Ron Howard's Pavarotti an 'affectionate portrait of flawed musical genius'
Ron Howard charts the rise of an operatic icon in the affectionate documentary Pavarotti. Damon Smith reviews
PAVAROTTI (12A, 114 mins) Documentary. Luciano Pavarotti, Nicoletta Mantovani, Adua Veroni, Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras, Harvey Goldsmith. Director: Ron Howard.
NEAR the beginning of Ron Howard's documentary, which incorporates footage from concerts and interviews to recount Luciano Pavarotti's journey in his own words, the ebullient Italian tenor is asked to imagine his legacy.
"I'd like to be remembered as a man who took opera to the people," he replies modestly, flashing the camera a pensive smile.
There are plenty of reasons to grin at Howard's affectionate portrait of flawed musical genius, which loudly celebrate the qualities which elevated a baker's son from Modena to the dizzy heights of global superstardom and worldwide record sales in excess of 100 million.
Pavarotti's well documented faults are largely glossed over to concentrate on the coterie of admirers and celebrity friends he accumulated as he took opera into stadia, including his relationship with Diana, Princess of Wales, as well as the physical and emotional strain of performing.
"It gave him purpose but it was also a burden," observes first wife, Adua Veroni.
Howard's film opens with grainy footage of Pavarotti's 1995 visit to the Teatro Amazonas, an opera house nestled in the heart of Brazilian rainforest where fellow Italian tenor Enrico Caruso performed a century earlier.
From here, the timeline fractures, rewinding to childhood years in Modena, northern Italy, where the young Luciano acquired a love of music from his father Fernando, a tenor who might have pursued a professional career as a singer.
They performed together in a male voice choir called Corale Rossini and on April 29 1961, Luciano made his debut as Rodolfo in La Boheme.
Howard has been granted access to the Pavarotti family archives, where he unearths some gems including the singer's pithy description of his voice as "the prima donna of my body".
There are some exceedingly colourful sections involving concert promoter Harvey Goldsmith and the singer's cutthroat manager Herbert Breslin before Bono offers his typically forthright opinion on the appeal of Pavarotti.
"He is one of the great emotional arm wrestlers," comments the U2 frontman in old footage, "and he will break your arm."
Howard's entertaining film treads too lightly to break anything, certainly not fans' hearts.
The introduction of Pavarotti's second wife Nicoletta Mantovani inspires more gushing tributes, like when she explains how the singer helped her to face a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.
"This is what love does, it makes you feel better," she assures.
Predictably, the documentary hits a high note with excerpts of The Three Tenors concert featuring Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras.
Standing three abreast, the men spark off each other as they deliver a thunderous rendition of the Nessun Dorma aria from Turandot.
Nothing in Howard's film tarnishes that glorious memory.