No matter how much we hear about the personal life of the late Italian opera star Luciano Pavarotti, he will go down in history for his great tenor voice and be remembered for his magnificent performances. Fortunately there are film and audio records of his triumphs for future generations. Now director Ron Howard has given us a terrific documentary that captures Pavarotti’s skill and also explores his life.
There is sheer pleasure in listing to Pavarotti’s wonderful voice in his various stage appearances highlighted by his commanding high C’s. Howard has done a tremendous job collecting film footage, and he has also interviewed key people in Pavarotti’s life. The overwhelming upside is emphasized rather than searching for downsides.
What emerges is a portrait of a larger-than-life man who took joy in singing as an expression of himself, and a man who wanted to help so many others through performances dedicated to charity. Doing that gave him much satisfaction, as one can see in so many of the scenes captured.
Opera purists tend to resent when a star performs more broadly, and there was such resentment against Pavarotti. But he enjoyed expanding and popularizing his skill. The film shows how he teamed with Bono, for example, and also used their performing together for charitable purposes. There were also his famous ‘Three Tenors” performances (with Plácido Domingo and José Carreras), and their singing together resulted in vast recording sales. In one especially touching moment during a concert Pavarotti gave, he directs his singing to Princess Diana, who, all smiles, is sitting in the audience.
Pavarotti’s personal life was fodder for scandal in the press. He was married, but it took many years before there could be a divorce, given the Catholic Church’s rules. He could not marry again in church, so he had to pick another venue.
In addition to interviews with his former wife, Adua Veroni, there is an interview with soprano Madelyn Renee, who had a long affair with him, but ended it because he remained married at the time. There is an interview with Nicolette Mantovani, the woman with whom he finally found marital happiness. There is also an interview with a daughter who had become became estranged from Pavarotti but finally reconciled with a show of emotion that emerges in Howard’s film.
The brilliance of this documentary is that it manages to depict the fullness of the star’s life, from the most wonderful displays of his talent to the days when he was becoming ill and singing with a voice no longer what it was. After Pavarotti died of cancer in 2007 at the age of 71, the film shows his cortege moving through crowds of onlookers paying tribute to the great artist whose operatic success echoed that of the famous Enrico Caruso. Howard’s documentary is certainly among the best and most important films of the year thus far. A CBS films release. Reviewed June 7, 2019.