Directed by: Ron Howard – Starring: Luciano Pavarotti
Even those who are not fans of opera tend to have a soft spot for Pavarotti – the legendary tenor who made arias acceptable to the masses. His Nessun Dorma is the stuff of legend (and has led to many a drunken attempt to sing it by grown people who should know better).
Meanwhile, he managed to marry the worlds of rock and opera with his Pavarotti and Friends collaborations. Indeed at the height of his powers, he was more revered than any other musical star on the planet, irrespective of genre. In short, he was, and remains, a towering cultural icon.
Sadly, the Maestro died in 2007, but this documentary from Ron Howard was made with the permission of his family and estate. As such, you would expect it to paint a sanitised picture of the star. And while it does indeed show him as a huge talent, with a huge appetite for life and love of his family, it also doesn’t shy away from his affairs, or his eventual marriage to a woman over three decades younger than him, which completely scandalised his native Italy.
Taking us through his rise from his early days to his later enormous success, it makes good use of archive footage and interviews, alongside newly-recorded interviews with family, friends, and contemporaries. Many will be surprised to learn the complexities of the man who gave up his job as a teacher to pursue his dream of singing.
With all the women in his life taking part, you do get a very rounded picture of the man behind the music. His collaborators are also nothing but complementary about his talent and generosity (I never knew the Three Tenors only came about because he and Placido Domingo wanted to get José Carreras back on a stage after treatment for leukaemia).
Even Bono makes an appearance, discussing their collaboration on the hit song, Miss Sarajevo, and revealing that Pavarotti was like an emotional arm wrestler – who would break your arm! Apparently, he also struck up a friendship with Bono’s Italian maid, while bombarding the U2 star with phone calls!
It is titbits like this that stop this documentary from lagging. Even when they are discussing his work and music, absolutely everyone has a hilarious, insightful, or even mind-blowing anecdote about the star, that will keep you thoroughly engaged.
Howard keeps the narrative chronological – resisting the temptation to bounce back and forth through his career. This makes it easy to follow for the uninitiated, and also ensures you become completely engaged in the story of the his life, and want to hear what happened next.
Interestingly – if you’re a bit of an opera philistine – you will be amazed by how many of the featured songs you know, as so many have featured in adverts and soundtracks that they have unwittingly permeated your life.
This is an extremely accessible insight into a great talent. It probably could show more of his darker side, but references to his diva moments are fleeting, and overall, he is painted as a gregarious giant of the opera world, who never lost his self-doubt, and tried to use his fame for good.
Extremely engaging, this won’t necessarily turn you into an Opera-lover, but it will give you a new-found appreciation of this great talent.
And possibly lead to you drunkenly singing Nessun Dorma on a Saturday night! Not speaking from experience or anything!
In Cinemas July 15th!