PAVAROTTI,  US, 2019.  Directed by Ron Howard. 120 minutes. Rated M (Coarse Language)

In retrospect, it is amazing how people the world over responded so favourably to Luciano Pavarotti.

Initially, he quickly became known to the music world, the cognoscenti, influenced by his father, a strong tenor, he entered competitions, was successful and, by 1961 had his theatrical debut. For the next 40 years he was a dominant figure in the world of opera, all around the world, having a base at Covent Garden, at the Metropolitan in New York, and La Scala. He built up quite a repertoire of tenor roles in opera, singing with a great number of divas, with great admiration for his work with Joan Sutherland. Quite a number of singers contribute their opinions in this film.

A great deal to delight is in seeing and hearing Pavarotti singing, many favourites, other excerpts.

At the beginning, the question is posed to him about his opinion of himself as a singer and of himself as a person. While he was always nervous before going on stage, “I go to die”, he became alive with the response of the audience, charming them, fascinating them, especially with his vocal range (able to reach the high C). Amongst those interviewed are Placido Domingo and José Carreras as well as his long-time producers and managers. At the invitation of conductor, Zhuban Mehta, he joined the very popular group, The Three Tenors, initially performing in Rome at the Baths of Caracalla, a spectacular event, each contributing arias, and a mock competition in the rendition of Nessun Dorma, a highlight of the concert, a highlight of the film. And, it is appropriate that this is how this documentary ends – plus Pavarotti singing O Sole Mio during the final credits.

Pavarotti was not camera shy. There was no shortage for director Ron Howard (who had previously made the documentary about The Beatles) of footage of Pavarotti and his family, of his travels, of his television interviews (Clive James, Johnny Carson, Phil Donohoe…), his playful jokes and commentaries. While he comes across as larger-than-life, with plenty of photos of his young days to show how he grew larger, he seems perpetually jovial although there is reference to some moods and tantrums.

In fact, he seems forever genial. However, the film does not go into great detail about his personal life although his wife is strongly forthcoming in interviews, certainly making allowances for his behaviour, as do the interviews with his three daughters. There are some more intimate interviews with his assistants and, then, his relationship with Nicoletta Mantovani, the divorce, the refusal of the Vatican to allow him to remarry in church (although he was given strongly Catholic burial), his marriage, twins, the death of his son, the growing up of his daughter. Underlying the jollity, there are more than a few indications of his behaviour, his attitude towards women, compounded by the fact that he spent such a lot of his time away from his wife and daughters.

However, audiences will enjoy the film and his performances, respond to his joviality, and realise that with his performances, his recordings, television presence, collaboration with popular musicians in concerts (and extensive interviews in this documentary with Bono), he reached and touched the hearts of millions of audiences around the world.

Madman                                     Released October24th

Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

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