What we learned about the larger than life opera singer Pavarotti from Ron Howard's new film

By Reagan Alexander
June 13, 2019 04:09 PM
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Credit: CBS Films

As one of the greatest Tenors of all time, the deliverer of Opera to the masses, Luciano Pavarotti was, by all rights, a complicated man. He was a titan that was as flawed as he was gifted, but Ron Howard’s latest music documentary Pavarotti, which tracks Pavarotti’s life from birth to global stardom, is a tender, affectionate look at a man who was, almost impossibly so, larger than life.

Pavarotti changed the world while changing the world of music, but, as the archival footage and interviews from the film reveal, he was also simply a man, one who loved life, food, family, music, his fame, and had a deep understanding of the impermanence of it all. Below, five things we learned from watching Pavarotti.

Though music was in his blood, Pavarotti was never meant to be a singer

He wanted to be a football goalkeeper. His father, Fernando, was a well respected amateur tenor, but one who made his living as a baker in Modeno, Italy, while his mother worked in a tobacco factory. He was guided by his parents to be a primary school teacher, and then a young Pavarotti drifted away from music even further to sell insurance. His father insisted that the go back to school to become a professor, but it was his mother, Adele, who stepped in and pushed her son to chase his dream of singing opera.

He nearly died as a child, and the near brush with death forever changed his views on life

When the singer was 12, he contracted a serious blood infection and was close to death. He was given the last rites by a local priest and was only saved by the first penicillin shipments that reached Italy. The singer referenced his brush with mortality throughout his career, going so far as to say before performances, “I go to die.”

He was Nicknamed “King of the High C’s”

The singer was nicknamed the, ‘King of the High C’s’ after his performance in La Fille du Regiment at the Metropolitan Opera in 1972. The signature aria calls for nine impossibly effortless high Cs, and Pavarotti received a record seventeen curtain calls. The singular performance made a mark on not just the opera world, but on popular culture as well.

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He enjoyed his collaborations with pop artists

While often derided by opera purists for collaborating with pop musicians, Pavarotti famously strong-armed U2, at the height of the band’s popularity, into writing and performing the song, “Miss Sarajevo” in 1995. Said Bono at the time, “Edge and I brought our parents along, who were big opera fans. Pavarotti picked us up from the runway of the airport in a white Mercedes. We drove fifteen miles to his house, through the gates, up a hill, round a corner, round a bend, past the house and up to a table. He got out and bellowed, ‘Pasta!’ A beautiful woman walked out with the food and we sat down and ate. It is at the table that friendships are really made. He is an extraordinary individual, big in every way — big heart, big voice, big girth, big appetite.”

He’s the best-selling classical artist in history

Pavarotti is the best-selling classical artist in the history of the recording industry, selling more than 100 million albums, but the Three Tenors concerts proved to be a landmark achievement. The first concert in 1990 brought the tenor together with his friends and rivals, Placido Domingo, and Jose Carreras. Carreras had recovered from Leukemia, and the concert at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome was a fundraising effort as well as a way for Domingo and Pavarotti to welcome their colleague back onto the world stage of opera.

The first concert was set for the eve of the World Cup Final in Rome and was seen by 800 million people around the world, lining Pavarotti up for the second of his two Guinness World Records: One for receiving the most curtain calls (165), and the other for best-selling classical album (The Three Tenors).

Pavarotti is now playing in select theaters.