For people of my age, especially those who are football fans, Luciano Pavarotti will forever be instilled in our collective consciousness for providing the soundtrack to Italia 90. What I don’t think I ever truly realised until watching this documentary, is just how huge of a star he was, and the impact he had on not only bringing opera to a global audience, but also popularising this art form far beyond the elite world of classical music.
Directed by Ron Howard, this delightful documentary gently probes at the life of the great tenor, but never really gets under his skin. The film is a simple A to B story, charting Pavarotti’s remarkable career which began in 1961 with La Boheme, through to his global superstardom in the 90s. Howard mixes never before seen home movies of Pavarotti, with footage from the archives, and all new interviews with his family, friends, and contemporaries.
Pavarotti makes for a fabulous subject, immensely charming and charismatic, and blessed with one of the greatest vocal gifts ever bestowed on anyone. This trip through his career is an absolute joy. There’s plenty of lovely little moments, including a trip up the Amazon to sing in an abandoned old opera house in the middle of the jungle, and fascinating insights into the technical mastery required to be an operatic tenor.
What the film really lacks however is any real sense of the man himself. We learn that he used to be extremely nervous and self-conscious before performing, and his love of food prompted him to ask one of his musicians to bring an extra suitcase of his favourite pasta with him when they were touring. These are lovely details, but that’s all they are. When the people being interviewed for the film include his first wife Adua Veroni, his children, the singer Madelyn Renee with whom he cheated on his wife for several years, his second (and much younger) wife Nicoletta Mantovani, and his various managers from throughout his career, you would expect there to be interesting and varying perspectives on the great maestro.
Alas, that is not the case. The film’s sole purpose is to reinforce Pavarotti’s status as the greatest and most popular opera singer of all time. And it succeeds in doing that. It unfortunately makes for a sanitised and occasionally syrupy film, but there are far worse ways you could spend a couple of hours than in the presence of Pavarotti and his incredible voice. The moment during the famous Three Tenors concert on the eve of the World Cup Final when together they hit the triumphant crescendo note of Nessun Dorma brought tears to my eyes.
Cast: Luciano Pavarotti, Adua Veroni, Lorenza Pavarotti, Guiliana Pavarotti, Cristina Pavarotti, Harvey Goldsmith, Madelyn Renée, Nicoletta Mantovani Director: Ron Howard Writer: Mark Monroe & Cassidy Hartmann Released By: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment Certificate: 12 Duration: 114 mins Release Date: 25th November 2019