Director Ron Howard attends the photo call for *Solo: A Star Wars Story* during the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival.
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

Ron Howard Reveals His Goals in Portraying the Life of Enigmatic Tenor Luciano Pavarotti

In a new documentary, the Oscar-winning filmmaker uses interviews and archival footage to paint an honest picture of the larger-than-life man
A young Pavarotti in costume for a performance of Rigoletto. Photo: Teatro alla Scala

While the name Luciano Pavarotti is familiar to even those with just a cursory understanding of opera, the man himself—husband, father, philanthropist—is more of an enigma. However, a new documentary from Academy Award–winning director Ron Howard offers an unprecedented lens into Pavarotti’s life, using previously unreleased family videos interspersed with archival footage and present-day interviews with the people closest to the opera virtuoso, including the other members of the famed Three Tenors, Plácido Domingo and José Carreras; his wives, Adua Veroni and Nicoletta Mantovani; his daughters, Cristina, Lorenza, and Giuliana Pavarotti; and other contributors to his musical life, including “Miss Sarajevo” collaborator, Bono.

“Our approach was very much the way you would approach a lengthy feature story, where you’re not necessarily going to put your own opinion on the table. You really are sharing what it is you learned,” says Howard of Pavarotti, which opens in theaters on June 7. “It’s based on the archival footage we could find and the interviews that we could generate—and we could generate a lot. There was such a consensus in terms of the appreciation of Pavarotti, warts and all, for his spirit, his talent, and his inclination to want to give, to try to create an environment of joy.”

Pavarotti performs at the People’s Assembly in Beijing. Photo: Vittoriano Rastelli/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

The film was born out of the Imagine Entertainment team that created Howard’s 2016 documentary, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week—The Touring Years. “I became fascinated by the story,” says Howard of the initial proposal. “And I also believed we could do something very cinematic and exciting and entertaining with the opera, with opera audiences, and make it fresh and memorable.”

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Howard and his team had two goals in their presentation of Pavarotti’s life story: to appeal to audiences already familiar with opera, and also—“the bigger prize for me,” says the director—to attract new viewers who have a limited scope of the famed tenor’s body of work. “I’m making it a bit more for myself in the regard that I certainly respect opera and I understood that Pavarotti was a genius,” says Howard, “but marrying the details of his life with the power of his performances and understanding what the arias actually mean—that’s one of the reasons I included those subtitles—I think is kind of revelatory as it relates to opera as a popular art form.”

José Carreras, Luciano Pavarotti, and Plácido Domingo. Photo: Alain Benainous/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Having just met Pavarotti once, briefly, at an awards ceremony event, Howard was immediately drawn to the tenor’s charisma and was committed to painting an honest picture of the larger-than-life man. “I’ve done a lot of scripted movies and television shows about real events, and none of them are born of subjects that I already felt I knew a lot about and wanted to share,” says the filmmaker. “In every instance, whether it’s Formula One for Rush or space travel for Apollo 13, or mental illness and math for Beautiful Mind, politics with Frost/Nixon, it was always about discovering and sharing what it is I learned in a way that let audiences see these characters the way I was coming to see them.”

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While the film makes no effort to hide Pavarotti’s his infidelities or his struggles between career and family, Howard also underscores Pavarotti’s regrets for the mistakes he’s made and forgiveness from those he’s wronged. Interspersed throughout are the significant milestones of a truly remarkable career—his early performances in La Boheme; the first Three Tenors concert in Rome; his duets with leading pop culture icons like Bono, Sting, and Jon Bon Jovi; and a remarkable concert in the rain for Princess Diana. (Decca Records plans to release the original soundtrack, Pavarotti: Music from the Motion Pictureas well as a new three-disk “best of” collection titled Pavarotti: The Greatest Hits in conjunction with the film’s June 7 release.)

Luciano Pavarotti performed a concert in the rain, attended by Princess Diana and Prince Charles, in Hyde Park, London. Photo: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

“Understanding the context around the impact of Pavarotti meeting Princess Diana and making that connection with her and her philanthropic agendas, we began to realize what an opportunity that was for him, a turning point, and it seemed to reinvigorate him,” says Howard of some of the most profound pieces of footage he discovered during production. “The second thing was very late in the da—a month or so before we locked we found that Amazon footage. And to be able to start the movie on a quest, on an adventure that was really about the heritage and history of the art form that really defined him, that he built his life around, was a real gift to me as a storyteller.”

Pavarotti opens with a limited release on June 7 and expands nationwide on June 21.

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