Don’t get me wrong. My appreciation for Pavarotti does not mean I appreciate having been subjected as a kid to live radio broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera every Saturday afternoon. That was strictly my parents’ thing. Sure, I survived the likes of Madame Butterfly, Carmen and La bohème. But I didn’t have a clue what anyone was singing, and didn’t much care. So how do I know of Luciano Pavarotti? He was all over the place in my youth, opera’s ambassador to the world at large. He was on morning shows and late night television, the Muppets and Sesame Street, and featured in commercials for Shower to Shower and American Express. He had a larger than life personality, an infectious smile, and yes – a really big voice.
I wasn’t hooked on opera. But I had a fondness for Pavarotti that surged when he formed “The Three Tenors” with José Carreras and Plácido Domingo (who won me over singing “Perhaps Love” with John Denver), and when he put on a series of “Pavarotti & Friends” benefit concerts that featured Mariah Carey, Jon Bon Jovi, Meat Loaf, Bono and a host of other pop stars of my generation. Opera purists may be aghast, but whatever. This documentary is for all of us.
I initially planned to skip the DC screening of Pavarotti, mostly because I was still processing my review of Rocketman. But my interest was piqued when I discovered it was a Ron Howard film. He’s directed some of my faves, including Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, and the under-appreciated Rush which introduced me to the world of Formula One racing (and co-starred Chris Hemsworth). Howard also directed the critically acclaimed 2016 Beatles documentary 8 Days a Week – The Touring Years. His track record is strong because he tells good stories that focus on interesting and engaging characters. Pavarotti fits the bill. Like Pavarotti himself, the documentary isn’t without its flaws. Some elements of the story are difficult to track or reconcile – especially where his marital/family life is concerned. But it’s fun to see where the opera legend came from, where he got to, and the impact he had on others. Most importantly, the film absolutely soars at every opportunity – of which there are plenty – to showcase Pavarotti doing what he did best: making people smile, and belting out the stuff that earned him the title “King of the High C’s”.