt about his love for Pavarotti and candid in his desire to not want to collaborate with him at first. It was a beautiful friendship and marriage of rock and opera.
There’s a joke from the 1986 film Running Scared that ran through my mind during this film: “Italians don’t get divorced. It’s a sin. They’re just not together.” Nothing could better sum up Ron Howard’s take as this maestro organically composes the tragedy in the third act.
Not only had Pavarotti fallen in love with his assistant, Nicoletta Mantovani, but the tabloids had caught them on holiday. Once word spread of the infidelity, his family life had broken apart and public support for Pavarotti in Italy had begun to fall. Eventually, Pavarotti divorced his wife, and married his assistant.
Even through all of the later life tragedy, and his prognosis with pancreatic cancer, Pavarotti was still full of determination to beat it. He was positive to the end. There were no hard feelings between family members; only love.
As I was writing this review, an interesting coincidence occurred to me: Pavarotti had the same gift for opera as Elton John did for classical music, both at such a young age.
Just as Rocketman beautifully depicted John’s ascent, so too does Ron Howard’s Pavarotti. It’s a documentary for the ages.
Pavarotti is rated PG-13 and is now in theaters. Images courtesy of CBS Films/Fathom Events.