The King of High Cs, as opera star Luciano Pavarotti was fondly called, left behind an extraordinary body of work. Not just the recordings—though his first album as part of The Three Tenors became the best-selling classical album ever—but a legacy of philanthropy and popularizing classical music.
So it’s fitting that this larger-than-life theatrical presence gets an appropriately performance-driven documentary, directed by Ron Howard. Armed with passionate talking heads and breathtaking concert footage, Pavarotti (in select theatres June 7) explores the tenor’s life and work, though there was little separation of the two.
“The way he lived his life is, in fact, kind of operatic,” Howard says. “And that became my entry point into the project. I wanted to see if we could tell his story and also follow through on one of his driving interests, which was to broaden the appeal of the art form and popularize it as much as possible.”
Viewers watch as Pavarotti effortlessly charms audiences on stages across the world, from the anonymous opera fans packed in the theatres to a drenched Princess Diana at a memorable concert in London. And along the way, his passion for music becomes as infectious as it must have been in life.
The face of opera for many—he was on the cover of Time magazine in 1979—Pavarotti pursued all music opportunities with gusto. In one memorable interview in the documentary, a record company executive recounts a story of Pavarotti being confronted about recording with his wife on another label, despite his exclusive contract. Shrugging it off with a “life is short,” Pavarotti prompted his label to purchase the smaller rival.
“It’s almost an object lesson in reaching for life,” Howard says. “If you respect your work, your art form, your way of life, and you really commit to it with that kind of passion and integrity, that can open up the world for you in ways. And it allows you to see the world not just through the eyes of success, but through the eyes of accomplishment and of achievement. And you begin to understand the world in a more detailed way because of the amount of passion you’ve had to commit to your life’s work.”