Pavarotti documentary celebrates his talent

Pavarotti, directed by Ron Howard, features footage of the tenor in his prime, performing his signature songs.
Pavarotti, directed by Ron Howard, features footage of the tenor in his prime, performing his signature songs. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION



115 minutes / Opens today / 3.5 Stars

The story: The biography of operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti begins with archival footage of him in the Amazonian jungle, looking to reopen a disused opera house because he thinks everyone should have access to his music. It flashes back to his beginnings as the son of a baker and cigar factory worker, born just outside of Modena, in northern Italy. It charts his rise to fame, first in Italy, then in London's Covent Garden, then around the world and includes his pioneering tour of China. His friendship with Princess Diana and his globally watched events as part of the Three Tenors (with Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras) are shown, interspersed with interviews with friends and business associates. The coverage ends with his death in 2007.

Through much of the 1980s and 1990s, it was impossible to ignore Pavarotti. He was touring everywhere, either solo or as part of the Three Tenors. His charity shows, featuring stars of classical and pop music, were televised around the world.

His fame overshadowed his talent. This documentary, directed by Ron Howard, seeks to be a corrective. It wants you to remember him as a phenomenal talent and a generous soul; so generous that he continued to give when he should have been retired and resting.

Howard, whose rockumentary The Beatles: Eight Days A Week (2016), proved that he could offer fresh insight into a topic everyone assumed had been thoroughly picked over, makes his biography as a friend and fan.

Missing is anything that might please opera fans looking for how he trained his voice, how he compares with other great tenors or how his interpretation of a song compares with his peers.

There is, however, a section which gives a beginner's tutorial on the qualities that set him apart from male vocalists who could sing the notes on the right side of the piano. While his upper range was extraordinary - his ability to hit a full-voiced high C gave him the nickname "king of the high Cs" - the documentary shows that his instrument had a mind of its own, so much so he often referred to it in the third person.

Backing up the praise for his extraordinary talent is footage of him in his prime, performing signature songs. The performance of Nessun Dorma in the 1990s is included, the one in which he hits the climactic high note with such power and clarity, his face registers astonishment immediately after.

There are a number of sit-down interviews, with his first wife Adua Veroni, second wife Nicola Mantovani and his daughters, Lorenza, Cristina and Giuliana. Rock singer Bono - with whom he sang and recorded for charity - and his partners in song, Carreras and Domingo, among others, also speak.

Predictably, they say nice things about him, though from his family members, there arises a picture of a man who opted to tour, teach and make goodwill visits to war zones and refugee camps when he should have been more of a father and husband.

A celebration of a life that runs close to two hours will test anyone's patience, especially one stuffed with this much repetitive praise. A busier pair of scissors could have taken out the slack, but such are the hazards of an authorised, though still engrossing, biography, created with the blessing of the Pavarotti estate and directed by someone with a fondness for the subject.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2019, with the headline 'Pavarotti documentary celebrates his talent'. Print Edition | Subscribe