I had a good cry at the cinema the other day—a good proper cry—for a genuine thrill. My eyes watered up about halfway through Pavarotti, an unexpectedly splendid documentary. Like millions of others, I had indeed heard Luciano Pavarotti sing "Nessun dorma" many times before, and had seen his 1990 performance of the Puccini classic, alongside fellow tenors Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo on the PBS broadcast of The Three Tenors concert on numerous occasions. But seeing and hearing Pavarotti's largesse (in body and voice) fill a cinema with that spine-tingling moment is something I will not soon forget. Indeed, "Nessun dorma" is only one in a series of emotional thrills in Pavarotti, directed by Oscar-winner Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind). Pavarotti comes on the heels Howard's other fine doc, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week. With never-before-seen footage of the legendary tenor and a gorgeous Dolby Atmos soundtrack, Howard's new film is one of the big surprises of the summer of 2019 and true kin to last summer's family of wonderful bio-docs (Won't You Be My Neighbor?, RBG).
From Pavarotti's 1961 debut in Puccini's La Boheme in his hometown of Modena, Italy (where he was once an elementary school teacher), to his star-making 1963 performance in London's Covent Garden (again, La Boheme) to his now-legendary 1972 performance at the Metropolitan Opera in Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment (nine, count-em, nine High C's), Pavarotti is more of a celebration than a film. The pleasures are unending.
Rest assured: Pavarotti is not a mere greatest hits collection. It's a treasure-trove of surprises. his unique friendship with Princess Diana, his professional insecurities (Pavarotti would pace backstage, muttering, "We go to die."), his destructive infidelities, plus a wink and a nod to his jaw-dropping eating habits.
"I order two pastas, and beans, two chickens and four scoops of ice cream," he said. "I eat three scoops of the ice cream and push away the fourth scoop. That's how I think I lose weight."
Pavarotti would ultimately sell 100 million albums and perform live to more than 10 million people in every corner of the planet. Pavarotti the film reminds us why he was the most famous singer of any genre in his time.
At the film's end, Pavarotti unleashes an encore of "Nessun dorma." Suffice to say, I needed a moment. I took a deep breath, wiped away another tear and left the cinema to tell anyone I knew not to miss this film.