Ron Howard (director)
1h 54mins (length)
11 July 2019 (released)
11 July 2019
Condensing the life of one of the world's greatest performers into a mere 114 minutes must have been a daunting task.
But with his new documentary Pavarotti, director Ron Howard dishes up an intimate portrait of operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti that hits all of the right notes.
Created using a combination of performance footage and interviews, the film kicks off with a video shot in 1995 showing Pavarotti travelling in the heart of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and the star requesting to be taken to the Amazon Theatre in Manaus in order to replicate his operatic hero Enrico Caruso.
A straightforward account of his early life ensues, delving into his humble childhood in Modena, Italy, a stint as an elementary school teacher, and a win with a male voice choir at a competition in Wales in the mid-1950s - perhaps the most pivotal moment of his career.
His first wife Adua Veroni, with whom he shared three daughters, makes a rare appearance to reflect on their relationship and the thrilling days of his early performances, including his debut as Rodolfo in La Boheme in 1961, for which Howard helpfully offers an onscreen precis.
The documentary proceeds to speed through a series of important professional moments, such as the key breathing technique Pavarotti learned from Joan Sutherland during a tour of Australia, how he came to use a white handkerchief as his signature prop, and the London gigs for which he would earn the title of "King of the High Cs".
These times intercut with comical TV appearances and heartwarming times spent with his girls, with the film simultaneously exploring his stratospheric rise to international fame and the exhaustion and loneliness which often accompanies life on the road.
A high point is the first Three Tenors concert, held in Rome on the eve of the 1990 FIFA World Cup Final in Rome, alongside fellow tenors Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras, with a group hug at the end of the show proving to be particularly touching.
And just as delightful as Pavarotti's contagious smile was the exploration of his humanitarian efforts, and the third act of the documentary is dedicated to his charity concerts and connections with the likes of Elton John, Princess Diana, and U2's Bono - with the latter sharing humorous stories of his pal's persistence.
Yet, Howard makes no secret of his view that the tenor's extensive charity work was diminished by the media attention that his relationship with his former personal assistant, Nicoletta Mantovani, garnered in the early 2000s, especially when they married and welcomed a baby girl.
Somehow, exploration of this time only serves to emphasise Pavarotti's humility, and in spite of one rather jarring use of generic footage to recall the time he spent battling tetanus in hospital as a child as means of signifying a full circle moment, this film builds to a joyful crescendo that captures the maestro's magic.