A new documentary is doing the rounds in Australian arthouse cinemas which shows an iconic 20th century figure in, perhaps, a new light. PAVAROTTI, by trusted American director Ron Howard, purports to show Luciano Pavarotti not just as a great singer, but as one of the greatest and most loved entertainers of modern times. Fans of Luciano Pavarotti will approve this film almost without exception; sceptics may still have doubts but there is much to approve and little to criticise in this account.
The documentary is rather old-fashionedly styled, being a continuous narrative which covers Pavarotti’s journey from his birth in 1935 near Modena, Italy, to his death in 2007. For all the wealth and international fame he enjoyed, he died where he was born. Yet this story seems to smoothly move from the childhood of Luciano to the superstar he became, partly because of his association with celebrities and high-profile events and causes. Although, it must be said that one is left with the impression of relative simplicity rather than a fast-paced, even glamorous, lifestyle.
The early part of the film sets a pattern for simple storytelling (even if such luminaries as Bono; Elton John; and, of course, the other Two Tenors, Plácido Domingo and José Carreras, are in the frame). The appearance and feel of the home movie — not perfect in technique, but warm and enjoyable, with family jokes — has enough of a storyline to suggest an authentic account of the singer’s meteoric rise from humble beginnings to his dominance of the great opera stages of the world.
Pavarotti’s own family life is revealed through interviews with his first and second wives and with his adult daughters, all characterised by a warmth and respect. This defies the rumours and scandals which plagued him in the later part of his life. Pavarotti does come across as a bon vivant, but that is evident from his singing. On the other hand, no one watching this documentary with the footage of Pavarotti with the children in Sarajevo could possibly doubt the sincerity of his many charitable causes.
Prior to watching this documentary, I admired the tenor Pavarotti; Ron Howard’s work led to a greater understanding and fondness for the man. One quibble I have: the tenor’s signature aria, Nessum Dorma, featured so often that it almost appeared as a character in its own right! Pavarotti is extensively recorded and could have been represented in a much wider range of performance. The same cannot be said for this film, which appears to break new ground in that towering figure of 20th century opera: Luciano Pavarotti.