Pavarotti review – syrupy tribute to the legendary tenor

From Bono to Domingo, the stars line up to sing the praises of their late friend in Ron Howard’s heart-sinking documentary

Bland, incurious and passionless, this documentary about the great tenor Luciano Pavarotti is like a promotional video licensed by a team of copyright lawyers – and about as challenging as a Three Tenors gig at Wembley stadium. Pavarotti’s glorious voice all but drowns in a 114-minute montage of obsequious syrup.

Director Ron Howard certainly has an important lineup of interviewees: co-tenors José Carreras and Plácido Domingo, first wife Adua Veroni, second wife Nicoletta Mantovani, assistant, student and former lover Madelyn Renee – and also his New York manager Herbert Breslin and London promoter Harvey Goldsmith. Everyone is on their best behaviour, no one speaking out of turn about the great man or each other. Weirdly, the most interesting interview moments come in old archive footage of Pavarotti speaking to Clive James and Russell Harty.

The film tracks Pavarotti’s career as the greatest popular tenor since Caruso. As a young man, he sang in a choir in Modena with his dad (physically, Pavarotti seems to have been a pretty big guy from his late teens onwards), started his stellar work in the opera houses of the world with a smashing success playing opposite Joan Sutherland, and then developed a parallel concert career. His natural flamboyant charm – and a giant cartoon body that could be seen from the back row of the biggest arena – gave him colossal pop-classical stardom, most notably with the Three Tenors who sang sensationally at the 1990 World Cup.

A great artist innovates, and Pavarotti’s innovation was arguably to take opera out of the hands of snobs and elitists and give it to the ordinary people. But there is very little really engaged discussion of the music. What there is – heart-sinkingly, inevitably – is Bono, who worked with Pavarotti and here firmly asserts his own status as Pavarotti’s mega-A-list mate. What a dull nostalgiafest.

• Pavarotti is released in the UK on 15 July and in the US on 16 October.

Contributor

Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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