Pavarotti, the Babe Ruth of opera, gets posthumous spotlight

Movie Review: Pavarotti

Director Ron Howard gives Luciano Pavarotti a round of polite applause in his new documentary that explores the early life and loves of a small town kid who sang big.

Pavarotti

3/5

Starring: Luciano Pavarotti, Bono, Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo

Directed by: Ron Howard

Running time: 104 minutes

Rating: Parental Guidance

Opens in select markets June 7, 2019

By Katherine Monk

Pavarotti has the good fortune of hitting theatres in the full afterglow of Rocketman’s glittering exhaust fumes because, at one point, Elton John and Luciano Pavarotti not only shared the same stage, their explosive careers shared the same arc.

Watching one in the same breath as the other lets us see the whole liftoff sequence in mental slow-motion, drawing attention to all the familiar dangers signs, while affirming certain procedural expectations.

In other words, Pavarotti explores the story of a kid born into anonymity who eventually became the most famous singer in the world. Luciano Pavarotti was the son of a humble baker in Modena, Italy. He grew up singing with his father, an amateur tenor, but when he got the chance to perform — he grabbed it, and squeezed every ounce of breath from his body to blow the roof off the theatre.

The man found his power and pure soul on stage, which is always a bit of a red flag in the personality department, but inevitably makes for solid entertainment — partly because we want to see what they’re “really like” off-stage.

Pavarotti

Here’s Looking at You, Luciano: Pavarotti prepares to take the stage.

Director Ron Howard offers plenty of backstage banter and a few awkward confessions from past lovers, but it only hints at the darker side of the man who played the operatic clown, Pagliacci.

Ploughing through the latter-day Pavarotti archive created by his second wife, Nicoletta Mantovani, Howard reaps treasures from the hours of performance footage and creates the backbone for the soundtrack — building us up for the crescendo, when the “The Three Tenors” hit the stage for the very first time, and forever redraw opera’s demographic boundaries.

Director Ron Howard offers plenty of backstage banter and a few awkward confessions from past lovers, but it only hints at the darker side of the man who played the operatic clown, Pagliacci.

So much of what we see, we expect to see, such as Bono’s grinning face in the camera lauding the man who invited him to a duet, conductor Zubin Mehta’s broad strokes of remembrance scored to strings and images of Lady Di, and plenty of performance footage showing Pavarotti doing what he did best: Sing big.

Any human voice with an ability to trace a melody with feeling, and fill the air with undulating waves of resonant sound, can send us to the stars. Pavarotti’s voice could do that, but it always aimed to be something more, still.

Inside the oversized ribcage of a small-town nobody, lay a giant set of a lungs and an ever-bellowing ambition. It’s why every time he winds up with a deep breath, you know he’s swinging for the fences.

Pavarotti was the Babe Ruth of tenors, and with Opie behind the wheel, there’s an element of fandom that creeps into the mix — by keeping things out of the mix. The testimony of each lover, for instance, is largely focused on the good times. Even when those good times were, inevitably, someone else’s very, very bad times.

Inside the oversized ribcage of a small-town nobody, lay a giant set of a lungs and an ever-bellowing ambition. It’s why every time he winds up with a deep breath, you know he’s swinging for the fences. Pavarotti was the Babe Ruth of tenors, and with Opie behind the wheel, there’s an element of fandom that creeps into the mix….

As a viewer, I felt the women were omitting huge chunks of the story, because after sitting through nearly two hours of Pavarotti, I didn’t really get a better sense of the man than I did before I started watching.

I certainly know more about him. I know his past and his boyhood face. I know more about the manager that took him from opera stardom to superstardom. And I’ve borne witness to the stories of abandonment that continue to haunt his adult children.

But I only got a glimpse of the real man — and it arrives in the opening frames of the movie. It’s 1995 and Pavarotti is travelling down the Amazon. Immediately, images of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo and Les Blank’s accompanying classic, Burden of Dreams, come to mind. For good reason: Pavarotti wants to retrace the steps of his hero, Enrico Caruso, who once sang at the exotic and surreal Teatro Amazonas, an ornate opera house in the middle of the jungle. Getting Caruso to sing in the jungle was the Sisyphusian task at the heart of Fizcarraldo, getting Klaus Kinski to stop complaining as Herzog’s production fell apart was the dark heart of Burden of Dreams.

Yet, Pavarotti places an opera jacket over the historical mud, and gives the tenor a gorgeous moment to sing his favourite Caruso aria before a handful of people in the haunted space. His voice is almost tender, singing for the all the ghosts he carries with him, but forever conscious of the camera, and the recording of history.

@katherinemonk

Main image: Luciano Pavarotti
THE EX-PRESS, June 15, 2019

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Director Ron Howard gives Luciano Pavarotti a round of polite applause in his new documentary that explores the early life and loves of a small town kid who sang big. The movie does throw a coat over the mud puddle of ordinary man, glossing over affairs and family problems, in a bid to cement Pavarotti’s reputation in the annals of pop culture history. -- Katherine Monk

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