Pavarotti (Luciano Pavarotti) – Documentaries seem to be all the rage these days.  Free Solo and RBG were box office smashes (by documentary standards) last year.  Echo in the Canyon and The Biggest Little Farm look like hits already this year.  But this year’s big doc may be Ron Howard’s Pavarotti, a love letter about the great tenor.  More than any opera singer since Enrico Caruso a century before, Pavarotti made opera cool in the latter part of the 20th century.  With his larger-than-life personality and crystal-clear voice, he became a worldwide sensation, performing everywhere from rural outposts to massive stadiums to outdoor parks.

Howard manages to piece together decades of film — often grainy and amateurish – with deeply personal interviews with the Maestro’s ex-wives, former mistress, daughters, peers (Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras, and several sopranos), and admirers.  He weaves biography with taped performances from the time Pavarotti was a promising young singer through his waning years.

In fact, Howard presents Pavarotti’s life as opera.  A man of great passion – for opera, for women, for food, for children – Pavarotti lived large.  And he died painfully.  Howard manages to make the audience feel the highs and the lows of Pavarotti’s personal and professional lives.

But I warn you: the film is long.  It proves that even great directors can fall in love with their own films.  Howard could have spent less time in the run-up to stardom to get us to the fantastic success of his middle years and the explosive teaming with Domingo and Carreras as The Three Tenors.  His death is handled beautifully as is Pavarotti’s heartfelt charitable endeavors in concert with Princess Diana, Bono and many others.

Even if you don’t love opera, you will enjoy this stunning documentary.

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