Ron Howard has made quite a few films that were decent, but hardly edgy. SPLASH (1984), NIGHTSHIFT (1982), WILLOW (1988) and RUSH (2013)–Yes, definitely all great and thinking that he may be a one trick pony perhaps isn’t giving him the credit he deserves. After all, that’s four really good films among twenty or more films that he has directed, let alone starred in or been a part of. PAVAROTTI (2019) was a late comer to the race and the documentary arrives upon our doorstep thirteen years after the subject departed these plains for a command performance with the Supreme Being himself. One wonders, is there any relevancy that can be lent the subject and why hasn’t anyone tried to give Pavarotti a documentary befitting the man and his voice before?
This may be due to the fact that aside from being arguably the greatest tenor of our time, he was also a father and a fiercely proud Italian. As we find out in this documentary, he arose from very modest beginnings to awe and stun the musical world with his brilliant oratorios. What isn’t so brilliant is the way Ron Howard approaches the subject.
We see much of the mythos but not enough of the real man. Ron Howard, who seems to quite often give us a shiny “neato” storytelling kind of vibe, glosses much of the cracks and realness that was Pavarotti. Do not get this reviewer wrong – Pavarotti did more to further the mainstream acceptance of opera with his several Three Tenors concerts than any single other individual. Yet Ron decides to skip over the fact that Pavarotti left his wife of 30 years and 3 daughters to woo a woman half his age just because he could. Even eventually having a child with her who was very close in age to his granddaughter. Trust me, the less said about this particular reference, the better.
If you will, when I mentioned the Three Tenors affairs, I used the descriptive word concert which is what they were – gargantuan spectacles that enlightened a reported 1.3 billion people, yet were in no way allowed to utilize the intimacy that these gorgeous operas do depict. The Three Tenors ended up becoming the Short Cuts of the Opera world. Brilliant artistry to behold yet one cannot help but feel a certain cheapening of the actual art form.
Wait. That’s where you got me, and that’s where you’re mine as the late great Prince once sang. Mr. Howard weaves such a masterful web of beauty and perhaps adeptness that I, having never ever appreciated opera as an artform, found myself more seduced by Pavarotti’s singular gift than the story itself. A masterstroke on Ron Howard’s part yet Mr. Howard was hoping that we would appreciate the man more than the beauty of the voice. This is where the documentary falls a little short on its high notes and seems to stop and start in what it’s actually trying to convey.
What we do get instead is many talking heads telling us how much of a master Pavarotti was and that he was just a regular ordinary Italian boy with no malicious intent who happened to be one of the greatest and charismatic voices of the 20th century. At least that’s what his wife Adua and his children seem to depict yet interestingly enough we do not hear from all of the children in this documentary. Is this due to the editorial process or just a making sure all that is Pavarotti is giving a shiny glossy sheen because that’s the impression of the man we should leave with according to the filmmakers.
PAVAROTTI, probably much like the man, conveys us the extreme complexity and the beauty that was existent within Luciano himself. The single greatest gift it bestows is to bring opera naysayers into the fold yet at the same time not allowing us much real time with the person that Pavarotti may have really been.