Actor/director Ron Howard is a guy who has reinvented himself several times in his long career and recently began directing amazing documentary films, like this week’s gem “Pavarotti” (2019), which is based on the life and career of famed operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti.

As a child actor Howard co-starred with Robert Preston as the cute Winthrop Paroo in “The Music Man” (1962); for eight years he was Opie Taylor on “The Andy Griffith Show” and finally more television fame came as Richie Cunningham on the ‘70s “Happy Days”.

But in the early ’70, while working with George Lucas on “American Graffiti”, Howard discovered he’d try his hand at directing films. After directing “Grand Theft Auto” (1977) and hits in the ’80s, like “Splash” and “Cocoon”, he won an Oscar for directing “A Beautiful Mind” (2001).

In “Pavarotti”, he explores the fascinating life of Luciano Pavarotti. Howard meticulously includes: over twenty rare and amazing interviews, concert and recital performances,–like the famed Three Tenors’ “Nessun dorma”, with Jose Carreras and Plácido Domingo, and never before seen footage of the great tenor’s life. From Pavarotti’s April 1961 performance as Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Boheme in a regional opera house to his final performance at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Howard makes us simply marvel at this amazing singer’s accomplishments.

The film begins emphasizing the master’s passion for his art, with seemingly odd video footage of Pavarotti in Brazil in 1995 heading up the Amazon to sing in an obscure opera house, where the great Enrico Caruso once performed years before.

Later an off-screen narrator asks Pavarotti how he’d like to be remembered 100 years from now. The majestic tenor response is: “I’d like to be remembered as a man who took opera to the people. I’d like people to say I sang Favorita to Otello, that I have a wide repertoire. I’d like people to say that I never pursued doing new opera just for the sake of doing it. These are all positive things for a singer.”

Mark Monroe crafts the screenplay highlighting the legacy of Pavarotti’s genius. He was born during World War II. His father was a baker by profession, who was also a “fantastic tenor—better than me”, notes Pavarotti. Early in life Luciano was an elementary school teacher, but his mother Adele encouraged him to pursue his singing.

Pavarotti’s big break came in London 1963, when he replaced the then ill master Giuseppe Di Stefano in a performance at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Others note he learned great technique thereafter from touring with the great Joan Sutherland.

Throughout the film Howard interviews special people in Pavarotti’s life: Nicoletta Mantovani (Luciano’s widow), his first wife Adua Veroni, Placido Domingo, José Carreras, pop singer Bono, American opera soprano Madelyn Renee (who frequently sang with Pavarotti), and many others in the opera world. Domingo notes how Pavarotti made operatic history in his early performance of Gaetano Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment”. In the difficult part Pavarotti had nine high C notes to attain, which he did majestically. Others praised his skills of vocal resonance, diction, and enunciation for the maximum of expression and passion. And to show more of the human side, many commented on Pavarotti’s wonderful sense of humor, while his adult daughters commented how unique and fun it was, growing up with their famous dad.

The key to Pavarotti’s mega success is given to his manager Herbert Breslin, who guided him from 1967-2003. Breslin knew the dynamics of making a star”. He convinced Pavarotti to do solo concert recitals and Pavarotti enjoyed traveling to many parts of rural America—singing in the most unique venues, as well as Being, China. In November 1968, Breslin suggested even a live television broadcast from New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Soon Pavarotti was even doing the Phil Donahue show making pasta.

But the film isn’t all just high praises. Many regarded his thrust into mega
stardom with some anxiety and disappointment, by over commercializing his product. In 1974, Pavarotti did a series of American Express commercials where he asked, “Do you know me?” Later he connected with famed rock promoter Harvey Goldsmith and sold out Madison Square Garden. Impresario Tibor Rudas booked him for concerts in Atlantic City resorts and other glitzy venues around the world. He even began sponsoring a Pavarotti Pro Am tennis tournament. Then his scandalous affair with Nicoletta ended his long marriage to Adua. Dedicated opera fans felt he was even losing some of his vocal clarity and power.

Yet, before Pavarotti pancreatic cancer took his life in 2007, he contributed so much to so many international causes with charity concerts for the likes of the Red Cross and Bosnian relief. Howard’s documentary is a marvelous tribute.

About The Author

Syd Slobodnik

Syd Slobodnik has been writing for Illini Media publications since 1975: for The Daily Illini from 1975 to 1978 and from 1984 to 1988, and for buzz since 2003. Syd teaches numerous film courses at the University of Illinois in the English Department. He also cohosts a monthly television program which reviews old films that remind you of recent films you may have seen, called "If You Liked, You'll Love" on the Parkland Channel.

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