Legendary tenor Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007)
Blu-ray, DVD and Digital copy; 2019; PG-13 for profanity and a war-related image; steaming via Amazon Video/Prime, Apple, FandangoNOW, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: “Ron Howard on Pavarotti”
TO SEE the names Ron Howard and Luciano Pavarotti in the same sentence may appear incompatible, but not after you’ve seen Howard’s sweeping, affectionate documentary.
Pavarotti, the legendary tenor who died of cancer at age 71 in 2007, was an opera superstar who managed to shine in three separate careers. The longest, and the one that put him on the map, was as a leading tenor on the stages of every great opera house in the world. The next was as one of the “Three Tenors,” giving concerts and recording albums along with Plácido Domingo and José Carreras. The final one was as a tireless fundraiser, particularly for children’s causes, with “Pavarotti and Friends,” in which he invited famous international pop stars to join him for benefit concerts.
Howard directed this delightful and seemingly thorough biography, written by Mark Monroe. It opens with a trip to the Amazon jungle where, toward the end of his life, Pavarotti visited a remote theater where Enrico Caruso was said to have once performed. Flash back to the beginning of Pavarotti’s life. He was born in the town of Modena, in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. From archival interviews with him, we learn that when he was a teenager, his mother let him know how good she thought his voice was, and encouraged him to pursue a professional career.
Young Luciano with his parents Fernando and Adele. Luciano began his tenor career in smaller regional Italian opera houses, making his debut as Rodolfo in La bohème at the Teatro Municipale in Reggio Emilia in April 1961.
In 1955, Luciano was a member of the Corale Rossini, a male voice choir from Modena that also included his father. They won first prize at the International Eisteddfod in Llangollen, Wales.
Howard succeeded in getting scores of people to talk about the “maestro,” including his first wife and the three adult daughters from that marriage, one of whom became temporarily estranged from him after he took up with, and later divorced her mother to marry, a woman 34 years his junior.
In addition to appealing excerpts from those archival interviews with Pavarotti over the decades, we hear from his agent, manager, concert promoter, fellow opera stars, music critics, conductors, a former assistant (and singer) who was also his lover, and even a rock star (Bono). Almost to a person, they praise Pavarotti for his warmth, humor, generosity and, of course, his magnificent voice — with its ability to hit that elusive high C.
Even his ex-wife who, when she visited him as he was dying, and he remarked on the amount of weight she had gained(!), seems to forgive and speak kindly of him. Indeed, the country that was scandalized by his divorce, gave him a state funeral as for a king. The film’s finale, in which Pavarotti sings “Nessun Dorma,” one of his most well-known and beloved arias, is bound to bring tears to viewers’ eyes.
Much of the personal video footage was provided by his former personal assistant, Nicoletta Mantovani, who he married in 2003.
This Lionsgate Blu-ray looks and sounds terrific. Contemporary and recent footage is all state-of-the-art – and the archival bits have been nicely tuned up, so opera-lovers will not be disappointed.
Extras on this disc are rather puny, however, made up of three brief promo-type featurettes. The longest one, “Ron Howard on Pavarotti,” includes a confession by the director: “There’s something about landing on a documentary subject that you’re interested in” … (but know little about) … “For a guy like me, it’s like a kick in the ass to go and learn something!” Howard says he took his “act of discovery … and … shaped it into a narrative.”
The director concludes by saying he hopes “people who know Pavarotti and know the arias will feel respected by the movie. I also hope that people who never paid attention will watch the film and, once again, Pavarotti will be a great ambassador for his art form.”
— Peggy Earle
Pavarotti and U2's Bono meet the media before the "Pavarotti and Friends” concert held in Modena, Italy, to perform the new song “Miss Sarajevo” in September 1995.