Reviewed by GREG KING


Director: Ron Howard.

Plácido Domingo, Josep Carreras, Zubin Mehta, and Luciano Pavarotti in Pavarotti (2019)

This is a well-researched and very informative documentary about famed opera tenor Luciano Pavarotti, a larger than life figure who brought opera to the masses. Pavarotti died from pancreatic cancer in 2007, aged 71, but left behind an enormous legacy. U2 frontman Bono calls Pavarotti “the rock star of the opera world” as he was able to fill stadiums around the world for his concerts.

The film has been directed by Oscar winning filmmaker Ron Howard, who has, arguably never made a bad film yet. It follows Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years, his recent 2016 documentary about the Beatles and their tour of the US. Howard and his team have had access to a wealth of archival footage, much of it grainy and not previously seen, that traces the charismatic singer from his childhood in Modena through to his early performances and theatrical appearances in London and New York to his work with the Three Tenors during the 90s, and his later charity work and philanthropic pursuits in which he was able to bring together musicians from the rock world to perform on stage to raise money for his favourite causes.

There is plenty of footage of his more famous appearances on stage – including some rare, unseen footage of his theatrical debut in Milan – which has been carefully shaped by editor Paul Crowder, who also collaborated with Howard on his Beatles documentary. Crowder gives the material its rhythm and pace, and shapes it with a classic three act narrative.

There is a wonderful snippet of Pavarotti on a visit to China after the end of Mao’s regime, where he brings opera to the people. He is seen cycling down a street in Beijing, full of childlike glee, and trying to teach opera singing to an enthusiast. There are plenty of interviews with his former wife Adua, his three daughters, colleagues and contemporaries, managers and friends, who give some insight into his warm personality, his sense of humour.

This is pretty much a hagiography as Howard and co have not really been interested in dishing dirt. The closest they come to scandal is with his divorce and an extramarital affair with a woman 34 years his junior, whom he eventually married, which did rock the Italian public at the time. Howard is obviously more interested in exploring his drive, passion and motivation and his creative tendencies rather than his flaws and the tabloid headlines.

What emerges is a portrait of a man of great appetites and passion, an ebullient almost childlike enthusiasm for life. He also seems like a warm and generous person, able to relate to ordinary people as well as interact with celebrities like the late Princess Di and Nelson Mandela. He was said to have been crushed by injustice, and used his fame and his voice as a tool to raise awareness of humanitarian causes. Pavarotti takes audiences on a musical journey full of emotional highs and triumphs and poignant insights.

There is plenty of music and Pavarotti’s extraordinary vocals to satisfy fans. During a preview screening, the sequence in which the Three Tenors performed Nessun dorma, the famous aria from Turandot, was greeted with a spontaneous round of applause. So the documentary clearly resonates with its target audience. While Pavarotti is a must see for fans of the singer, this fabulous, informative and entertaining documentary has broad appeal and deserves to reach a wider audience.


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