The masterful opera singer Pavarotti comes to life in a new documentary directed by Ron Howard. Though rather linear and plain in perspective, the human performer comes to light in breezy unassuming tones that delight and entertain. The film contains hints of darkness as well. All the better to show the artist Luciano Pavarotti in his complete spectrum.
The singer was born in 1935. His father was a baker who had talent for singing but did not pursue it, due to nerves. His mother worked in a cigar factory. Though Pavarotti knew he was an opera singer, he took a job teaching elementary school. As a child in Modena, the artist witnessed WWII firsthand and the experience deeply affected him. As he matured, Pavarotti offered money and appearances to many charitable causes.
His breakthough came in 1955 when he won the International Eisteddfod along with his father in Wales. His destiny was becoming visible.
Pavarotti became a favorite of the Metropolitan Opera, becoming crowned “The king of the high Cs.” The artist’s face opened like the sun and people swooned. Pavarotti brought opera to the masses as the Caruso of the 20th century.
One of the most arresting things in the film is that, although the singer achieved worldwide fame, he was deathly afraid of performing. “I have come to die” he is known to have said frequently before reaching the stage. The singer was also known to carry a bent nail with him for good luck. Deeply Catholic throughout his life, the nail was carried “just in case.” The artist feared being alone.
Whether the token was necessary or not, Pavarotti became ubiquitous in fame. He went on Carson, Donahue and became best friends with Princess Diana. First and foremost, he was a musician, rightly believing that everything starts with human breath and movement of the diaphragm. Without these conditions working in tandem, there is no voice.
As Placido Domingo said “The voice is feminine, la voce: a jealous woman. You have to treat her well.”
What is most evident in the documentary is Pavarotti’s insatiable appetite for life. Singing sustains him, keeping him steady through marital scandals with Nicoletta Mantovani. He became a pariah in the public eye. Luciano and Nicoletta eventually married, having twins, but only one survived.
Still he carried on, clearly loving being a father and grandfather.
Although Pavarotti was infamous for his infidelities and estrangement from his daughter, “Pavarotti” the film does not dwell on the negative. What we see is the singer as an instrument of the universe, an open vessel, the curious child in the man who dances with la voce, a flaming curvaceous woman, carrying the sounds of an embrace.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org