Posted by: operatheaterink | June 14, 2019

Film Review: ‘Pavarotti,’ Documentary Directed by Ron Howard, June 14, 2019

Ron Howard’s ‘Pavarotti’ Documentary is a Gift to the Masses

Luciano Pavarotti and Joan Sutherland, 1976


SEEN JUNE 7, 2019

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I loved Ron Howard’s documentary on Luciano Pararotti. I rushed to see the film after some of my Facebook friends shared links to reviews by critics that didn’t. Boy was I surprised when I loved every minute of it.

The sound is stupendous for starters, and Ron Howard, who produced and directed the film, enables the viewer to adore this big bear of a man not only for his voice, but also for his lust for life. Ironically, Pavarotti passed away far too young in 2007 of pancreatic cancer.

Some opera buffs were offended that Pavarotti had abandoned them by leaving the opera house to sing in arenas. I don’t care. I don’t care that he sang with rock stars. I don’t care that he gave his money to charities. I don’t even care that he left his wife and married someone 30 years his junior. Ron Howard has humanized him

Pavarotti almost died when very young, and when he pulled through, he decided to live each day to its fullest. He was just a peasant who loved to cook pasta and be among people. But he was born with a gorgeous voice and gave his life to nurturing it.

Yes, Pavarotti deserves this documentary. Thank you, Ron Howard, for producing and directing it. Maybe Pavarotti brought opera to the masses, but you have brought the masses to Pavarotti.

I’d recognize his voice anywhere. When I was 16, my father offered me a sweet-sixteen party or a tape recorder, since I was studying voice from him and could record my lessons if I opted for the tape recorder. My father was an opera singer in Vienna and Prague in the 1930s but lost his ability to sing during the Holocaust.

I chose the tape recorder.

I listened to Pavarotti a lot on that tape recorder, and to soprano Joan Sutherland singing coloratura from “Lucia.” I once interviewed tenor Neil Shicoff, and he admitted to me that he often listened to Pavarotti before he sang. If you listen to someone who has near perfect technique, you then sing better yourself, my father often told me.

Legendary tenor Plácido Domingo said in the film that singing came easy to Pavarotti. He had a natural voice.

Pavarotti was a lyric tenor who could hit high focused notes easily. In the film, archival footage and footage from his family and widow are used to explain his technique. He describes how he learned breath control from soprano Joan Sutherland.

My father always told me to listen to Sutherland because she was a coloratura soprano who could sing anywhere on the keyboard with a rich quality that never thinned to a squeak. My father thought she learned her technique from her husband, conductor Richard Bonynge, and that she sang soprano, but later became successful when she sang the roles of high coloraturas with singular fullness. I only know that Pavarotti gave her credit for his mastery of breath support.

Pavarotti sang with a relaxed and open throat so that he could place his tones wherever he wanted with a connection to the diaphragm. I could literally hear his tones vibrating in the mask. Some singers talk of tones floating on the breath or shooting forward into the auditorium. Some talk about physically moving parts of their vocal anatomy to achieve certain sounds. All I know is that Pavarotti was a master of technique and produced focused, glorious sound.

As I listened to the narration in this film, I felt like crying. I am not sure it was due to the familiar arias he sang that make me cry, or if it was due to his bittersweet story, but by the end of the film, I didn’t know if I could get up off my seat, or if I would need to sit and watch the credits to calm down.

Aside from family members and Pavarotti’s two wives, Adua and Nicoletta, contributors interviewed and seen in film clips include soprano Madelyn Renée Monti, soprano Angela Gheorghiu, Zubin Mehta, tenors José Carreras and Plácido Domingo, Carol Vaness, Princess Diana, Lang Lang, Andrea Griminelli, tenor Vittorio Grigòlo, Nelson Mandela, Bono, Phil Donahue and Johnny Carson, classical music critic and author Anne Midgette, and promoters and managers including Herb Breslin, Harvey Goldsmith and Tibor Rudas, plus others.

