Pavarotti, still and always

Danton de Paula, The promise B.


Commentary on the film directed by Ron Howard

Pavarotti is a biopic, two hours long and quite conventional, the work of a blockbuster Hollywood director: Ron Howard directed, among others, Or da Vinci code. But the charms of the smiling singer, equipped with the spacious sounding board of his large body, fortunately pass unscathed.

We have access to the beardless young man with the round face, who supported himself by working as a primary school teacher while studying bel canto. It is a consensus in Modena that his father's voice was better, but his baker's earnings were not enough to pay for such luxuries.

We watched Pavarotti's "discovery" in the Metropolitan of New York, when he reached the famous nine chest Cs of the aria “Ah, mes amis…pour mon âme”, de The daughter of the regiment, being called on stage seventeen times by a storm of applause and shooting to fame. Of the nine, the film only shows three, a pity.

The documentary the three tenors  already said a lot about the singer and some of his auratic moves are used. Thus, we review Pavarotti's vibrato imitated by Placido Domingo and José Carreras in “O sole mio”. More impressive is the ecstasy of the singer when he utters the last Vincero, ending the ariaNessundorma”, de Turandot, clearly showing a moment of trance. It is reminiscent of Nelson Freire documented by João Moreira Salles, when, speaking of the films in which the great jazz pianist Erroll Garner plays with unbridled joy, he confesses himself a candidate for a tiny fraction of such a level of fullness. This perfect fusion is extremely rare, in which the artist is enraptured by his art.

We see Princes Charles and Diana with clothes and hair dripping at an outdoor concert in London, in Hyde Park, when the singer asked for the umbrellas that prevented the view of the stage to be closed. Pavarotti then dedicates an aria to Diana extolling female beauty (“Don’t see me again”, de Manon Lescaut,), as if the presumptive heir and future king next door didn't even exist. Well, it must have struck a pang of meanness in the members of the royal family, every time they saw Diana's charisma overshadow theirs – which they considered for millennia as her “her right”. She gave the singer her famous sidelong glance in thanks.

Enthroned as a media celebrity, attracting more fans than any rocker and selling 100 million records, the singer began to dedicate himself to philanthropy, which, as is known, also happened to Diana; and it brought them together.

Diana would attend Pavarotti & Friends annual, in Modena, newly created by the singer. Rock stars flocked in, followed by others like Stevie Wonder and James Brown. Bono tells how he composed “Miss Sarajevo” commissioned by Pavarotti, to debut on the program. Courted by the singer, the reluctant U2 couldn't resist and, despite having a full schedule, ended up traveling there to participate in person.

That's when the Pavarotti Foundation projects appeared, the tenor becoming patron of music schools for children, which were installed in conflict zones such as Guatemala, Bosnia, Laos, Cambodia, Kosovo, Iraq, Tibet, Angola.

True to his roots, the singer died in Modena and is buried in the family tomb in the nearby village where he was born. At the funeral mass, officiated by a cardinal, a message from the Pope was read. A squadron of smoke in the colors of Italy flew over the cathedral, which barely held a thousand people, while another 50 camped in the surroundings to accompany the coffin.

It is regrettable that the film begins with a falsification: Pavarotti is in Buenos Aires and formulates the desire to sing in a certain theater “lost in the Amazon jungle”, where Enrico Caruso sang. We then see him in a boat, facing a muddy river full of meanders. It cuts to the Teatro Amazonas, in Manaus, which is neither lost in the jungle nor could you get there by boat, coming from where you came from: it would take a few months, or even years… Poetic license? Yes, but hard to bring into a documentary.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of reading and rereading (Senac/Gold over blue).


England/United States, 2019, Documentary, 114 minutes.
Directed by: Ron Howard
Screenplay: Cassidy Hartman
Cinematography: Michael Dwyer, Alex Baumann, Patrizio Saccò, Michael Wood


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