Neil Smith takes a look at Ron Howard's defining Luciano Pavarotti biopic.

Neil Smith

26 Apr 19

Since swapping acting for directing four decades ago, Ron Howard has thrilled millions with such big-screen blockbusters as Apollo 13, The Da Vinci Code and Solo: A Star Wars Story. He has also enthralled us with fact-based dramas like Rush, Frost/Nixon and A Beautiful Mind, for which he won a Best Director Oscar in 2002. Yet many cinemagoers may not know that he also makes documentaries, among them the 2013 concert film Made In America and 2016's The Beatles: Eight Days A Week. "You have to give yourself over to the footage you have and the story that exists," he said of that BAFTA-nominated film. "The challenge was to tell a story that would capture the spirit in an authentic way."

Howard's latest subject, legendary Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti, is a world away from Jay-Z and the Fab Four, but in his own way he was every bit their equal, bestriding the world of opera like a figurative and literal colossus. Born in Modena in 1935, this humble baker's son rose from obscurity to astound the globe with his astonishing voice, outsized personality and God-given talent. He also did much to make opera and classical music accessible to a worldwide mainstream audience, not least by teaming up with José Carreras and Placido Domingo to create the iconic Three Tenors, and forming lasting friendships with U2's Bono and Diana, Princess of Wales. Andre Rieu, Andrea Bocelli and other contemporary stars have a lot to thank him for, and Classic FM, Radio 3 and Scala would struggle to fill their airtime without him.

Through archive material, interviews with friends and family, and excerpts of the great man in concert, Pavarotti will be the definitive documentary about a larger-than-life artist whose rise to the top was not without its share of personal and legal problems. Twelve years after his death from pancreatic cancer at the age of 71, it will also be the next best thing to seeing him live, especially if you're fortunate enough to see the film in a cinema equipped with a Dolby Atmos sound system. Aficionados and the uninitiated alike should prepare themselves for an immersive experience, featuring footage from some of the greatest concerts and performances in modern history. Rest assured, too, that you will get to hear Nessun Dorma, the Puccini aria that became Pavarotti's breathtaking signature.

"Pavarotti's life was replete with the highs and lows of great drama," says Howard. "Like any compelling character, he was also a man of considerable contradictions. His artistic ambition, propelled by his massive talent and deep love for humanity, drove his career and the powerful bond with his audiences."

The film-maker also admits to being "intrigued" by how Pavarotti's "emotional passion" not only infused his performances but was also vital to his other life as a philanthropist, embodied by the Pavarotti and Friends concerts, through which he raised millions for worthy causes. He was a star as big in heart as he was in body. In Howard's film, Bono attributes his late friend's greatness to the fact that he lived every song he sang. Not for nothing was he known as the King of the High Cs.  

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