Some critics have written that the film does not depict the true man. I don’t care. Pavarotti is no longer alive. He was a great artist. I feel that through the film, I got to know him better.

Simply hearing Pavarotti sing arias from “La Bohème,” “Rigoletto,” “La Fille du Régiment,” “Manon,” “Tosca” and “Pagliacci” would have been enough for me to love this documentary. The film helps me to remember Pavarotti at the beginning of his career, the Pavarotti who acted and moved freely onstage, as the clip of him singing Nemorino in “L’Elisir d’Amore” achieves. The film also helps me to remember the man Pavarotti became at the end of his career. I do not know that he lost his way as some critics have said or written. Ron Howard simply shows how Pavarotti branched out in many directions while exploring the landscape.

Pavarotti’s friend Bono criticizes the critics for writing that Pavarotti’s voice was not at its peak during his later years, saying that Pavarotti’s life experiences had added to his presentation. Yes, that is true, but many singers develop vocal technical problems as they age. That is the reason having grounded technique at the beginning of one’s career is important to call upon later on, to prolong the longevity of the voice. Bono’s comments on the subject are the only ones that I would have edited out. Either they expose his lack of vocal technique knowledge, or he was simply trying to defend Pavarotti when criticized since Pavarotti is no longer here to speak for himself, which was indeed loyal and admirable of him.

Some critics are trying to compare Pavarotti to Plácido Domingo in the context of this film. The film is about Pavarotti, not Domingo. Domingo is cultured, refined and respectful when speaking of his deceased colleague in the film. The two may be tenors, but are completely different when it comes to vocal timbre, technique, personality, goals, accomplishments, and even in the roles they have chosen beyond the normal repertoire. Each has created his own legacy. Both are opera legends.

And although this documentary focuses on Pavarotti and makes him shine above all the rest, except for maybe Enrico Caruso with the beginning clip being on the Amazon — there were other great tenors, including the lyrical Beniamino Gigli; the one-and-only Jüssi Björling whose tones cried like a Stradivarius violin; and Domingo, a force of nature after the age of 70, who adds one character after another to his repertoire, conducts, and is the general director of LA Opera — to name a few. They are all opera legends, although Pavarotti did manage with the help of Herb Breslin and other promoters, to reach the masses more than any other tenor in recent memory.

The film makes it appear that Pavarotti was the leading tenor of the “Three Tenors.” As far as I can remember, he was not. The so-called marriage of the three tenors enabled José Carreras to sing and perform after his illness. The two remaining tenors — Plácido Domingo and Carreras — clearly respect Pavarotti’s artistry, as is evident in the clip where they are deciding which aria to perform. No rivalry is displayed, just camaraderie. Their bantering before singing “Nessun dorma” is enjoyable, and hearing the three tenors sing high notes in unison is a memory I will not soon forget.

Who knows, maybe Pavarotti was the leading tenor of the group, or maybe the leading tenor was Domingo. My deceased mother loved Domingo’s voice and acting. She didn’t like it when Pavarotti waved his big white handkerchief. Only now do I understand the reason for that handkerchief.

I loved this film. Take everyone you know to see it. And don’t forget to bring a big white handkerchief. You just might need it.

Director-Producer: Ron Howard
Writer: Mark Monroe
Sound: Chris Jenkins
Producers: Brian Grazer, Nigel Sinclair, Michael Rosenberg, Jeanne Elfant Festa
Executive Producers: David Blackman, Dickon Stainer, Nicholas Ferrall, Guy East, Paul Crowder, Lorenzo Mieli, Mario Gianani, Lorenzo Gangarossa, Marc Ambrose
Distribution: CBS Films
Production Companies: Brian Grazer Imagine Entertainment, Polygram Entertainment, Decca Records, StudioCanal and White Horse Pictures
1 hour 54 minutes
At the AMC Century City and ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood
Multiple Theatres, June 14