One of the great voices in opera rings out again in this documentary.



It’s a fair assumption, I think, that this new documentary by Hollywood veteran Ron Howard will be popular at the box-office. It may be twelve years since the tenor Luciano Pavarotti died, but for all opera lovers he remains an undimmed legendary talent and there is a wider audience out there too who will be ready to acclaim this film. I refer here to those not otherwise drawn to opera who went overboard for The Three Tenors. Having joined Placido Domingo and José Carreras to perform during the 1990 Fifa World Cup, Pavarotti found himself making recordings with them which became best sellers. This ensured that Pavarotti, who capitalised on this by sharing concerts with pop stars, would become a world celebrity to an extent unmatched by any other singer of his ilk except Caruso.


Howard’s film seeks to retrace the career and to tell the life story and, if some footage of early performances are of decidedly inferior quality visually, Pavarotti’s astounding voice is heard to mesmerising effect. It’s also the case that the movie benefits greatly from Pavarotti’s personal charisma, a manner so open and direct that the viewer is magnetised by the man. That said, however, I don’t regard Pavarotti as a particularly good biopic. The film’s first half largely concentrates on the career and we have comments from fellow artists (Domingo and Carreras among them) and hear too from relevant impresarios and managers. Nevertheless, given the length of Pavarotti’s career, there is simply not enough time in a feature film lasting under two hours to give a properly detailed account while also covering his personal life.


Being basically a chronological piece despite a few exceptions, it is the film’s second half that features The Three Tenors and the link with pop stars (it is Bono who gives an interesting defence of Pavarotti’s decision to continue singing after his voice had lost much of its sheen). However, it is also here that the private life comes increasingly to the fore. His first wife, Adua Veroni and their three daughters appear, but so does the singer Madelyn Renée who had a significant relationship with this man who had so many female admirers. Even more crucially, we hear from Nicoletta Mantovani. She would become his second wife and the mother of his last child, but before that happened their relationship would create a scandal since she was the younger by over thirty years and it also led to the divorce from Adua.


Despite these contributions and Pavarotti’s own admission late in life that he wished he had been a better father (no comment about being a better husband!), the impression we get is less of a revealing portrait than a skimming of the surface. Compare this film with the recent Armstrong and it is that work and not this one which gives you the feeling of getting genuinely close to the man. We do learn that Pavarotti could be difficult and demanding, but a mid-life crisis is merely hinted at and we never really discover what factors drove this famous singer to go beyond the opera stage in quest of yet greater and wider fame. Undoubtedly his charity work in later life brought great benefit to suffering children, but was undertaking it influenced by his own shortcomings as a father? Such questions are not asked in this film which is content to be relatively superficial. Furthermore, when it comes to style Howard in his first classical music documentary readily allows interviewees to talk over arias and at other times decides distractingly and irrelevantly that bits of The Four Seasons or of the Barcarolle from The Tales of Hoffman should be background to their comments. But for many viewers these points may sound like mere quibbles and, whatever the weaknesses here, there is always that voice to justify the film.




Featuring  Adua Veroni, Giuliana Pavarotti, Cristina Pavarotti, Lorenza Pavarotti, Nicoletta Mantovani, Madelyn Renée, Harvey Goldsmith, Terri Robson, Placido Domingo, José Carreras, Angela Georghiu, Carol Vaness, Zubin Mehta, Lang Lang, Bono, Anne Midgette.


Dir Ron Howard, Pro Nigel Sinclair, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Michael Rosenberg and Jeanne Elfant Festa and Nigel Sinclair, Screenplay Mark Monroe, Ph Michael Dwyer, Alan Gwizdowski, Axel Baumann and others, Ed Paul Crowder.


Polygram Entertainment/Brian Grazer/Imagine Entertainment/White Horse Pictures/Diamond Docs-E1 Films.
114 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 13 July 2019. Cert. 12A.