Even though opera isn’t my jam, Ron Howard usually makes good films, so I was excited to see this documentary on Luciano Pavarotti. It wasn’t until I was in the theatre, watching a message from Ron Howard, that I remembered my friend — who loves The Beatles as much as I — hating the documentary Howard did on the Fab Four.
I’ve often said it’s more interesting watching a documentary on a subject you know little about. This is a perfect example. Aside from the Three Tenors, I knew very little about one of the most beloved voices of all time. A tenor with such great pipes, he became rock star famous in more than just the opera world.
There’s a lot of archival footage, and you’ll see him in classic pieces like Tosca, Don Giovanni, and La Boheme. It was surprising how open his family members were about sharing stories, and home movies. Especially when things got a little rocky in his home life.
The clip we saw in the trailer, where Pavarotti is told by his mom how his voice moves her and he says, “You have to say that, you’re my mom” and she admits she doesn’t feel that when his father sings. It’s a funny moment, even more so when you realize the dad was also a singer.
We learn a bit about his wife and three daughters, although I didn’t understand the medical condition one of his daughters had, but it was a rather sad moment. We hear from two women he had affairs with (one of them became his second wife), and I was surprised by the glowing things they said about him. “Oh, he loves women because he was always surrounded by lots of women.”
I thought about how in the terrific documentary Super Mench, about a guy that manages rock stars, all these famous people talk about what a great guy he is. Yet, of the handful of women he had relationships with (including Sharon Stone), not one of them came on screen to sing his praises. When we hear that Pavarotti’s wife is bringing him his favorite pasta on his deathbed and feeding it to him…or that his much younger assistant/singing partner that had an affair with him, tears up when talking about all his good qualities…you realize this is more than just a special talent.
Pavarotti hounded U2 and Bono about providing a song for one of his events. That’s partly because his girlfriend, 30 years his junior, was a big fan. It was hysterical hearing about how Pavarotti befriended the Italian housekeeper to do intel. I’m guessing having Bono (one of the few talking heads anybody will know), won’t be enough to get people into the seats that aren’t opera fans. Yet for a two hour movie that encompasses his entire life, Howard (and writer Mark Monroe and editor Paul Crowder) gave us the most interesting moments.
Seeing early footage, before he became a household name but still had that booming voice, was a thrill.
There are lots of scenes showing him clowning around with everyone. Sure, he had his diva moments, but he was great with fans. Even a promoter that booked him for a big show (and ended up working with him for years), had his parents backstage. The mom was thrilled to meet him, and Pavarotti made everyone leave the room but them. He sang them an aria that brought her to tears.
The opening of the film was incredible. We see home-video footage from a band member, as they go to the Amazon after a concert for 200,000 fans. They find a remote opera house where the legendary Enrico Caruso once sang. It was locked, but they end up contacting the right people and getting inside, where Pavarotti belts out a tune.
My wife and I believe Howard sugar-coated Pavarotti’s affairs, since they were shown in a rather respectful light. Other than one of his daughters tearing up when talking about the betrayal, it doesn’t ever get very nasty. This film was given the fan service treatment, and that’s probably going to be fine for everyone that watches it.
3 stars out of 5.