‘Pavarotti’ Review: A Charmed Life on the High C’s

If Luciano Pavarotti ever had a bad day, you wouldn’t know it from “Pavarotti,” an upbeat documentary that recounts the opera singer’s life, or at least its better moments.

Directed by Ron Howard, “Pavarotti” grounds itself in the artist’s childhood in Italy and winds its way through his career to his death in 2007. High points are the film’s forte, and they’re backed by extensive and well-assembled footage: the Three Tenors concerts, the celebrity friendships, the sold-out performances. Pavarotti’s attempts to broaden opera’s audience are rightly praised, and the featured audio recordings are superb.

Low points, though, are usually discounted; there’s some tame discussion of his tabloid-making love affair, while artistic criticism and overreaches (“Yes, Giorgio,” anyone?) often go unmentioned. This is a film too enamored of its subject to pry very deeply.

And yet, it’s hard not to be enamored as well, as Pavarotti’s larger-than-life personality shines in almost every scene. The singer’s optimism is contagious, and his schoolboy-like wonder is jubilant. There’s a lot to smile at here.

Aside from talk of Pavarotti’s early childhood during World War II, the film makes few attempts to psychoanalyze him — a fair enough choice. Instead we get a bit of opera history, and glimpses behind the scenes of his shows. Sections on how the singer’s management raised his profile are especially intriguing.

With all its admiration, “Pavarotti” sometimes threatens to turn sappy — a fawning interview with Bono nearly pushes it over the edge. When that happens, Howard and his team (including the writer Mark Monroe and the editor Paul Crowder) are quick to highlight the tenor’s charisma and turn the attention back to his talents. They know: When Pavarotti starts to sing, you can overlook everything else.

Rated PG-13 for some war-related images. Running time: 1 hour 54 minutes.


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