Pavarotti (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): A respectable presentation of Pavarotti’s life and career


Ron Howard’s documentary film “Pavarotti” dutifully presents the summary of the life and career of Luciano Pavarotti, who was regarded as one of the greatest operatic tenors in the history. Although it seems to esteem its human subject a bit too much in my inconsequential opinion, the documentary did its job as well as intended, and it is also buoyed by Pavarotti’s undeniable charm and charisma, which are pretty evident from those archival footage clips and recordings presented in the documentary.

After an old video footage clip showing Pavarotti visiting a big opera house in the middle of the Amazon area where Enrico Caruso once performed, the documentary gives us a brief presentation of Pavarotti’s early years. Often encouraged by his baker father who was also a tenor, young Pavarotti showed considerable potential as a young talented singer, and he eventually came to decide to pursue the career of a professional operatic tenor in 1961 instead of working as a school teacher. As continuing to hone and develop his talent, he soon distinguished himself a lot in Rome, and then there came a big moment when he got an opportunity to perform in London several years later.

After that point, Pavarotti kept rising as a new talented operatic tenor to watch as performing here and there around the world, and a series of archival footage clips showed us how superlative he was on the stage. Thanks to his exceptional ability to hit high C note, he constantly impressed critics and audiences as performing various opera works such as Giacomo Puccini’s “La bohème” and “Tosca” during next two decades, and then there came that monumental concert where he performed along with Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo on the eve of the World Cup Final in 1990. Around the time when they finished their concert with a superb rendition of “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s “Turandot”, they all recognized they had something special and awesome in their hands, and that was the beginning of their famous concert tour around the world.


Despite his skyrocketing fame and success, Pavarotti remained to be humble and amiable, and a number of people who were very close to him fondly remember their respective experiences with him. Sure, he could be as difficult as, say, Maria Callas, but he was usually a jolly guy ready to enjoy his life and career as much as possible, and everyone around him including his family went along with that while not complaining much. Although he could not spend much time with his first wife Adua Veroni and their three children due to his busy work schedule, they all understood how much he was devoted to his profession, and he remained a good husband and father to them until he came to be very serious about his affair with Nicoletta Mantovani, who eventually became his second wife after his divorce with Veroni.

Around that time, Pavarotti came to pay more attention to charity, and he was willing to utilize his celebrity status for good causes. He frequently performed along with many different pop stars, and we get a little amusing episode on how he worked along with U2 for a special concert held for raising money for those unfortunate refugees in the Bosnian War. As Bono admits, Pavarotti surely knew one or two things about ‘emotional arm-wrestling’, and he certainly got what he wanted when he was on the stage along with U2.

Although his prime period seemed to be over as he entered the 21st century, Pavarotti was still far from retirement, and he was willing to advance more as shown from several archival footage clips showing the performances during his later years. His singing voice certainly got older due to aging, but the documentary argues that made his performances richer and more emotional than before, and, as far as I could observe from what is presented in the documentary, that seems true.


However, as many of you know, Pavarotti was diagnosed to have a serious case of pancreatic cancer in 2007, and he died not long after being admitted to a hospital for treatment. Although it has been more than 10 years since his death, he is still missed by many people even at present because, well, we do not have anyone talented and popular enough to succeed him yet.

As competently juggling various interview and archival footage clips, Howard did a good job of engaging and entertaining us, though there are some weak aspects. While I appreciate some pieces of background knowledge for general audiences like me, they may feel redundant to you if you know a lot about operas, and I was a little disappointed that the documentary did not mention Franklin J. Schaffner’s forgotten turkey “Yes, Giorgio” (1982) at all, where Pavarotti tried movie acting as its lead actor (I have not watched that movie yet, but it looks like he richly deserved his double Razzie nominations, by the way).

Anyway, “Pavarotti”, which happens to be the first film I saw at a movie theater in this year, is still a fairly nice documentary on the whole, and Pavarotti came to us as an interesting larger-than-life artist who was also an imperfect but likable human being with some admirable qualities. As mentioned at the end of the documentary, he is still famous and popular for those legendary performances to be remembered and cherished, and that reminds me now of a certain memorable line from “All About Eve” (1950): “There never was, and there never will be, another like you.”


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